Although the linebacker positions weren’t necessarily a priority in East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2018, the Pirates smartly didn’t pass up the opportunity to land two good ones.
ECU snared a quality outside linebacker prospect back in early June when Gerard Stringer from Nansemond River High School in Suffolk, VA, chose the Pirates over offers from Army, Navy and Ohio University.
The Pirates returned to Virginia’s talent-rich Tidewater area again in August to land an inside linebacker complement to Stringer. Xavier Smith, a 6-foot, 235-pounder from Brooke Point High in Stafford, VA, joined Stringer in ECU’s recruiting Class of 2018 on August 12th about two weeks after making an unofficial visit to campus. He chose the Pirates over an offer list that included Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Connecticut, James Madison, Marshall and Temple, according to Brooke Point coach Thomas Buzzo.
Buzzo said ECU’s coaching staff got its first look at Smith last spring during track and field season. Smith displays a rare combination of speed, agility and strength by competing for Brooke Point in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles as well as the shot put. He’s produced personal bests of 15.47 seconds in the 110 hurdles, 43.21 in the 300 and 49 feet in the shot put, according to stats on the Athleticnet.com track and field website.
“They were aware of him and watched his [highlight] tape,” Buzzo said. “So they came in and made their two [on campus] visits. They actually came and watched him at track practice. So they got an athletic evaluation [from track] and did an academic evaluation. Based off all that they made an offer to the young man.
“He went down that way and stopped in for a visit so they could get to know him better. I think that was the place he wanted to go the whole time.”
Buzzo has watched Smith develop from a young running back into a stud linebacker, while also witnessing some serious trials and tribulations. He first became aware of Smith while coaching his two older brothers, Damontay and Quentel Smith, the latter who was a three-year varsity player from 2012-14 for the Black Hawks.
Xavier was a tailback on the Brooke Point freshman squad in 2014 while Quentel was a defensive player on the varsity.
“By reputation, he (Xavier) was the best of the three (brothers),” Buzzo said. “A lot of people thought he’d play varsity right off the bat and would never play a down on the freshman team. But we had a pretty good tailback on the varsity that year, and Xavier wasn’t quite mature enough schematically wise. But if I had it to do over again I would have kept him on the varsity as a freshman.”
There was no holding Smith back in 2015. He blossomed into a star at middle linebacker for a Brooke Point team that went 9-3 that reached the second round of the state Group 5A playoffs. Smith received first-team All-Conference 15 honors for his contributions during the season.
Marshall extended the first of what was projected to be many scholarship offers during the off season following his sophomore year in February 2016. But Smith’s recruitment slowed suddenly three games into his junior year when he was suspended due to what published reports referred to as a “disciplinary issue.”
But what could have been the end of a promising career only inspired Smith, according to Buzzo.
“I don’t want to talk a lot about the situation, but the incident that happened to him would have taken out 99 of 100 kids if they’d been in the same shoes he was in,” Buzzo said. “The kid did mature and handled it well. Football is his life. But things happen and that was a big bump in the road in his life.
“In those situations, you just have to put your arm around him and love the kid. I took him out to McDonald’s and set out a plan for him (to return to football). I told him if he’d do his job, I’d do mine. I told him to focus on the classroom. He did that, and got bigger and stronger. He was able to get through the situation and put it behind.”
Smith will play a dual role as a senior for Brooke Point. In addition to his linebacker role, he’ll see action at tailback as well.
But the Pirates envision Smith as an inside or middle linebacker when he reaches Greenville sometime in 2018.
“He’s just a big, physical rascal,” Buzzo said. “ He’s also very athletic. I tell you, the kid can do a back flip, or dunk a basketball. He runs the hurdles in track. He’s just an athletic kid who can move, and the sky is the limit for him.”
East Carolina has offers out to other linebackers, but the addition of Smith to the recruiting class is likely the last prospect to be taken at those positions.