North Carolina to the NFL Part 5: Which colleges have benefitted the most from N.C. high school products who eventually played in the NFL?


North Carolina to the NFL

(This is the fifth in a series on the North Carolina products who went on to play in the NFL. Here are the previous and upcoming stories:)

Part 1: The first NFL player came in 1921 and he came from the state’s winningest high school program. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-1-the-first-nfl-player-came-in-1921-and-he-came-from-the-states-winningest-high-school-program/

Part 2: North Carolina to the NFL Part 2: Jim Thorpe is not a N.C. native but he spent time in the state and later recruited N.C. natives for his NFL team. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-2-jim-thorpe-is-not-a-n-c-native-but-he-spent-time-in-the-state-and-later-recruited-n-c-natives-for-his-nfl-team/

Part 3: What do the numbers say about North Carolina high school products in the NFL? How many have there been? And who played the longest in the NFL? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-3-what-do-the-numbers-say-about-north-carolina-high-school-products-in-the-nfl-how-many-have-there-been-and-who-played-the-longest-in-the-nfl/

Part 4: What North Carolina high schools and counties have produced the most eventual NFL players?

Part 6: How many NFL first round picks have been produced by North Carolina high schools?

Part 7: How did eventual NFL players do when they played for North Carolina high schools?

Part 8: North Carolina has a handful of natives who didn’t attend high school in the state before making it to the NFL. Here’s a look at some of them.


By Richard Walker

North Carolina high schools have produced 628 eventual NFL players entering the 2021 season – and most of them also attended in-state colleges and universities.

Asheville’s Charlie Justice was a standout for the University of North Carolina in the 1940s before playing in the NFL.

Predictably, the state’s four ACC schools have produced four of the top six totals, as North Carolina has benefitted from 94 N.C. high schoolers who eventually played in the NFL, N.C. State 81, Wake Forest 38 and Duke 31. East Carolina (42) and Clemson (39) round out of the top six.

All five major college conferences and independent Notre Dame have benefitted from N.C. high schoolers.

The Big Ten was particularly successful in recruiting North Carolina high school products before ACC and SEC schools started integrating their teams in the late 1960s.

And while Clemson is far and away that largest out-of-state beneficiary with 39 eventual NFL players from North Carolina, SEC rivals South Carolina and Tennessee have had 18 eventual NFL players come from North Carolina.

In-state schools North Carolina Central (22), North Carolina A&T (18), Appalachian State (17), Winston-Salem State (12) and nearby Virginia (12) are the only other schools with 10 or more NFL players who played high school football in North Carolina.

North Carolina and N.C. State are in the midst of long streaks of years in which at least one of their homegrown players has played in the NFL; The Tar Heels have had at least one N.C. high school player in the NFL every year since 1966 and the Wolfpack had had at least one since 1971.

North Carolina also holds the all-time single-season record as 15 in-state players were playing the NFL during the 1991 season. The Tar Heels also have had double-digit homegrown NFL players in 1979 (11), 1980 (11), 1990 (12), 1992 (13), 1993 (14), 1994 (10), 2001 (10), 2007 (11) and 2009 (10).

North Carolina’s first home-grown NFL player was Tarboro’s Tom Burnette, who spent one season in the NFL. And among the Tar Heels’ most famous NFL players are Asheville Lee Edwards’ Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and Southern Nash’s Julius Peppers.

Eastern Guilford’s Torry Holt (81) was a standout for N.C. State before playing in the NFL.

N.C. State’s top years for homegrown NFL players were 1985 and 1986 when the Wolfpack had 10 in-state players.

Shelby’s Johnnie Hudson was the state’s first NFL player in 1921. And among the Wolfpack’s most famous NFL players are Wilmington New Hanover’s Roman Gabriel and Eastern Guilford’s Torry Holt.

Wake Forest’s first home-grown NFL player was Durham’s Clem Crabtree in 1940. And among the Deacons’ most famous NFL players are Landis’ Billy Ray Barnes and Fayetteville E.E. Smith’s Aaron Curry.

Duke’s first home-grown NFL player was Waynesville’s Fred Crawford in 1935. And among the Blue Devils’ most famous NFL players are Wilmington New Hanover’s Sonny Jurgensen and Charlotte Latin’s Daniel Jones.

Clemson’s first N.C. high school NFL player was Asheville Lee Edwards’ Jim McCanless in 1960. And among the Tigers’ most famous N.C. NFL players are Charlotte Garinger’s Dwight Clark and Whiteville’s Chester McGlockton.

East Carolina’s first home-grown NFL player was Wilson Coon’s Glenn Bass in 1961. And among the Pirates’ most famous NFL players are West Craven’s George Koonce and Southern Durham’s David Garrard.

North Carolina Central’s first home-grown NFL player was Raleigh Ligon’s John Baker in 1958. And among the Eagles’ most famous NFL players are Durham Hillside’s Ernie Barnes and Fayetteville E.E. Smith’s Doug Wilkerson.

North Carolina A&T’s first home-grown NFL player was Charlotte Second Ward’s Dick Westmoreland in 1963. And among the Aggies’ most famous NFL players are Shelby Cleveland’s Mel Phillips and Bunn’s Tarik Cohen.

Appalachian State’s first home-grown NFL player was Shelby’s George Watts in 1942. And among the Mountaineers’ most famous NFL players are Southern Guilford’s Dino Hackett and Fayetteville E.E. Smith’s Jason Hunter.

And Winston-Salem State’s first home-grown NFL player was South Stokes’ Bill Murrell in 1979. And among the Rams’ most famous NFL players are Ahoskie’s Timmy Newsome and Monroe’s Richard Huntley.

The out-of-state school that arguably benefitted most from North Carolina high school players was Minnesota during the days when N.C. schools were segregated.

Minnesota recruited three eventual NFL Hall of Famers to play for the Gophers from 1959 to 1964 in Shelby Cleveland’s Bobby Bell, Winston-Salem Atkins’ Carl Eller and Greensboro Dudley’s Charlie Sanders.

Here’s a list of the number of college and universities attended by N.C. high schoolers before playing in the NFL (41 players played at more than college and/or university):

94 – North Carolina
81 – N.C. State
42 – East Carolina
39 – Clemson
38 – Wake Forest
31 – Duke
22 – North Carolina Central
18 – North Carolina A&T, South Carolina, Tennessee
17 – Appalachian State
12 – Virginia, Winston-Salem State
9 – Western Carolina
8 – Catawba Georgia
7 – Notre Dame, Virginia Tech
6 – Florida, Florida State
5 – Davidson, Minnesota
4 – Alabama, California, Chowan, Hampton, Maryland, Michigan
3 – Arizona State, Charlotte, East Mississippi, Georgia Military, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Ohio State, Johnson C. Smith, Wofford
2 – Arizona, Auburn, Coastal Carolina, Coffeyville, LSU, Lenoir-Rhyne, Miami, Fla., Michigan State, Mississippi, Penn State, Purdue, Southern California, William & Mary
1 – Arkansas, Boston College, Central Florida, Central Michigan, Citadel, College of Canyons, Connecticut, Contra Costa, Garden City, Harvard, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Iowa Western, Liberty, Louisville, Mars Hill, Merced, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Northwest Mississippi, Ohio U., Oklahoma State, Oregon, St. Augustine’s, South Carolina State, Southern Mississippi, Stanford, ,Texas, Towson, Troy, UCLA, West Georgia, West Hills, West Virginia, Wingate, Youngstown State