After years of recruiting in its own area, the University of North Carolina decided to expand its search for blue-chip athletes four years ago when Coach Dick Crum arrived.
The Tar Heels came to the Washington area and signed all-Met Michael Wilcher out of Eastern High. As it turned out, the recruiting of Wilcher opened the door for a line of 10 quality area players -- seven of them all-Met or all-America -- to head down to Tobacco Road to play for the Tar Heels.
Wilcher and Aaron Jackson, an all-Met from Bullis Prep, are the starting outside linebackers for Carolina. Brian Blados, a 300-pounder from Washington-Lee High, is a starting offensive tackle and Bill Lawson from Robinson is a backup tackle.
The North Carolina staff was so impressed with Wilcher that it signed defensive tackle Wendelle Battle of Theodore Roosevelt and offensive tackle Mel Trimble of Park View the next year. Both are now backups.
Last year, they signed Jackson and Lawson. This year, the Tar Heels had the most success ever in the Washington area, landing Danny Burmeister, an all-Met receiver from Oakton; Dave Truitt, a tight end from Gaithersburg; Robert Pike, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound defensive lineman who played at Coolidge in 1980 and at Massanutten Prep last year, and the class of the class, linebacker Carl Carr, an all-Met and Parade magazine all-America from T.C. Williams. All are reserves at the moment, although Carr has seen much playing time at linebacker and on the special teams.
UNC had done a bit of recruiting in Northern Virginia under former Coach Bill Dooley, but little recruiting was done in Maryland or the District of Columbia until Larry Marmie, defensive backfield coach, and Chuck Priefer, defensive line coach, decided to look into the matter. Priefer, who was an assistant to Crum at Miami of Ohio before coming to UNC, remembers the recruitment of Wilcher.
"Before we came here, there had been a little recruiting in Northern Virginia," said Priefer. "The word we got was that it was just not worth it to come into this area, particularly the Interhigh. One day, I decided to go over and watch the Interhigh, since they played their games on Friday afternoons and Northern Virginia plays at night. That's when I saw Mike Wilcher. I was confident he could play major college football.
"Our success with Wilcher helped in recruiting other area players over the last three years. We are very delighted with our sucess with Washington area players and we hope to get more in the future."
Playing behind all-America Lawrence Taylor, Wilcher played mostly on special teams his first two seasons. He finally got his chance last season and made the most of it by finishing as the team's fifth-leading tackler (44 solo tackles, 23 assists) and second in sacks (eight).
Wilcher, who is 6-4 and weighs 236, doesn't have Taylor's speed, but he has everything else. After being recruited by such powers as Pitt, Purdue and Penn State, Wilcher chose North Carolina because of what he saw in the Tar Heels that season, when the team was 6-5.
"During my senior year, I watched them a few times on television and I saw that they lost a lot of close games," said Wilcher. "I was convinced that they were a team on the way up and I figured I could help them."
Wilcher admitted that although he accepted his role as a special-teams player the first two years, he sometimes second-guessed himself for choosing Carolina.
"At times, I asked myself had I made the right decision when I didn't get a chance to play more," he said. "The thing that kept me going was that the people here at Carolina are concerned about you not only as an athlete, but also as a person. They had been honest with me all along and I knew that my chance would come. Besides, my second choice was Pittsburgh and if I had gone there I still would have had to play behind Hugh Green for two years."
Blados chose UNC over Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama, among others, because of proximity to home and the social atmosphere.
"When I made my visit, I was really impressed with the campus and the people here," Blados said. "The coaching staff, the instructors and the students are so helpful, it makes it a nice place to go to school. Having players like Wilcher around helped also because we could talk about Washington and he helped me some in making the transition. North Carolina reminds me some of the Georgetown area, and it's nice because it is away from home, but not too far away."