East Carolina started and finished with the best in pursuit of the football Recruiting Class of 2018.
The 20-player class completed last Wednesday got started January 30, 2017, when heralded local quarterback prospect Holton Ahlers made a verbal commitment to play for the Pirates. Ahlers gave instant credibility to the class because of his lofty status in the national (No. 17/23 dual-threat quarterback) and state rankings (highest rated North Carolina quarterback) produced by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com.
Flash forward 373 days to Feb. 7, 2017. The Pirates have already added 19 new prospects, including Ahlers, during college football’s first early signing period in December, but are hoping to top off the class with two or three more high-profile prospects.
Efforts to land junior college offensive lineman Reuben Lewis (signed with Kansas) and flip Florida running back Malcolm Davidson from Georgia State failed, leaving ECU with one target remaining on signing day.
Of course, that target was New Jersey defensive end Dorian Hardy, who was previously a four-star prospect committed to Penn State before off-the-field issues put him back in the recruiting pool. So when the national letter of intent from the 6-5, 230-pounder arrived at the ECU football office late Wednesday morning it provided the perfect closing act for the 2018 class.
Hardy checks in as the second-highest rated prospect in the Pirate class behind Ahlers. Rivals.com ranks him the No. 22 weakside defensive end prospect in the country and No. 10 in New Jersey, while he’s the No. 27 strongside defensive end and No. 15 in the state, according to 247Sports.com.
In between those impressive catches, ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery and his staff added athleticism and speed to their roster, especially on defense where 14 of the signed prospects will play. Along with the 20 prospects signed last Wednesday, the Pirates also added a pair of “blue shirts,” or players who will pay their way to school next fall, but will be given scholarships as soon as they become available. Those players — Naples, FL, running back Tay Williams and offensive lineman Noah Henderson from Bennettsville, SC — will actually count toward the ’19 class, but because they’ll be with the team next fall we’ll include them in this evaluation.
But before we evaluate the defensive signees, here’s our annual position-by-position grades for the offensive recruits. We’ll speculate on how each player fits into the ECU program, provide the best organizational profile that we can and look ahead to what the Pirates may need as they begin pursuing the recruiting Class of 2019. We’ll break down the defensive signees in an upcoming article.
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Originally, the Pirates appeared well stocked at quarterback with Gardner Minshew and two underclassmen already in the program. Then, they added Ahlers early in the recruiting cycle to further enhance the depth at the position. But in late January, Minshew suddenly withdrew from school to return home to Mississippi to tend to family matters. That left ECU with just one scholarship quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap in a college game, and scrambling to find junior college or graduate transfer to fill the void.
WHO SIGNED: ECU landed one of the best quarterbacks in state history with the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Ahlers. Just 15 minutes from ECU’s campus at D.H. Conley High School, Ahlers piled up 11,198 passing yards (third-highest in state history), 14,784 yards of total offense (2nd), 145 touchdown passes (3rd) and 201 total touchdowns (2nd.) in four years as the starter. He capped his career at Conley by completing 223 of 358 passes for 3,763 yards and 61 touchdowns (fourth-best in state history), while also rushing for 933 more yards and 14 more scores as a senior. Twice named to the all-state first team chosen by The Associated Press, Ahlers also quarterbacked the North Carolina squad to victory in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game with 156 yards passing and 32 rushing. The performance earned him most valuable player honors in a game featuring the best players from North and South Carolina. Even after Ahlers committed to the Pirates, schools such as Alabama and Georgia continued to make overtures right up to the early signing period in December. But Ahlers stuck to his word and signed with ECU.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Simply put, Ahlers is a baller. He can zip passes down the field from the pocket, or roll out and spin it to a receiver on the run. When Ahlers pulls the ball down, he’s an intimidating physical runner who can shed tacklers and burn teams for big gains. Ahlers has all the important intangibles, too – a high football IQ, a desire to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line and he’s a tremendous leader. Need a comparison? He’s a cross between Tim Tebow and a left-handed David Garrard. Minshew’s absence, at least for spring practice, has opened the door for Ahlers to compete with the program’s remaining quarterbacks for the starting job.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Ahlers was ECU’s primary target from the get-go, but other quarterbacks were extended scholarships such as Wake Forest’s Gunnar Holmberg (Duke signee) and Carter Bradley from Jacksonville, FL (Toledo). The Pirates were among the first schools to offer top-10 national quarterback Justin Fields (Georgia) from Kennesaw, GA. But once Ahlers made his pledge in January 2017 the interest in the others essentially ended.
