Trace Christian played wide receiver for most of his recreation and middle school football career. But by the time Christian reached Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, FL, a growth spurt dictated a change in positions.
“He kind of grew out of the receiver position with his body,” said David Delfiacco, who was then an assistant but now is head coach for the Patriots. “We run the triple option and the fullback is a big part of our game. So we put him at fullback on the freshman team. He just dominated the freshmen teams we were playing, so we moved him up to the varsity when the freshman season ended.
“A lot of times when freshmen move up they are timid. But after a few plays in practice we could tell he was a little more advanced and he moved himself into a backup role.”
But when the sophomore playing ahead of him was sidelined with an injury, Christian was forced into a starting role for Lake Brantley’s final regular-season game against Lake Howell.
How did the freshman fullback respond?
Well, he ran 24 times for 194 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner in the second overtime of a 29-26 triumph.
“He’s rushed for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons since,” Delfiacco said of the 6-foot-1, 218-pounder who on December 13th became 20th member of East Carolina’s football recruiting Class of 2017.
Christian, who was rated No. 4 in the Orlando Sentinel’s 2017 Central Florida Super60, chose the Pirates over an impressive offer list that featured Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Mississippi State, Missouri, N.C. State, Rutgers, Syracuse, South Florida, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest among others.
Just last month Christian was quoted as saying he was leaning toward South Florida and Indiana. But Willie Taggert’s departure from South Florida to become head coach at Oregon, and Kevin Wilson’s ouster as head coach at Indiana changed his perspective on those schools. Meanwhile, East Carolina, which had offered a scholarship back in May, was coming on strong with head coach Scottie Montgomery making an impression during an in-home visit. The Pirates themselves then sealed the deal during Christian’s official trip to campus on Dec. 9.
“Before he went up there for the visit, he wasn’t totally on board (with ECU) at the time,” Delfiacco said. “But after that visit they obviously did something to sell him on East Carolina. They really wanted him and they went after him. Coach Montgomery made a difference as far as the recruiting process. After talking to him, [Christian] wanted to see what East Carolina had to offer.”
Christian had official visits scheduled for Georgia Tech on Jan. 13, Indiana on Jan. 20 and Rutgers Jan. 27, but Delfiacco believes his star is solid with the Pirates.
“I think it’s probably a firm commitment,” he said. “I can’t speak on his behalf. But he’s always been a kid who when he tells you something he follows through on it. I would be surprised if he changed his mind.”
The Pirates were looking for another running back to add to the 2017 class after Jerry Howard from Rock Hill, SC, backed off a pledge to ECU on November 21 and committed to Georgia Tech. But in Christian they added a runner with a distinctly different style than Howard or any other back currently on their roster.
Christian runs with a combination of power and speed – he’s been timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash – that is often reflected in yards after contact. As an example of that talent, Delfiacco recalled a pass reception that Christian turned into an incredible touchdown play this season.
“We were down to like 30 seconds left in the second quarter,” Delfiacco said. “We were probably at our 30-yard line and we threw a screen pass to Trace. He made just an incredible run. I thought he was going down about midfield, so I was running on the field calling time out. The next thing I knew he spun away from like three guys, stayed on his feet, stiffed armed another guy and ran into the end zone. It was just a great individual effort.
“He is not just a straight-ahead fullback type of guy. He’s a big running back with great speed.”
Christian used those skills to rush 137 times for 1,016 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. He followed that with 139 carries for 1,286 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior, which included a career-best 15-carry, 230-yard rushing performance against Lake Mary.
As a senior, Christian produced career highs in rushing attempts (145) and yards (1,316) while scoring 16 touchdowns. He topped the 100-yard mark in eight of Lake Brantley’s 12 games.
Delfiacco compares Christian favorably to another Lake Brantley great who wound up playing for a North Carolina college team.
Jeff Butler, who ran for 2,224 yards and scored 22 touchdowns as a Lake Brantley senior in 1993, signed to play at N.C. State. Butler lettered for the Wolfpack between 1995-98. But while Butler remained a fullback in college, Delfiacco believes Christian is a true running back.
“Trace is very similar to Jeff Butler, a fullback we had in the 90s who rushed for more than 2,000 yards,” Delfiacco said. “Trace is probably a little more of a shifty runner than Jeff was. Jeff was more of a true fullback. Trace can make cuts. He has good vision and he can turn the corner.”
Christian’s athletic talents haven’t been confined to the football field at Lake Brantley. He’s also an accomplished track and field performer, who is the defending state 4-A champion in the shot put. After finishing second at the state 4-A meet as a sophomore, Christian won the title last year with a toss of 52 feet, 9.25 inches.
“That just shows his power, strength and athletic ability,” Delfiacco said.
With the addition of Christian, ECU again has two stellar running backs in the recruiting Class of 2017. Darius Pinnix from Western Alamance High in Elon committed in July. In a pass-heavy offense this season, Pinnix rushed for 426 yards and 14 touchdowns, but caught 73 passes for 1,225 yards and 16 scores.