Photo: Clayton's Savion Jackson
Dave Doeren made building a fence a priority upon his North Carolina State arrival five years ago. That effort to fence-in his new state’s growing population and corresponding talent base is holding its ground.
Doeren this weekend landed his 12th home-state recruit out of 16 in the 2019 recruiting class. They feature players that have turned down Alabama and other SEC schools, including 4-star defensive end Savion Jackson of Clayton and 4-star defensive tackle C.J. Clark of New London.
Jackson and Clark gave Doeren their word in mid-June, but the commitments continued through this weekend with Tristan Miller as the 12th. The three-star prospect is the state’s top-ranked offensive lineman.
Yes, it sounded like the right thing for Doeren to say to rally the fan base back then, but my first thought was, “Uh, oh. That could backfire on him.”
I thought back to having heard Chuck Long make the same fence proclamation when he arrived to take over San Diego State in 2006. It haunted him as his assistant failed him on the recruiting trail; he was fired three years later for not winning enough.
Perception of a school playing in the shadow of national powers is tough to overcome, particularly in an age where top athletes tend to follow each other like lemmings to teams they feel offer the best chance at a national title. They otherwise overlook a program that might be a better fit athletically, academically and socially.
Upon Long’s arrival at San Diego State, Aztecs fans were excited to hear his promising words. They had watched for decades as players not only left home for nearby power schools USC or UCLA, they sacrificed sunny San Diego for godforsaken towns such as Norman, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb.
San Diego remains fertile recruiting ground that has produced four Heisman Trophy winners that all left the area – USC’s Marcus Allen, 1982; Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam, 1994; Texas’ Ricky Williams, 1998; and USC’s Reggie Bush 2005; (well, officially, only three since the disgraced Reggie Bush turned into a “Kardashian” and later had his trophy stripped from him for accepting money from a prospective agent).
But the exodus continued as Long's fence proclamation was mockingly brought up by fans.
When Brady Hoke replaced Long in 2009, he didn't talk about a fence. He took a more practical approach, requiring his assistants to visit (not call) every high school campus in San Diego County. The result was a Mountain West Conference title in 2010; when Hoke left for Michigan, defensive coordinator Rocky Long was promoted and continued to build on that Hoke-built foundation.
Doeren’s statement also was what his fan base wanted to hear. His comment especially hit home since he had arrived one year after N.C. State fans watched forlornly as four-star running back recruits Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both committed to Georgia. Fans gnashed their teeth that former coach Tom O’Brien couldn’t convince one of the two to stay home rather than compete for the same job at an SEC school.
Yes, fans agreed, build that fence!
It’s not that easy, but maybe it’s working for Doeren because, unlike San Diego State, N.C. State has the lure of a Power 5 school. SDSU had the hurdle of two Power 5 schools located a two-and-a-half hour drive north and other Pac-12 schools up and down the scenic West Coast. Such words also can turn fans unrealistic, expecting Doeren to beat all ACC neighbors all the time.
Or maybe Doeren deserves credit for delivering a trust-building message in living rooms. He's establishing a stronger presence in his backyard and among Atlantic Coast Conference members. That counts more than a fence as a metaphor.
Certainly Doeren’s assistants have served their boss better than Long’s aides (one of them was Rutger’s head coach Chris Ash, who better hope he has better help building a fenc around New Jersey now that his school is a Big Ten member).
Or maybe’s it’s all of the above.
What stands out to me is Doeren’s recruiting has been steadily climbing to this point. His 2018 returning depth and 2019 recruiting class are more than a superficial response to a conference championship or a Top 10 ranking.
This optimism is recognition a foundation in place.
Looking back, Doeren earlier missed out on two Wake Forest High big-time recruits – running back Bryce Love to Stanford in 2015 and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence to Clemson in 2016 – but he hasn’t come up empty.
N.C. State set a school record with seven NFL draft picks this year. First-rounder Bradley Chubb and third-rounder Justin Jones were from Georgia, but the other five were from North Carolina high schools. Nyheim Hines (Garner) arrived in 2015 after the 2014 foursome of Kentavious Street (Greenville), Jaylen Samuels (Charlotte), B.J. Hill (Oakboro) and Will Richardson (Burlington).
N.C. State is coming off a 9-4 season and win over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. Building on that success will keep the fence's red paint from fading.
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