WHO’S BACK: For now, it’s redshirt sophomore Reid Herring and red-shirt freshman Kingley Ifedi, both of whom were highly touted in-state recruits.
Herring (6-3, 180) worked as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart most of last season behind Minshew and Thomas Sirk. He appeared in two games, completing his only pass for 20 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati. Herring is a tall, lanky pro-style quarterback who prefers to stand in the pocket and zip the ball down field. He has the strongest arm and best passing touch between the two, and has the most experience running the ECU offense, albeit mostly in practice. Herring isn’t a great runner, but is more mobile than he might appear.
Ifedi (6-3, 214) is a superb athlete and dual-threat quarterback in every sense of the term. He can stand in the pocket and sling passes 30-40 yards down the field with accuracy. But it’s when he starts to scramble or move around in the pocket that he consistently created big plays in high school. The latter ability potentially makes Ifedi a more dangerous quarterback than Herring. But his talents are still raw and ideally he could use another year as a backup to develop. The Pirates, however, may not have the luxury to give Ifedi that time.
Unless, of course, Minshew returns. The 6-2, 215-pounder earned the No. 1 spot on the quarterback depth chart for ECU after a hot finish to 2017. He completed 174 of 304 passes for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns with a good chunk of that production coming in November when he started the final four games of the season. The door has been left open for Minshew to return to school in August, but for now the Pirates can only wish his family the best and move forward.
WHO’S GONE: Minshew, of course, but also the other half of last year’s quarterback combo, Thomas Sirk. The Duke graduate transfer had some solid moments with the Pirates while starting games in the middle of the season. He completed 132 of 238 passes for 1,655 yards and nine scores, but Sirk never got untracked as a runner, which was an element that had made him so dangerous with the Blue Devils. Sirk eventually shifted to tight end, where he saw most of his snaps down the stretch for the Pirates.
NEEDS FOR 2019: ECU will likely try to add another quarterback to the roster via the transfer route between now and next August. But regardless, signing at least one in the Class of 2019 will be a priority. ECU has already extended scholarship offers to three rising seniors – Garrett Shrader from Charlotte Christian School, Morgan Mitchell from Oviedo, FL, and Bryan Gagg of Bradenton, FL.
The 6-5, 200-pound Shrader was the first ’19 passer the Pirates offered in January 2017. He has already accumulated more than 15 FBS offers after passing for 2,302 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior.
Mitchell (6-6, 200) passed for 1,385 yards and 10 touchdowns last season in his first as a starter, while Gagg (6-3, 188) had 2,252 yards and 28 scores as a junior. ECU was the first school to offer Gagg and Mitchell has offers from Central Florida and Florida Atlantic in addition to the Pirates.
PROJECTED QUARTERBACK DEPTH CHART
Reid Herring, Soph.
Kingsley Ifedi, RFresh.
Holton Ahlers, Fresh.
RUNNING BACK D+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Based on anticipated graduation losses after the 2017 season, the original focus was to add one or possibly two running backs in the ’18 recruiting class. But with Anthony Scott being ruled academically ineligible prior to the regular season, then Devin Anderson and Derrell Scott deciding to transfer for their final year of college eligibility, the need became even greater to sign at least two backs.
