Caleb King helped coach three state 3-A championship teams in seven seasons as an assistant at Havelock High School. During that tenure, King also participated in the development of major-college prospects like Tennessee defensive lineman Kendal Vickers, South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper and East Carolina running back Derrell Scott.
Now the head coach at East Carteret High, King favorably compares the talents of his current star to those players.
“I coached Pharoh, Derrell, Vickers at Tennessee, that crowd,” King said. “He has a little different style. But he could have played on any of those state championship teams. That’s how good of an athlete he is, and he’s that much of a competitor.”
“He” that King refers to is East Carteret’s junior wide receiver-safety, Dashaun Johnson, who last Monday became the first prospect to join East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2017.
The 6-foot-4, 203-pounder chose the Pirates over offers from Charlotte and Old Dominion. Johnson was originally offered a scholarship by ECU’s previous coaching staff in November during his junior season. But it was the new staff led by head coach Scottie Montgomery that prompted Johnson to make an early pledge to the Pirates before his recruitment really started heating up.
Montgomery and his staff so impressed Johnson that he made the almost two-hour drive from the coastal town of Beaufort to Greenville to make his commitment in person.
“I just really liked the coaches,” Johnson said. “They really showed they care and they want you to succeed as a man on and off the field.”
You might call Johnson a late bloomer in football, but he hails from an extremely athletic family. His brother Cornelius Johnson is a point guard at Catawba Valley Community College, while brother Tyrone is about to embark on a college football career at N.C. Wesleyan.
Johnson’s father, Cornelius, Sr., was also an accomplished football and basketball player at East Carteret back in the day.
Dashaun’s athletic skills were first a factor on the basketball court at West Carteret, where he played on the varsity squad as a sophomore. But he’d spend both his freshman and sophomore seasons playing junior varsity in football before transferring to East Carteret for his junior year.
King, who would take over the East Carteret program in January 2015, was already aware of Johnson before his transfer.
“I saw him right before I took this job when he was at another school,” King said. “He was an absolute stud. When he got here, his work ethic was off the chart. The way he works in the weight room every day and grinds through it all is amazing. He has a lot of talent, but still wants to work and that’s the special thing about him.”
Johnson certainly proved himself worthy of King’s praise while helping the Mariners advance to the third round of the state 1-A playoffs en route to an 11-3 record.
As one of the big-play performers on East Carteret’s offense, he made 85 catches for 1,493 yards and eight touchdowns. Johnson had three outings with more than 200 yards receiving, including back-to-back games where he had 230 yards receiving against Lejeune and 260 against Southside.
One of Johnson’s most memorable catches of the season occurred in the contest with Southside in late October to decide the champion of the Coastal Plains 1-A Conference.
“He had people draped all over him and he made a one-handed catch on the sideline,” King said. “It gave us a first down in a crucial situation.”
The Mariners went on to claim a 62-42 victory and their first Coastal Plains football title since 2006.
Johnson also produced 66 tackles, caused three fumbles and made four interceptions on defense. The two-way production earned him a first-team berth on the All-Coastal Plains Conference team.
The Pirates have recruited Johnson to play wide receiver, but King believes he’s capable of helping out on either side of the football.
“They want him as a receiver right now, but I could see him playing either side of the ball,” King said. “He has tremendous defensive awareness and is an incredibly strong safety. He’s a guy they’ll get in their program and figure out what’s going on.”
King expects more schools to pick up their recruitment of Johnson, but he doesn’t think it’ll make a difference.
“He’s solid to East Carolina,” King said. “He wants to be a hometown hero.”
The pledge from Johnson marks an early start to compiling the Class of 2017 for the Pirates. Their first verbal commitment in the Class of 2016 didn’t occur until mid-April 2015 when Raleigh quarterback Reid Herring cast his lot with ECU.