One play was all it took for Kingsley Ifedi to start turning heads in his varsity debut as Vance High School’s starting quarterback last August.
Ifedi had served as the backup to senior Omar Baker, Jr., the year before as a sophomore after transferring to Vance from Phillip O’Berry Academy. But on the first play from scrimmage in his first varsity start against West Mecklenburg, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder dropped back and tossed an 81-yard touchdown pass to older brother Jonathan.
The throw was the start of a record-breaking night for Ifedi, who completed 23 of 33 passes for 440 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-12 rout. The passing yardage set a school single-game mark and the touchdowns equaled a 15-year-old record also held by former East Carolina quarterback Paul Troth.
“That game gave me confidence,” Ifedi said. “Being it was my first game as a starter I was nervous before the game. But I had a lot of great guys around me that helped me throughout the game. I think I surprised a lot of people. I don’t think they were expecting me to do that.”
Ifedi would go on to pass for 3,213 yards and 30 touchdowns last season in a performance that quickly grabbed the attention of major college recruiters. Scholarship offers came in from the likes of Appalachian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Colorado State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Pittsburgh as well as Ivy League programs Harvard and Yale.
But a deep family connection and some gentle persuasion from new head coach Scottie Montgomery led Ifedi to make his verbal commitment to East Carolina on May 21.
Two of Ifedi’s older brothers – Casey and Jamine – have attended ECU and Casey was once a walk-on linebacker with the Pirates.
“I knew East Carolina was where I wanted to go,” Ifedi said. “I really connected with coach Mo and I appreciated how honest and up front he was about everything. He told me they were going to sign two quarterbacks in this class. When one quarterback (Mic Roof from Buford, GA) committed on Friday, [Montgomery] told me they had another guy who wanted to commit. So I decided the time was right to make my commitment. I knew that’s where I wanted to go, so why wait?”
The commitments from Ifedi and Roof were significant ones for the Pirates, who have seen three quarterbacks transfer out of the program since last September. Cody Keith, whose previous four seasons were hindered by injuries, left the team in early September and eventually transferred to Charlotte. Last season’s starter, Blake Kemp, decided in January to exit and has landed at Football Championship Subdivision Northern Arizona, while the projected starter for 2015, Kurt Benkert, departed in April to join the Virginia Cavaliers.
Those defections left ECU with just two scholarship quarterbacks in the program after spring practice in senior Philip Nelson and redshirt freshman John Jacobs. With Benkert’s departure, walk-on Ray Smith is listed as the Pirates’ backup quarterback to Nelson coming out of spring drills.
But Montgomery still felt the depth chart needed some bolstering and sought to do so with the recruiting Class of 2017.
In Ifedi, Montgomery found a quarterback with a similar potential to Anthony Boone, another Charlotte-area quarterback he helped tutor in 2014 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke. Boone, who played at Weddington High located in a Charlotte suburb, passed for 2,700 yards and ran for 375 during the ’14 season under Montgomery in helping the Blue Devils to a 9-4 finish.
“Coach Montgomery has worked with a great list of quarterbacks,” Ifedi said. “He had Anthony Boone at Duke and helped take his game to another level. You know with him the ball is going to be in the quarterback’s hands 90 percent of the time, whether it’s passing or running. I think I’ll fit in great with what he likes to do.”
Ifedi has been playing quarterback since the “fifth or sixth grade” with older brother Jamine teaching him the idiosyncrasies of the position. Ifedi was also a talented basketball player, but he decided he had a brighter future in football by the time he reached Berry Academy as a freshman in the fall of 2013.
A large contingent of players tried out to become Berry’s junior varsity quarterback that season, including Idefi. Realizing he may have a better chance of earning playing time at another position, Idefi volunteered to move to defense end. But that move ended abruptly when Idefi suffered a broken collarbone in the final preseason scrimmage and missed the entire year.
Idefi transferred to Vance for his sophomore season and spent most of the year as the starting quarterback on the junior varsity while Baker led the Cougars to an 11-4 finish and a berth in the state 4-A semifinals.
The season opener against West Mecklenburg was only a sign of things to come for Idefi. He proved himself week after week against some of the best talent in the state in the Charlotte prep ranks, including eventual state 4-AA champion Mallard Creek.
Meeting in the eighth game of the year in a key conference matchup, Vance and Mallard Creek battled into overtime before the Cougars fell, 22-21.
Idefi distinguished himself on several plays in the game, including a 10-yard scramble for a touchdown with 3.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the score. But Idefi said a four-yard scoring run that got Vance on the scoreboard earlier in the game was just as big.
“I think it was on the first series,” he said. “It was like fourth down and I really had nothing to see on the passing routes. So I took it upon myself to try to get us the first down and I ended up scoring. I think that played really showed that I’m a guy to go to and I can get it done regardless of the situation or who we’re playing.”
Idefi, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, plans to graduate from Vance in December and enroll at ECU in January 2017.
“I definitely wanted to compete for playing time no matter where I went,” Idefi said. “So I plan on getting in there early and familiarizing myself with the system. Anyone can be a great athlete, but to be a great quarterback you have to be acquainted with the system. I’ll be on campus early enough to do that.”