WHO SIGNED: It wasn’t from a lack of effort, but ECU signed no running backs — an F was avoided by pulling in Tay Williams from Naples, FL, as a “blue shirt.” The 5-11, 185-pounder will eventually receive a scholarship, but will be counted as part of the 2019 recruiting class, even though he’ll be enrolled next year. Williams spent his first three varsity season playing quarterback and running back for Lake Placid High. He rushed 101 times for 763 yards and six touchdowns as a junior for Lake Placid before transferring to the Community School of Naples for his senior year. Williams ranked fifth in Collier County rushing there with 835 yards and 10 touchdowns, despite three of his teams games being canceled, including two washed out because of a hurricane.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Williams will add a shifty, agile back who can stop and cut on a dime. He has adequate, but not breakaway speed. I can see Williams eventually moving to a slot receiver position where his good hands and ability to elude tacklers might be a better fit.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Former Alabama running back B.J. Emmons, now at Hutchinson Community College, came to Greenville for an official visit in October, but academic issues forced the Pirates’ interest to cool. ECU tried desperately in the days leading up to the February signing period to flip Tallahassee, FL, running back Destin Coates from Georgia State and Malcolm Davidson from Osceola, FL, from Florida Atlantic. But both spurned those advances to sign with the programs to which they first committed.
WHO’S BACK: The top two rushers from 2017 will be back for spring practice along with a back who has played in 31 career games and logged 104 carries for the Pirates.
Junior Hussein Howe (5-9, 183) racked up 419 yards and scored three touchdowns on 96 carries last season to lead ECU, but it was then-true freshman Darius Pinnix (6-0, 225) who started six of the last seven games. Pinnx ranked second to Howe in rushing with 229 yards and two scores on 74 carries. Howe, who played in all 12 games and made one start last year, is the speed guy of the combo and an excellent receiver out of the backfield (30 catches for 219 yards). Pinnix is more of a power back, as are redshirt freshman Trace Christian (6-0, 220) and walk-on senior Nate Harvey (6-1, 223). Harvey was a standout on the special teams last season when he played in all 12 games, but is solid enough to make an impact in the backfield in 2018.
The X-factor in the running game next fall could be senior Anthony Scott (5-9, 189). As mentioned before, Scott missed last season after being ruled academically ineligible. But he was reinstated to the football team in January and will participate in spring practice. Scott brings valuable experience and some breakaway speed to the backfield picture. Before taking last season off, Scott had appeared in 31 games for the Pirates, gaining 859 yards and scoring six touchdowns on 104 carries.
WHO’S GONE: Three players have departed ECU’s running back stable, including two who started games last season.
Clemson graduate transfer Tyshon Dye had an up-and-down year, rushing 50 times for 217 yards. Dye played in eight games and started two in his final year of eligibility.
Former heralded recruit Derrell Scott and ex-walk-on Devin Anderson would have been seniors in 2018, but instead opted to transfer out the program in January. Scott saw the most extensive action of his ECU career last season, playing in nine games, starting three and rushing 41 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson was third on the depth chart behind Pinnix and Hussein at the end of last season. But due to injuries he only appeared in four games, running 29 times for 83 yards.
NEEDS FOR 2019: Anthony Scott and Harvey are both scheduled to complete their eligibility after the 2018 season. Tay Williams will likely be awarded a scholarship at that point, leaving the Pirates with four recruited backs. Adding at least two to that unit should be ECU’s goal.
The Pirates are already halfway there after receiving a verbal commitment from Taron Beauford of Southern Durham High School last Wednesday on signing day. The 5-10, 174-pounder played a variety of positions at Southern as a junior, including quarterback. He completed 53 of 95 passes for 841 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushed 108 times for 454 yards and five scores and caught seven passes for 57 yards. ECU was the first school to offer Beauford a scholarship.
Two more talented Down East running back targets for ECU are Cameron Hutchinson from Havelock High and Zonovan “Bam” Knight from Southern Nash. Hutchinson (6-0, 215) ran for 1,033 yards as a junior in a running back tandem with Pirate Class of 2018 signee Khalil Barrett. He has offers from Appalachian State and Old Dominion as well. The 6-foot, 190-pound Knight piled up 1,877 yards and 27 scores at Southern Nash and is drawing interest from Boston College, Duke, Illinois and Louisville.
PROJECTED RUNNING BACK DEPTH CHART
Darius Pinnix, Soph.
Hussein Howe, Jr.
Anthony Scott, Sr.
Nate Harvey, Sr.
Tay Williams, Fresh.
