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North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora lost 4-star outside linebacker Payton Wilson from his Class of 2018 on Wednesday.

North Carolina recruiting: Tar Heels next move after LB Payton Wilson de-commitment; PF Simi Shittu announces destination

Cody Pace

Join us daily at ACC DieHards for the latest North Carolina recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Tar Heels. Don’t miss any coverage from Cody Pace and the DieHards.com team. Read his daily notebooks here at 9 a.m. ET Monday through Friday. In this edition, we discuss where North Carolina can turn after the de-commitment of 4-star outside linebacker Payton Wilson, a linchpin in the Class of 2018.

Payton Wilson was not only arguably the best commitment in the Tar Heels’ Class of 2018, he was of the most important.

Wilson was the sole linebacker in a class that reached 11 players earlier this month. So when he started looking around a few weeks ago, including visits to Notre Dame and N.C. State, North Carolina was certainly nervous.

On Wednesday, Wilson made an announcement that realized the Tar Heels’ worst fear — he is opening his recruitment and de-committing from the program after less than 7 months as a member of the program. Making bad news worse, it came when the finish line was in sight, as Wilson planned on enrolling at his preferred school in January.

Certainly it’s possible that Wilson still ends up in Chapel Hill, but Tar Heels fans shouldn’t count on that. When Wilson made it public that he’d be making trips to a couple other schools, he told Scout’s Don Callahan that he needed to “reassure” himself.

“[It will give me a chance] to reassure myself, because it is a big decision,” Wilson told Callahan. “It’s the next four years of my life, so I want to make sure it’s the right one.”

The fact that Wilson came to the decision to de-commit seems to indicate that in his quest for reassurance, he didn’t find what he was looking for, which makes it hard to see North Carolina re-establishing itself as “the right one.”

So where could North Carolina turn to fill a now-gaping hole in its Class of 2018? It’s not going to be an easy fix.

Certainly, North Carolina is still in the running on 4-star inside linebacker Dax Hollifield, although there hasn’t been much about his relationship with North Carolina since his official visit in October. He’s already visited all three schools that he’s down to, but is planning a second visit to Stanford in January, this time an official visit. That doesn’t bode well for North Carolina in a season in which it’s already going to have an uphill battle to convince recruits that the program is on the right track.

Hollifield is the only blue chipper that North Carolina still has a legitimate shot at. While 4-star prospects JJ Peterson and Channing Tindall both have offers from the Tar Heels, they’ve already honed their recruitment in too close to play catchup now.

Essentailly, that leaves only relatively obscure prospects to fill the spot, most of which come from in-state schools.

Terrell Lichon, a two-star linebacker from Hogansville, Ga., is an option, although he hasn’t secured an offer from North Carolina yet. The Tar Heels could also reach into Georgia for unranked prospects Greggory Rodgers II or Chike Nwanze, the latter of which is the brother of Tar Heels running back target Emeka Nwanze, a 3-star prospect out of Roswell, Ga.

Beside those two, outside linebacker Javon Ratliffe and inside linebacker Cameren Lowery are two possibilities from within the state of North Carolina. But they too have not received an offer from North Carolina.

Given the relatively few linebackers with offers from North Carolina, we’ll likely get a pretty good idea of what direction the recruiting board is heading in the coming weeks, because Larry Fedora and his staff will have to hand out some offers if they want to fill that spot.

5-star PF Simi Shittu heading to Vanderbilt

It’s no surprise, given that North Carolina was apparently out of the running, but 5-star power forward Simi Shittu committed to Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

Shittu seemingly didn’t want to team up with Nassir Little, according to our sources, but North Carolina may not have completely removed itself from the running down the stretch. According to Scout’s Evan Daniels on Monday, North Carolina was still in contact “a little bit,” which likely wouldn’t be the case if Roy Williams wasn’t at least entertaining an attempt to get Shittu and Little together.

North Carolina could stand pat with its three-person Class of 2018, although it is still courting Zion Williamson, whose timetable for a decision is uncertain.

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