RALEIGH — Jim Grobe is a West Virginian by birth, but he’s been in North Carolina long enough to form a high opinion of the caliber of the state’s college football teams and its prep prospects who largely fill their rosters.
It’s what one might expect to hear from the longest-tenured major college football coach in the state. Lincoln Riley, on other hand, is a Texan and a relative newcomer to N.C., but his opinion isn’t much different than that of Grobe, who’s been the head coach at Wake Forest since 2001.
Riley — East Carolina’s fourth-year offensive coordinator — got a chance to rub elbows with Grobe and the rest of the state’s collegiate football head men at Tuesday night’s North Carolina Coaches for Charity event at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown. ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill had to be in Dallas for today’s Conference USA Kickoff events, so Riley got the chance to substitute.The long-time Texas Tech staffer who has recruited the Lone Star State extensively thinks North Carolina is a burgeoning football state.
“I‘ve seen it improve over the short time that I‘ve been here, and I’ve gotten a chance to know several of these guys,” said Riley, who called Tuesday’s coaches dinner a great event for a great cause. “I think it’s gotten more competitive across the state. The high school coaching has gotten better which in turn has made the prospects better and the recruiting better.”
Also in attendance at the event were David Cutcliffe (Duke), Dave Doeren (N.C. State), Larry Fedora (North Carolina) and Scott Satterfield (Appalachian State). Former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry hosted the benefit dinner, and the Fisher DeBerry Foundation will help to divide the funds raised between charities of each coach’s choosing.
“I think football in the state of North Carolina has always been really good since I’ve been here,” said Grobe, also the former head coach at Ohio. “And now you need to be even better and ramp your program up because the competition has gotten stronger.”
Grobe knows better than perhaps anyone how tough recruiting can be in N.C., primarily against UNC. He said the Tar Heels have always been in a prime position to reel in the state’s top prospects.
“UNC is hard to beat because the kids here grow up from the time that they’re little and it’s the state school and all that, but deservedly so because they’ve got a great school and great facilities and a lot of things going for them,” Grobe said. “It starts with them and then the rest of us fight it out over kids.
“But East Carolina and Ruffin are doing a nice job right now, and N.C. State has Dave Doeren now, a new guy with new energy, and you look at (Cutcliffe) and what he did last year … and with Appalachian going Division I, now you’ve got even more competition. And eventually, the Charlotte 49ers are coming on board.”
Of the state’s football coaches, only McNeill (Robersonville) and Satterfield (Hillsborough) are true natives, but most seem united in their respect of football in the Tarheel State.
For Cutcliffe, competing in the ACC by any means necessary was the plan when he took the reins at Duke, but it just so happens his recent success is coming thanks in part to a surge in home-state players.
“I think we’re unique in that we have as many major college football programs as we do, and it’s unbelievably competitive,” said Cutcliffe, who left his offensive coordinator position at Tennessee in 2008 to take the Duke position and is now entering his sixth season with the Blue Devils. “When I came in, our job at Duke was to try to make it harder for everybody. We needed to participate because Wake was playing better and you’ve got North Carolina, N.C. State, East Carolina who’s built some really rich tradition in the last 20 years … I wanted to get into the game, and I think we’ve done that.”
For teams like the Blue Devils, the recruiting battles for in-state prospects are fought against more than just immediate neighbors, and Cutcliffe said it’s tough to keep them from heading elsewhere.
Whether they’re staying or leaving, however, homegrown talent is coming in droves and Cutcliffe said the numbers prove it.
“I think if you look at our rosters, it’s pretty interesting how many major college football players the state of North Carolina is producing,” he said. “When we came, we had eight on scholarship and now we’re approaching 30. What I see is that all of our teams are playing well, and it’s very difficult with all of us competing against each other, but the big thing that you see is, wow, look at what’s happened to high school football in the state of North Carolina. I think we’re on the rise.”
Contact Nathan Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9595.