WIDE RECEIVER C+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Receivers occupy more spots on ECU’s roster than any other position, which is an indication of their value in the program. Three major contributors to the receiving corps completed their eligibility in 2017 and a fourth receiver from the depth chart opted to transfer. Signing two or more replacements should have been the goal.
WHO SIGNED: The Pirates landed two versatile receivers who committed early in the cycle and signed during the early period in December.
Juwon Moody, a 5-10, 165-pounder from Conway, SC, averaged 22.4 yards per reception and caught nine touchdown passes as a senior. He also was a dangerous return specialist who took kickoffs back 70 and 95 yards for touchdowns over his final two prep seasons.
Andre Pegues (6-3, 202) split time at quarterback and receiver in a three-year varsity career at Hoke County High in Raeford. During an injury-plagued senior season, Pegues still managed 22 catches for 224 yards and five touchdowns.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Moody is a jitterbug, who uses speed (4.4 seconds in 40-yard dash) and incredible athleticism – he can dunk a basketball even though he’s just 5-10 – to deliver explosive plays as a receiver and return specialist. Pegues is a long-strider with excellent hands and a long frame that’ll make him a tough matchup for smaller defensive backs.
With just five scholarship receivers returning with game experience, Moody or Pegues could show up on the depth chart somewhere next fall. Pegues is probably more physically ready to help, but still has a lot to learn about playing receiver. Moody knows the position better at this stage, but could use more size.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Terrance Horne is a football and track star from Miramar High in Hollywood, FL, who took an official visit to ECU in November. Horne was a big-play specialist in football where he made 34 catches for 738 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. On the track, the 5-9, 165-pounder has been timed at 10.29 seconds in the 100-meter dash. The Pirates were among Horne’s finalists along with Cincinnati and South Florida, but the Bulls got his signature in December.
Through not fault of its own, ECU also lost out on talented Williamston receiver Jadakis Bonds. Bonds (6-4, 170) is a versatile, fast athlete whom his high school coached called a taller version of N.C. State star Jaylen Samuels. But after making a verbal commitment to the Pirates in June 2017, Bonds apparently didn’t meet academic requirements and eventually was dropped from the class.
WHO’S BACK: Six players who made catches last season and three who started games are scheduled to return, led by senior Trevon Brown. Brown (12 games, 7 starts in 2017) should be an all-star candidate in 2018 after leading ECU with 60 catches for 1,067 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Junior Deondre Farrier (9-4) ended the season as the starter at the H wide-out spot and was fifth in team receiving with 24 catches for 211 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Tahj Deans (9-1) was No. 2 on the depth chart at the X position for the final game of 2017 and junior walk-on Cam Marshmon (5-0) was running second-team at the H. Deans grabbed 16 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns last year, while Marshmon had two catches for 13 yards.
Sophomore Mydreon Vines (9-0), who made two catches for 39 yards in his ECU debut, and senior Terrell Green (9-0) are the others with playing time under their belts.
Redshirt freshmen Blake Proehl and Leroy Hanley, plus highly regarded walk-on redshirt freshman Duce Fuller are all expected to compete for rotation spots in spring practice.
WHO’S GONE: Three of the team’s top four receivers completed their eligibility at the end of the 2017, and all three were starters. Davon Grayson (11 games, 11 starts) ranked second in receiving (59 catches, 886 yards, six touchdowns), Quay Johnson (10-8) was third (47-464-3) and Jimmy Williams (10-7) was fourth (32-447-3).
In addition to those losses, Malik Gray (7-0), who would have been a senior in 2018, announced in January he was transferring to another school. A knee injury suffered in preseason camp limited Gray’s contribution last season, but by the end of the year he had moved up to No. 3 on the depth chart at the X position. Gray caught two passes for 18 yards.
NEEDS FOR 2019: Brown and Green are the only receivers scheduled to graduate after the 2018 campaign. So replacing those two is the minimum number, but signing 3-4 is the optimal objective. The Pirates have already extended scholarship offers to four productive in-state receivers.
