High School Highlights

UNC’s Brown reconnects with state’s high school football coaches

13UNC story photo When Mack Brown returned to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as head football coach last month, he had barely three weeks to jump-start the school’s recruiting efforts with North Carolina high schools during the early signing period for prospects.

Thanks to the support of a couple of Tar Heel backers from Fayetteville, Brown was able to get a couple of major prospects to flip their commitments during his short time on the recruiting trail and dramatically improve the overall quality of his first class of recruits.

Fayetteville developer Ralph Huff, a UNC graduate and longtime supporter of the Tar Heel athletic program, offered Brown the use of his private plane for a whirlwind swing around the state to visit a variety of recruits one Saturday last month.

Trey Edge, who played football at both Terry Sanford and for Carolina during Brown’s first term as coach there, has strong ties to the state’s high school football coaching community through his years as the play-by-play announcer for Terry Sanford football.

He and Huff accompanied Brown and members of the new Tar Heel coaching staff on that journey around the state.

Edge remembers when Brown struggled through 1-10 seasons before getting his first Tar Heel football program established.

“The one thing I saw even back then was his ability to sell the university and his ability to sell himself,’’ Edge said.

Edge called Brown an incredible motivator. “His ability to instill hope and belief was what got this program to a top ten program,’’ Edge said. “He still has to instill hope today, and that’s what people are counting on.’’

One of the biggest challenges for Brown will be restoring the connection between the Tar Heel football program and the high school coaches around the state. Edge said it was impossible to disguise the fact that the relationship between the North Carolina program and the high school coaches within the state had fallen off sharply in recent years.

At the age of 67, and having been an analyst for ESPN for the last few years after winning a national championship at Texas, some might argue that Brown won’t be familiar to high school athletes and coaches in North Carolina. Edge disagrees.

“He’s been on TV,’’ Edge said. “He was just inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.’’

Edge said the key to recruiting success for North Carolina moving forward will be the relationships Brown and his new coaching staff plan to build with the state’s high schools.

“They are crisscrossing the state, being visible in every high school,’’ Edge said. “They’ve divided responsibilities among the 10 assistant coaches. Every assistant coach will have a responsibility inside the state of North Carolina.’’

The day Edge spent with Brown and several of his assistants, he said he was most impressed with the effort and energy they exhibited at the various stops they made.

It showed in the fact the Tar Heel recruiting class was rated as low as the top 90 in the country when Brown began. Just three weeks later, after flipping stars like wide receiver Emery Simmons of South View from Penn State and quarterback Sam Howell of Sun Valley from Florida State, the Tar Heel class shot up into the 40s nationally.

“It all begins with those guys willing to reestablish relationships within the state,’’ Edge said. “That’s what I’m most excited about.’’

Huff graduated from UNC in 1972 and 20 years ago committed to give an annual football scholarship to the Tar Heel athletic program. He’d become frustrated by the fact Fayetteville and Cumberland County produced a number of North Carolina Athletic Association Division I football prospects over the last several years, but none of them wound up playing for the Tar Heels.

Huff said he wasn’t a close friend of Brown during his first stint as Tar Heel football coach, but he quickly saw Brown’s skills as a recruiter during the trip they took together last month.

“He is so warm and personable,’’ Huff said. “He was sitting beside me on the airplane, and when he talks to you he leans over, looks you in the eye, puts his hand on your knee and connects with you. That’s the kind of guy he is.’’

Huff isn’t overly optimistic and isn’t predicting North Carolina recruiting will jump to the kind of levels national champion Clemson has enjoyed. But he’s confident Brown can get the Tar Heels to a level that will rival traditional Atlantic Coast Conference powers like Florida State and Virginia Tech in a short period of time.

“Given a full year (to recruit), there’s no reason we can’t be No. 2 or No. 3 behind Clemson,’’ Huff said.

Huff thinks it’s also important for North Carolina to show some tangible results on the field in Brown’s first season.

This fall’s schedule will include games with South Carolina and Appalachian State in nonconference. Clemson returns to the ACC schedule, along with rivals Duke and Wake Forest, who both won bowl games last season.

“We have a hard schedule,’’ Huff said. “We are clearly going to have to break even for people to think we’re headed in the right direction. If we can get to 7-5 or 8-4, everybody will be deliriously happy.’’

Photo:  L-R: UNC-Chapel Hill assistant coach Tim Brewster, head coach Mack Brown, Ralph Huff, assistant coach Dre Bly, assistant coach Robert Gillespie, Trey Edge, and assistant coach Tommy Thigpen.

Scholar Athletes of the Week

22Maya Johnson Westover Maya Johnson

Westover • Senior • Volleyball, bowling, softball

Johnson has a grade point average of 3.93. She is a member of National Honor Society and Westover’s Ladies of Grace.



23Delsin Burkhart Westover Delsin Burkhart

Westover • Senior • Cross country, soccer, football, track

Burkhart has a 3.6 grade point average. He is a two-time state qualifier in cross country and was the placekicker for the football team. He is a member of National Honor Society, Academy of Health Sciences, and Brotherhood of Successful Students.

Sandhills All-Conference football

20Erick Martinez Following are the Cumberland County players selected to this year’s All- Sandhills Athletic Conference football team chosen by the league’s head coaches:

Defensive player of the year

Erick Martinez, Jack Britt

Offensive line

Jack Britt - Justin Milliman

Seventy-First - Benjamin Willis, Jai Harper, Alex Williams

Wide receivers

Seventy-First - Camari Williams

Running backs

Seventy-First - Sincere Bates


Seventy-First - Kyler Davis

Defensive linemen

Seventy-First - Thomas Washington


Jack Britt - Mike Matthews, Nico Perofeta

Seventy-First - Devante Wedlock

Defensive backs

Seventy-First - Jah-kahri McLain

Photo: Erick Martinez

Cumberland County continues Play4Kay tradition

21Play4Kay For a second straight year, Cumberland County Schools will join the work of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund to raise money for cancer research through the Play4Kay program.

