There’s been an interesting and, in my mind, overblown narrative the last couple years surrounding recruiting in the state of North Carolina.
When Mack Brown was reintroduced to the Tar Heel faithful he proclaimed he was building a proverbial fence around the state and the best players would play for North Carolina. The media has largely bought into this narrative because, well, Mack’s a nice guy and afterall he was one of them for a few years. There’s no doubt the Heels recruiting has improved markedly upon Brown’s return, but the narrative is, at best, embellished.
The 2020 cycle saw the Tar Heels pull 5 of the top 10 players in the state, a seemingly remarkable number from a state loaded with talent. Look a little deeper though and you see Clemson signed two of the top 3 and of the other 7 the Tigers only offered 2. Clemson, by and large, got who they wanted and left the rest for the team in powder blue.
The Tar Heels upped the ante in the 2021 cycle, garnering 6 of the top 10 in state recruits, but there was Clemson grabbing 2 of the top 5.
There’s still plenty of time to go in the 2022 cycle, but early returns suggest there’s a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through Brown’s fence. Of the 3 top 10 North Carolina prep stars that have committed to date only 1 committed to the Tar Heels. Early projections for the 7 uncommitted show 0 currently favoring Mack’s crew and if things stand as currently projected Mack would end up with no more than 3 of the top 10 in-state players.
Travis Shaw is the top ranked player in North Carolina in 2022 and he’s a 6’5, 310 pound, 5 star defensive tackle who is currently thought to be a Clemson lean. (Shaw’s Twitter says 6’6, 320).
Opinions on where Shaw ranks overall vary, ranging from top 10 to the 30s, but the film shows a man among boys in the high school ranks, rag dolling linemen and smashing ball carriers.
There’s a common theme in Clemson’s most recent National Championships: Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Albert Huggins. The quarterbacks changed, the running backs were different and some of the receivers had moved on, but what didn’t change was those men on the defensive line.
These days offenses dictate most games, but that only means defensive stops are more important than ever and Shaw along with fellow North Carolinian Payton Page and veterans Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee could put the Tigers at an elite level in 2022.
Things change quickly in recruiting and there are few certainties, as we saw when Jalon Walker committed to Georgia after favoring Clemson for a sustained period of time. Ironically, Walker’s switch to the Dogs could play a role in where Shaw ends up as some winds are blowing in Athens direction.
Whether Shaw ultimately ends up a Tiger, Bulldog, Heel or somewhere else remains to be seen, but it’s one for Clemson fans to keep an eye on because as much as offense rules today’s college football a defense that can make an occasional stop may be the difference between being a champion or being runner up.