Holton Ahlers’ partner-in-crime at D.H. Conley High, C.J. Johnson, hauled in 68 catches for 1,547 yards and an amazing 31 touchdowns as a junior. Johnson (6-2, 200) is also being pursued by Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
Jordan Waters (6-3, 202) from Fairmont High (75-976-9) and Austin Robinson (6-1, 192) from Charlotte’s Hough High (39-826-13) are also major targets.
The most interesting receiver prospect being pursued by the Pirates may be Emery Simmons from South View High in Hope Mills. Simmons (6-1, 185) is the son of former ECU running back Dale Simmons. The younger Simmons caught 55 passes for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the Tigers. The Pirates and Indiana are his offers so far.
PROJECTED WIDE RECEIVER DEPTH CHART
Deondre Farrier, Jr.
Cam Marshmon, Jr.
Blake Proehl, RFresh.
Duce Fuller, RFresh.
Juwon Moody, Fresh.
X and Z
Trevon Brown, Sr.
Tahj Deans, Soph.
Mydreon Vines, Soph.
Terrell Green, Sr.
Leroy Henley, RFresh.
Andre Pegues, Fresh.
TIGHT END C+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Four tight ends on the current roster are seniors or juniors, so signing one to start the process of replacing those players was the objective.
WHO SIGNED: Johnny Bogle (6-2, 252) from the famed prep program at Nease High in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Bogle entertained more than 14 scholarship offers before committing to the Pirates in June 2017. A two-way start at Nease, he made 34 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks in eight games on defense. He was used mainly as a blocker from the fullback position at Nease.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: ECU will use Nease as a hybrid fullback-tight end, and he’s well suited for that role. He’s an aggressive, strong, physical player who has developed a strong leg drive from playing defensive line in high school. Don’t be surprised if Bogle makes a contribution at ECU as a true freshman on special teams and short-yardage plays.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: A late run at Roswell, GA, tight end Tyneil Hopper (6-3, 225) didn’t pay off for the Pirates. An excellent receiving tight end, Hopper caught 40 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns as a senior. But ECU was unable to get him on campus for a visit and Hopper wound up signing with Boise State.
WHO’S BACK: Three players listed as tight ends played in games last season, but none made a reception. Junior Anthony Watley (6-3, 233) appeared in six games and finished 2017 third on the program depth chart at tight end. Sophomore Ben Norris (6-3, 225) saw action in the season opener but an injury put him out for the year. Senior walk-on Michael Swift (6-3, 233) played in the most games (nine), although the majority of his action came on special teams.
Offensive lineman Dalton Montgomery (6-6, 275), a junior, also spent time at tight end last season in short-yardage situations. But with the lack of depth along the offensive front, it’s likely he’ll spend spring practice at guard or tackle.
One other member of the tight end brigade is junior Eric Weber (6-2, 236). Weber received a redshirt after sitting out last season following his transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College.
WHO’S GONE: Steve Baggett played in 48 career games for the Pirates and started 17, including nine last season. He made minor contributions in the passing game with 23 catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns and was mainly used as a blocker.
NEEDS FOR 2019: When Scottie Montgomery was an assistant at Duke, the Blue Devils made the tight end a constant target in their passing game. But by design or lack of receiving skills at that position, the tight end has been primarily a blocker for Montgomery at ECU. Only one tight end, walk-on Michael Swift, graduates after the 2018 season, but three others are set to complete their eligibility after the ’19 campaign. This won’t be a priority for the Class of ’19, unless Montgomery can find an exceptional one ready to commit early.
PROJECTECTED TIGHT END DEPTH CHART
Anthony Whatley, Jr.
Ben Norris, Soph.
Eric Weber, Jr.
Michael Swift, Sr.
*Dalton Montgomery, Jr.
Johnny Bogle, Fresh.
*Also plays offensive line
WHAT THEY NEEDED: With two players who saw playing time at center in 2017 scheduled to exit the program after next season, signing at least one prospect was a necessity.
