Football recruiting is like riding a roller coaster for a coaching staff.
The North Carolina staff must have experienced both the euphoria of such a ride and that sinking feeling over the last month. The Tar Heels celebrated another verbal commitment from a top in-state prospect on July 21 when offensive lineman Whit Efird from West Stanly High in Oakboro joined the Class of 2002. But the addition of Efird was tempered by a public announcement on July 7 by Winston-Salem linebacker A.J. Nicholson that he has backed off a commitment to UNC for now.
Nicholson, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder who plays at Mount Tabor High School, is considered of the top linebacker prospects in the nation. He had announced a commitment to the Tar Heels in June, but has since he wants to investigate other options.
"I'm still looking around," Nicholson said. "I've narrowed it down to certain schools I would like to make a trip to. I know I'm going to Notre Dame on Nov. 3. I like Tennessee and I like Michigan and Miami. I'd like to make those trips and see what goes on there."
Nicholson said he's still considering UNC with the schools mentioned above as well as Florida and Georgia.
"I'm wide open right now," said Nicholson, who is the son of former North Carolina linebacker Darrell Nicholson. UNC insiders are still expecting Nicholson to wind up a Tar Heel, but his decision to look at other schools will now probably keep us all in suspense for months.
Efird's commitment lacked suspense, but it did feature a bit of drama for the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder. East Carolina had just offered him a scholarship on July 20 while attending the Pirates' summer camp. Efird then drove with his parents to UNC on the 21st to attend the school's academic day.
While Efird was standing in the line to register for academic day, UNC assistant coach Rod Broadway appeared. Broadway, who is a graduate of West Stanly High, asked Efird to accompany him to the football office.
"We went to the defensive meeting room where coach (John) Bunting and coach Gunter Brewer were sitting," he said. "Coach Bunting talked with me and my parents for about 15 minutes, then he made the offer. I wasn't expecting it. I was completely shocked." Efird wasn't so shocked that he couldn't manage an answer.
"'Yes' came out pretty fast," Efird said with a laugh. "Carolina was No. 1 on my list, so I had to take it. I've grown up liking the Tar Heels and when I had the chance to join them, I was just overwhelmed." Another factor in Efird's decision may have involved Broadway. Efird's father, Mike, and Broadway are former West Stanly teammates. Efird is now an assistant coach for West Stanly.
"My dad and coach Broadway are real close friends," Whit said. "I think that's a plus in going to Carolina that I have somebody I halfway know and feel comfortable with." The Tar Heels have gotten one of the state's top blocking prospects in Efird. A powerful athlete who can bench-press 410 pounds, Efird averaged five pancake blocks a game last season from his right offensive tackle spot.
"I think I'm a powerful run blocker," Efird said. "My strength is really good. I've been lifting weights since about the sixth or seventh grade."
Efird's talents on the football field don't end there. He also sees significant action at defensive tackle and handles all his team's kicking duties. He converted 5-of-7 field goal attempts as a junior with a long of 41 yards. Efird also averaged 39.7 yards per punt.
The decisions by Efird and Nicholson leave the Tar Heels with four known verbal commitments, including one from 2001 signee Derrele Mitchell. Mitchell is attending Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia this fall in hopes of re-signing with UNC in February 2002.
Speaking of prep schools, Fork Union Military in Virginia may also be a place the Tar Heels keep an eye on this fall. It seems Tymere Zimmerman, the talented wide receiver from Marlboro County, S.C., will be matriculating at Fork Union this fall. Zimmerman signed with Clemson in February, but didn't meet academic entrance requirements. So he's off to Fork Union for at least a semester. Zimmerman says he'll re-open his recruitment while at Fork Union. The Tar Heels are on the list of schools he will consider along with the Tigers and South Carolina.
Wide receiver may be a position that UNC signs between 2-4 players in February.