Emphasis on social media pays off with impressive NC State class
FEB 05, 2014 7:24p ET
RALEIGH, N.C. -- When Dave Doeren got to Raleigh in December 2012, he knew he had a bit of a rebuilding job on his hands. And when he and his staff began working towards their first big recruiting class, they decided it needed branding.
Thus, the Twitter hashtag #Pack14 was born.
A little over a year later, the staff's recruiting efforts paid off during Wednesday's National Signing Day with the No. 26 class nationally according to Scout.com, N.C. State's highest-ranked class since 2005.
"A lot of people have asked what #Pack14 is, and as we sat down as a staff last year, obviously it was branding, but it was a united mission to build a champion together and not just us, the kids," Doeren said. "We wanted them to understand their mission and how we were going to build N.C. State football and what it was to be a part of N.C. State as a university and what it was to be a part of Wolfpack nation."
The 33 signees include nine early enrollees (three that count towards the '13 class), three walk-ons and two gray shirts.
And it's a deep class, highlighted by a collection of three-star recruits -- many of which were ranked in the top 100 at their position -- plus three four-star recruits.
Bo Hines, Garrett Bradbury, Micah Till and Coult Culler were the first four commits, followed closely by four-star quarterback Jalan McClendon. Then from June 6-July 1, there was a spree of 16 commitments, and the hashtag #RedLightIsOn started to gain traction. The N.C. State staff and some of the commits would use it to signify a recruit had verbally committed.
N.C. State finished 3-9 this year and didn't win a single ACC game. But they didn't lose recruits, mostly because the staff didn't deceive them about what was coming.
Rebuilding jobs don't happen overnight.
"Those guys got to know each other and I think what you'll find with our coaches and with me, we tell the truth to these guys. We talk about us. We talk about their opportunities here," Doeren said. "We tell them what it's going to be like. It's not for everybody, but it was for these guys and they wanted to be a part of it. They believe in N.C. State. They believe in our staff. They wanted to be a part of that.
"They knew. We didn't lie to them. We didn't come in and say, âWe're going to be 12-0 in Year 1.' We told them, âWe're building a program and we need some guys to come in and help build it that want to be a part of that process.' So as things unfolded during the year and we had all the injuries, they understood. But they understood what kind of men we were and our staff was and what kind of kids we wanted. ... It means a lot to me that those kids showed that kind of loyalty, the ones that committed early, and I've told those guys that. That says a lot about their character."
Even after the football season was well underway, the Wolfpack were able to land the top two players in the class: Kentavius Street, a four-star defensive end, and Troy Vincent Jr., a four-star defensive back who had committed to Penn State, but switched due to the coaching change. Street, in particular, was the jewel of the group. He's the 18th-ranked defensive end in the country and one of the best players in the state.
A Greenville, N.C., native, Street is almost certainly going to be a difference-maker, and he chose the Wolfpack over offers from Florida State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and Miami, among others. His commitment in December was a big payoff for the staff's efforts to keep the best talent in the state of North Carolina.
Of the top 42 in-state players, 16 chose N.C. State.
The SEC has generally made a run on those guys, as have other out-of-state ACC programs like Clemson or Virginia Tech that generally came more highly regarded. This year, just six of those in-state guys chose SEC schools, while eight chose out-of-state ACC schools.
Doeren talked about visiting high schools around the state of North Carolina and seeing pictures of former collegiate stars on the wall -- pictures of players wearing jerseys of schools not in the state. It happened far too often for his liking.
"We really feel like the state of North Carolina has enough players to win a national championship with. ... There are so many places these kids can go and play, and so I just felt like all right, well if they're playing down in Florida or in Georgia or in Tennessee or South Carolina, obviously they're good enough to play here," Doeren said. "So our job was to get everybody we could to stay home, and I just believe in that. I think as a player in general, every school I've been at, staying home and playing for your state university does a lot for you in life. You're going to have more people that are excited about you doing that from where you live than if you go to Texas or some other place. You can be equally as good a player at those other schools, but you're not going to have that same experience because of just what it's like to go home when you turn your state team into something special."
The two other highlights of the class are McClendon, a dual-threat quarterback who will be the successor to Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett (who will be eligible this year), and, of course, four-star defensive back Troy Vincent, Jr. The son of the former NFL great defensive back, he re-opened his recruiting once former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien left for the NFL.
He was one of N.C. State's last commits, but he's also the guy that Doeren has arguably known the longest.
When Doeren was on the staff at Wisconsin, Vincent's older sister worked in the recruiting office, and his father -- a former Wisconsin standout -- was often around the facility. The younger Vincent came to camp there in the summers. Doeren recruited him, but Vincent Jr. chose Penn State. Then the coaching change happened, and Vincent Jr. contacted the staff in January. The rest, of course, is history.
"Troy's very technical. He's been back-pedaling since he was three years old. Very polished. Has a lot to learn still, everybody does, but a very polished player. Very business-like competitor," Doeren said. "He'll come in ready to play. He obviously has to earn a job like everybody but I know competitively and fundamentally, he will be a guy that's very serious early on."
Clearly, the players didn't doubt Doeren even after the rough year, and his honesty played a big role in that. And they all saw chances to play early and often. It will likely be a few years before all of them are on the field and making a difference in Raleigh, but they'll get their chances.
"There's always questions you have to talk about with guys but again, if you have a program that you believe in, a blueprint that is proven, which we have -- it's worked at a number of places I've been. It will work here," Doeren said. "You're not unrealistic about the objectives and how you're going to get there. You talk to them about how they fit in, and they can see it. They come in, they watch practice. They come to games. They know their fit. We don't promise anything other than opportunity to these guys, but we tell them the truth."
Doeren said that he wasn't secure about anything with this class until the final fax came in. He knows how the recruiting game works, after all, and he knew that other coaches might still be trying to flip his commits. But now that it's all over, Doeren is already ready to move on to #Pack15.
One thing's for sure: after seeing the success of the social media campaign of #Pack14, social media will be prevalent in building N.C. State's recruiting momentum yet again. But much of that momentum was created and maintained by the players themselves.
"It was just about creating an identity for this class that they could grab on to and feel special about, and they did. It wasn't just about coming to N.C. State. It was about getting to know all those guys. On social media now, those guys can really get to know each other, even when they're not in the same school," Doeren said. "They get on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and all of a sudden they're buddies with someone who lives eight hours away. They can have conversations and pictures and videos and everything. So it's crazy how these guys network.
"I think we did a nice job of creating a brand, and the kids just jumped on it and ran with it. ... Now, it'll be fun to see them transition in with the rest of the roster."