WHO SIGNED: Like quarterback Holton Ahlers, whose father is the public address announcer at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Peyton Winstead had a deep family connection to ECU. His father, Bob, played football for the Pirates and his mother, Amy, is a former ECU cheerleader. So it was a fairly easy decision for the younger Winstead to become the second player committed to the Class of 2018. A two-time All-Cap 7 4-A Conference pick at Raleigh’s Leesville High, where he graded out as the team’s top blocker as as senior.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Winstead is a true center who can make all the snaps. Growing up in a football family where his father is also a coach has helped him develop a strong football IQ, which is vitally important for centers who usually are called upon to make the blocking calls for the offensive line.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: ECU extended an early offer to Chapin, SC, center Hank Manos in January 2017, but never really gained any traction. Plus, Winstead joined the class the next month, so any pursuit of Manos ended at that point. He wound up signing with South Carolina.
WHO’S BACK: Sophomore John Spellacy (6-1, 285) logged eight starts at center last season, including the final five games. Senior Garrett McGhin (6-6, 237) made four starts at center also, but will spend most of 2018 at guard. Senior Brandon Pena (6-2, 286) played in the season opener before an injury in that game ended his year.
WHO’S GONE: Since McGhinn and Spellacy handled most of the snaps at center last season, no one who spent significant time at the position is missing.
NEEDS FOR 2019: McGhinn and Pena depart following the 2018 season, which makes targeting at least one prospect capable of manning the center position a good goal.
PROJECTED CENTER DEPTH CHART
John Spellacy, Soph.
Garrett McGhin, Sr.
Brandon Pena, Sr.
Peyton Winstead, Fresh.
OFFENSIVE GUARD F
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates are losing a large portion of their guard corps after the 2018 season. Three players who made starts during the ’17 season complete their eligibility and a fourth has transferred out of the program, so landing two or three potential guards was critical.
WHO SIGNED: ECU swung and missed on a number of guard prospects, but didn’t sign any of them.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Not at all.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Two offensive guards made verbal commitments to ECU before backing off. Steven Brown from Baltimore, Md, announced for the Pirates in June 2017. By November, however, the courtship was over and Brown re-opened his recruitment before signing with Delaware. Navarro junior college guard Nick Dennis cast his lot with ECU on Dec. 11 before reversing field seven days later to join the recruiting class at SMU.
After losing that pair, the Pirates shifted focus to Coffeyville junior college guard Reuben Lewis. The 6-4, 330-pounder made an official visit to Greenville just before the Feb. 7 signing day, which caused optimism he’d choose the purple and gold. But 48 hours after his official visit to ECU, Lewis committed to Kansas.
WHO’S BACK: No less than six different players made starts at the guard positions last year for ECU, and four of those are scheduled back in 2018. Senior Garrett McGhin (6-6, 327) held down the center position for four games, was in for two at left guard and started five at right guard. He could wind up at one of the guard spots or move to tackle this spring. Junior Cortez Herrin (6-3, 346) finished the season as the starter at left guard (three starts), but also spent time at right guard (two starts).
Behind those two are senior Dqmarcus Shaw (6-4, 316), who played in all 12 games and started two at right guard, junior Dalton Montgomery (6-6, 282), sophomore Sean Bailey (6-6, 328), sophomore walk-on Jaison Fournet (6-1, 292) and senior Brandon Pena (6-2, 286). Montgomery split time between tight end and offensive line last season. Bailey played in two games a year ago, while Pena’s season ended due to an injury suffered in the opener against James Madison.
WHO’S GONE: Des Barmore made six straight starts and finished the 2017 season No. 1 on the depth chart at left guard. But Barmore and versatile Erik Lenzen (12 games, no starts in ’17), who played all three line positions during his career, earned degrees in May and decided not to return to football for their final year of eligibility.
A third prominent member of the guard corps missing will be Austin Lee, a starter in three games last year at right guard who decided to transfer to another school.
NEEDS FOR 2019: Guard may be the most pressing priority for the Class of 2019 for the Pirates. McGhin, Shaw and Pena will be playing their final seasons in 2018, leaving some major holes to be filled. ECU must sign at least three guys here, and dipping into the junior college ranks for one or two who are ready to play immediately isn’t a bad idea.
Two of ECU’s first early guard targets for the ’19 class, Jacob Monk (Duke) from Corinth Holders High and Dontae Lucas (South Carolina) from the IMG Brandeton Academy in Florida, have already made verbal commitments to other schools. So expect some new names to start popping up involving guard and the Pirates in the coming weeks.
