An impromptu meeting with Scottie Montgomery back in the fall 2013 left an impression on Kalen McCain.
McCain was a defensive back for Durham’s Hillside High School at the time and had already made a verbal commitment to play for Virginia Tech when he encountered Montgomery in the office of then-Hillside coach Antonio King. Montgomery, then an assistant at Duke, had dropped by to talk to King about some other prospects on the Hillside squad.
“It’s a funny story,” McCain said. “I came in there, and I had already committed to Virginia Tech. Duke hadn’t been in contact with me at all. He just said, ‘What’s up? I see you committed.’ He was kind of picking at me for committing so early.”
McCain appreciated Montgomery’s humor and how he made him feel at ease.
So, flash forward three years. Montgomery has become head coach at East Carolina, King is now the Pirates’ running backs coach and McCain is looking for a new place to pursue his football career.
“I saw on Twitter that Coach King had gotten the job at ECU, so I sent him a message to congratulate him,” McCain said. “He told me they’d like to keep an eye on me because they were going to be looking for players to help out the new staff.
“So I knew Coach King, and then I remembered Coach Montgomery and how cool he had been.”
McCain, who is playing at Lackawana Community College in Scranton, PA, this season, was eventually offered a scholarship by Montgomery. He accepted on Oct. 16 to become the 18th member of ECU’s football recruiting Class of 2017.
The path to becoming a Pirate wasn’t the ordinary one for McCain.
A two-year starter at Hillside, McCain made 86 tackles and eight interceptions over his final two seasons. Prior to the start of his senior year, McCain announced his intentions to accept a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech over a list of finalists that included Georgia Tech, Louisville and N.C. State.
But by June of that year McCain backed off his pledge to the Hokies and re-opened his recruitment. He eventually settled on N.C. State later that month. He graduated early from Hillside and enrolled at N.C. State for the spring semester in 2014.
McCain’s stay in Raleigh would be a brief one, however. He was placed on probation along with four other redshirt freshmen and two teammates were given a one-game suspension in October 2014 due to their participation in BB gun incident.
As a redshirt freshman, McCain played on special teams in the Wolfpack’s season opener against Troy, then was in on eight plays in the secondary in the third game against South Alabama. But he didn’t see any action the rest of the year, so in December as N.C. State was prepping for a bowl game, McCain decided to leave the program.
“When I decided to leave State I initially wanted to go to East Carolina,’’ McCain said. “But the coaching staff got fired, so I had to think about what I was going to do next. I had a few old teammates at Lackawana and they were telling me I might as well come up here.’’
Lackawana is a prominent junior college program, whose roster already featured McCain’s former Hillside teammate Alexander Woods at safety and fellow N.C. State signee Marcellius Sutton at running back.
The Falcons are ranked seventh among junior college teams nationally this season and defeated College of DuPage, 31-21, last week to improve to 9-0 on the season.
McCain’s contributions to Lackawana’s success have been limited to just the last two games because of leg injury. He’s made three tackles, including one for loss, in those two outings.
“It felt good to be back out there,’’ McCain said. “I’m running around at full speed and everything is fine.’’
Once Montgomery and his new coaching staff came aboard at East Carolina, the Pirates once again began recruiting McCain. They offered him a scholarship in August and he came for an unofficial visit to Greenville in early October.
“I had other schools talking to me, but I already knew I was going to end up at East Carolina,’’ said McCain, who is the fourth defensive back prospect to join ECU’s recruiting class and the second from the junior college ranks.
McCain says the Pirates are getting an “aggressive’’ player.
“I’m a ballhawk,’’ he said. “I attack the ball very well. That’s always been my thing. I just have a knack for getting the ball.’’
McCain will have two years of eligibility left at ECU, and he plans to make an impact immediately.
“They’re talking to me about playing the nickel safety and cornerback. I don’t have a preference. I’m just looking forward to getting on the field and playing immediately.’’
There will be some opportunity for McCain and others to earn early playing time in the secondary. Starting strong safety DaShawn Benton and backup free safety DaShaun Adams will both complete their eligibility this season and three others on the secondary depth chart are juniors.
“I hope to be there in January so I can participate in spring practice,’’ McCain said. “We’ll have to see how that goes, but I’m going to be ready to compete whether it’s in January or next August.’’