The fundraiser encourages college and high school basketball teams to select a game on their schedule to use as a focal point for raising money. It pays tribute to the late North Carolina State University women’s basketball coach, Sandra Kay Yow, who was a victim of cancer.

Vernon Aldridge, student activities director for Cumberland County Schools, first became interested in the Play4Kay program following a presentation made sometime back by Que Tucker, commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Aldridge said Tucker told everyone at the meeting that day that the state of North Carolina was not ranked among the leaders in donations to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund — in spite of the fact Yow was a native of North Carolina and had a lengthy coaching career in the state.

“With as much as she’s done for the state of North Carolina and the young ladies from North Carolina who have played for her, it doesn’t make much sense,’’ Aldridge said.

Cumberland County had a personal stake in getting involved as well, Aldridge said, as Pine Forest High School athletic director Jason Norton is battling cancer.

Last year, during the Play4Kay drive, Cumberland County Schools raised $5,600 for the fight against cancer. Pine Forest raised more money than any other school and received a plaque in recognition of that.

It’s left up to each school to decide how to raise money on the night of its Play4Kay basketball game. They’re asked to pick a game on their schedule where they expect to draw a good crowd.

Some schools just ask for donations from spectators or have a collection point at the ticket gate. Others hold 50-50 drawings. Some offer special Play4Kay t-shirts for sale, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each shirt are donated back to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Sometimes the competing teams incorporate pink into their uniforms, either using the jersey or something like pink socks, to raise cancer awareness.

Following are the scheduled Play4Kay dates this year for each Cumberland County school. For specifics on what is planned to raise money at each game, contact the home school directly.

Cape Fear — Jan. 8 vs. Pine Forest

Seventy-First — Jan. 8 vs. Scotland

Jack Britt — Jan. 25 vs. Scotland

Gray’s Creek — Jan. 25 vs. Cape Fear

Douglas Byrd — Feb. 1 vs. Terry Sanford

E.E. Smith — Feb. 5 vs. Pine Forest

Pine Forest — Feb. 8 vs. Cape Fear

South View — Feb. 8 vs. Terry Sanford

Westover — Feb. 8 vs. Overhills

Terry Sanford — Feb. 12 vs. Pine Forest

Wrestling boosts Cape Fear to No. 1 in state

19Dallas Wilson Cape Fear Cape Fear High School’s wrestling team rolled Merry Christmas and Happy New Year into one over the holiday break with some outstanding performances in a couple of tournaments.

Cape Fear’s Dallas Wilson was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the WRAL tournament en route to winning the 138-pound weight class. But the best was yet to come for the Colts in Charlotte’s Holy Angels tournament at Bojangles Arena.

Wilson and 170-pound Jared Barbour were both individual champions and helped lead Cape Fear to the team title in the event that draws some 80 high school teams from both North and South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

The success at WRAL and Holy Angels vaulted Cape Fear from unranked to No. 1 in the East and No. 2 in the state among 3-A schools in the NCMat.com statewide rankings that were updated Wednesday, Jan. 2.

Cape Fear coach Heath Wilson said the performance of his wrestlers in the consolation rounds proved crucial in winning the team championship at Holy Angels. Cape Fear finished with 165.5 points to beat St. Stephens High School of Hickory with 149. St. Stephens is the No. 1 team in 3-A in the NCMat.com state rankings.

Barbour’s win at 170 was especially crucial for the Colts. In the WRAL tournament, he lost a tough battle to Cael Willis of Wilmington Laney, the No. 1 ranked 4-A wrestler in his class in the state according to NCMat.com.

Barbour, who is No. 1 in 3-A, rebounded and got the win in the Holy Angels tournament.

Cape Fear returns from the holidays for a big Patriot Athletic Conference match at South View on Wednesday, Jan. 9, then goes to one of the state’s biggest regular season tournaments, the Sarah Wilkes Invitational at Eden Morehead High School, Jan. 11-12.

That same weekend, Jack Britt holds Cumberland County’s biggest regular season tournament, the annual Boneyard Bash.


December high school basketball is most often a blur and quickly forgettable when January rolls around. The boys are especially in flux because many teams are awaiting the arrival of players from football who got a late start because of the state playoffs.

The blur continues into the early days of January. Now that the date for the semester break has changed, when Cumberland County returns to school Monday, Jan. 7, the students who have been academically reinstated for the second semester and the ones who lost eligibility because of inadequate academic performance in the fall will be known. Then, coaches can move forward with complete rosters for the rest of the season. 

Looking back briefly at the Southeastern Athletic Officials Association Holiday Classic results, here’s who appear to be the top teams coming out of December.

Seventy-First’s boys and Westover’s boys, finalists in the Ike Walker Sr. bracket of the Holiday Classic, look to be serious contenders in their respective leagues. Seventy-First won 57-54.

For the girls, E.E. Smith is clearly the team to beat but finds itself playing in a strong Patriot Athletic Conference. Smith is 13-1, 6-0, but only beat Terry Sanford 57-54 in the Gene Arrington bracket finals. Terry Sanford is 9-1, 5-0, and has yet to play Smith in a league game.

Record-wise, Jack Britt’s girls are the best of the county teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference. Britt finished third in the Arrington bracket, losing 60-33 to E.E. Smith in the semifinals.

Britt is 7-3 overall and 2-0 in the league.

Photo: Dallas Wilson

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