PROJECTED GUARD DEPTH CHART
Dqmarcus Shaw, Sr.
*Garrett McGhin, Sr.
Jaison Fournet, Soph.
Cortez Herrin, Jr.
Dalton Montgomery, Jr.
Sean Bailey, Soph.
Brandon Pena, Sr.
*McGhin may work at tackle this spring.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE C+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: A trio of tackles left the program during or at the end of the 2017 season, making acquiring at least two new players to take their place the goal.
WHO SIGNED: Shrine Bowl all-star game participant Donovan Noel (6-3, 257) from Raleigh’s Millbrook High, where he was twice named to the All-Cap 7 4-A Conference first team. Appalachian State, Boston College, Buffalo, Charlotte, Colorado State, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Old Dominion, Purdue and Syracuse were among the teams that also offered him scholarships.
Technically not part of the Class of 2018, Noah Henderson (6-3, 305) from Marlboro County High in Bennettsville, SC, signed during the February period and will enter ECU as a “blue shirt.” Henderson will be placed on scholarship once one becomes available, so he’ll be counted toward the ’19 recruiting class. But he’ll still be enrolled next fall and is eligible to play for the Pirates. As a senior, Henderson graded out at 87 percent on his blocking assignment and recorded 14 pancake blocks.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Noel has a good frame, long arms and moves very well. But he’ll need to add some strength and size before he’s ready to pull duty for the Pirates.
Henderson has only played organized football for two years, so he’s a very raw talent who’ll need a lot of work on the field and in the weight room to be a factor.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Gabriel Gonzalez, from Eastern Alamance High in Mebane, received his second scholarship offer from the Pirates in March 2017 while on campus for an unofficial visit. The 6-4, 275-pounder returned to Greenville for a Junior Day in April and again in June for camp. But in late June Gonzalez gave a pledge to N.C. State and he signed with the Wolfpack in December.
WHO’S BACK: Experience will be lacking at the tackle spots. Only junior D’Ante Smith experienced significant playing time at tackle a year ago. Smith (6-4, 336) played in seven games and made four of his five starts at left tackle. He also started a game at left guard. Senior Garrett McGhin was primarily a guard and center last season, but has experience at tackle. Expect McGhin to work at tackle during spring practice.
The rest of the tackles have never played in a college game: sophomore Jack Doyle (6-4, 256), Louisville transfer James DeMatto (6-4, 280) and redshirt freshman Matt Morgan (6-5, 276).
WHO’S GONE: Brandon Smith started 35 of the 40 games he played in during his ECU career, most of those at right tackle. Smith completed his eligibility along with Justin Sandifer, who made four starts at left tackle.
The guy who started the first five games at left tackle during the middle of the season, Messiah Rice, was dismissed from the team in November for violating athletic department rules.
NEEDS FOR 2019: Like guard, tackle should be an area of concentration for ECU in the ’19 recruiting class. Two or three additions are the minimum the Pirates should be pursuing to sign.
Two early offers have already gone out to William Harrod (6-5, 305) from the National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, MD, and Jaelin Humphries (6-5, 301) from Moutain View High in Lawrenceville, GA. Both players are also drawing Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference offers.
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE TACKLE DEPTH CHART
D’Ante Smith, Jr.
Jack Doyle, Soph.
Donovan Noel, Fresh.
Garrett McGhin, Sr.
Matt Morgan, RFresh.
James DeMatto, Soph.
Noah Henderson, Fresh.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE C+
Losing important battles for a running backs and offensive guards brought the class grade down significantly. Outside of Ahlers at quarterback, there’s not a lot of star power in this group, or any immediate impact. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential here. It just may take time to develop.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE B+
(View Our Defensive Recruiting Evaluation)
OVERALL CLASS GRADE B-
ECU’s class is rated near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference, according to 247Sports.com and Rivals.com. But we think it’s a little better than that, especially on the defensive side. By signing just 20, Montgomey still has room to do some more maneuvering between now and the end of the signing period April 1st.