East Carolina tapped into the talent pool at Georgia Military College twice between 1999 and 2006 to generate excitement for its offense. The Pirates are now hoping another influx of GMC talent has a similar impact on their defense next fall.
Two defenders from the junior college powerhouse are part of ECU’s 2017 recruiting class that will officially become Pirates next Wednesday during college football’s national signing day. One – cornerback Marcus Holton – has been verbally committed since last June and enrolled this month at ECU. He’ll start to complete for playing time immediately when the Pirates hit the field for spring practice in March and April.
Holton will be joined this summer by defensive end Brandon Henderson, who made a verbal commitment to ECU on Wednesday. Henderson is the 21st player in the class, the fifth defensive end and the third defensive end from the junior college ranks.
Their additions mark the first time since 2011 that ECU has signed players from Georgia Military. The Pirates landed defensive tackle Leroy Vick from GMC that year, but injuries prevented the 6-6, 295-pounder from ever making a significant contribution with the Pirates.
But two other GMC alum did impact the ECU squads in 1999-2000 and 2005-2006.
Keith Stokes was a junior college All-American at Georgia Military who became one of the top punt return specialists in East Carolina history. The 5-7, 184-pound Stokes produced the second-longest punt return in school history in 1999 when he carried back a kick 94 yards against Cincinnati. A year later, he produced 168 punt return yards in a victory against Houston that is still the school single-game record. Stokes also led the Pirates in receiving as a senior and his 15.5 punt return average still tops the school career list.
Five years later, Aundrae Allison arrived in Greenville after earning All-American honors at GMC. He lead the Pirates two straight seasons in receiving, and as a junior in 2005 became the first pass catcher in school history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark. He had 83 catches for 1,024 yards that year along with seven touchdown catches. Allison completed his two-year ECU career with 145 receptions for 1,732 yards and 11 scores.
“We have had some really high achievers signed by East Carolina over the years,” Georgia Military head coach Bert Williams said this week. “It’s good to send a couple of more up there. I think these guys will make a very big, positive impact up there.”
Although the Pirates don’t lose anyone from their final depth chart at cornerback, the coaching staff still felt the need to add some experience and size to the position with Holton, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from Tallahassee, FL.
Holton comes from one of Florida’s most successful prep programs at Amos P. Godby High School. He helped Godby reach the state 5-A finals as a senior in 2014 when he produced 40 tackles, two tackles for loss and four interceptions. In the state championship game – a 38-0 loss against Plantation Heritage – Holton was one of the few bright spots for Godby. He had a 51-yard kickoff return and intercepted future Ohio State quarterback signee Torrance Gibson.
A flood of honors came Holton’s way, including All-Big Bend status from the Tallahassee Democrat and first-team 5-A all-state by The Associated Press. He also participated in the annual North-South All-Star Classic that features Florida’s top players.
Major college offers from schools such as Arkansas State, Cincinnati, Kent State, South Alabama, Troy, UAB and even Wisconsin came Holton’s way. But he instead enrolled at Georgia Military, where he was a two-year starter. Over two years with the Bulldogs, Holton made 52 tackles, three interceptions and broke up 15 passes.
“Marcus has done a great job for two years at cornerback,” Williams said. “He’s a very athletically talented young man. One of the things about him is he brings a high level of skill in a six-foot tall body. Teams are really trying to find those six foot or taller corners because of the size of the receivers nowadays. That gives Marcus the ability to better compete with big receivers. Plus, he has the speed and skills to do so.”
East Carolina offered Holton a scholarship last March and he eventually accepted in June over Marshall and Western Kentucky. He signed scholarship papers in December and enrolled at ECU earlier this month.
Henderson’s path to East Carolina has a “Rudy” feel to it.
After completing his prep career in Greenwood, SC, Henderson’s only scholarship offer was from an NCAA Division II program. Hoping to play at a higher level, Henderson opted instead to attend Northeast Mississippi Community College where he attempted to make the football team as a walk on. But he was cut from the squad before ever making it to preseason practice.
Henderson was encouraged to try out for the Northeast team again the next spring, but he was again cut from the squad. That’s when he began considering other options, so he attended a combine at Georgia Military.
“We knew about him coming out of high school,” Williams said. “He had enrolled at one of the Mississippi junior colleges, but it just wasn’t a good fit for him. He came down to one of our combines. He had been a linebacker in high school, but was obviously going to have to put his hand in the dirt in college.
“But he did really well at the tryout. Really, the only thing lacking from what we wanted was the body mass. He only weighed about 215 pounds. We decided to bring him in and start working with him. He had the great work ethic and attitude from day one to get what we wanted accomplished.”
Henderson, now a 6-6, 260-pounder, played in nine games as a freshman for the Bulldogs in 2015. He made 13 tackles, two sacks and seven tackles for loss. Playing an even more prominent role in 2016, Henderson had 32 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Suddenly, Henderson became a coveted commodity with schools such as Houston, Kansas, Marshall, Northern Illinois and Western Kentucky offering scholarships and others like Georgia and Texas inviting him in for official visits. But after taking an official visit to Greenville in November, he decided on Jan. 25 to become a Pirate.
“He just has a great motor, great length with the height and long arms,” Williams said. “He’s quick and good with his hands. He can fold that long body to a low level and get under pads. And he’s really kind of sneaky strong. You look at him and he doesn’t look like he weighs 260 pounds when you see him. But he is. He has a really thick lower body and surprises guys a lot of times with the power and punch with which he plays.
“Brandon is just a great success story. He kind of found a home here, and he’s done a great job for us on and off the field. He’s blossomed as a talent and done an excellent job in the classroom.”
Holton and Henderson may not be Georgia Military’s only contribution to ECU’s 2017 football roster, however.
Williams said running back Nathaniel Harvey enrolled at ECU in January and will join the football team this spring as as walk on.
Harvey was a football and track and field performer at Knightdale High near Raleigh. As a senior, he earned first-team All-Neuse River 4-A Conference honors in football and was part of a 4×200-meter relay team that finished 10th in the state meet.
The 5-11, 207-pounder came to Georgia Military and played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in three games and logging just five carries for 50 yards. But as a sophomore Harvey ran 42 times for 278 yard and four touchdowns.
“We have a sleeper up there who enrolled at midterm,” Williams said. “Nathaniel isn’t on scholarship, but he’s going to be able to practice with the team this spring. He’s a darn good running back. He’s a big, physical kid. He did a great job for us last year and he loves East Carolina.”