East Carolina recently landed a verbal commitment from a junior college cornerback who could start for any Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation next year.
So says Andrew Krause, who has been Michael Witherspoon’s position coach the last two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
“I don’t think there’s any program in the country he couldn’t step in and be a starter right away,” Krause said. “I don’t get to watch a lot of football on Saturdays, but from the little I’ve watched he’s as good or better than anybody I’ve seen on TV. He’s that good.”
That’s an impressive endorsement of Witherspoon and good news for ECU, which received a pledge October 16th from the 6-foot-1, 193-pounder. He became the 20th member of the Pirates’ recruiting Class of 2018 after also considering a scholarship offer from Mountain West Conference power Boise State.
Witherspoon has been a starter in Krause’s secondary at Hutchinson the last two seasons after being redshirted in 2015. He made 32 tackles, three quarterback sacks and broke up eight passes during his first active season in 2016 for a 5-6 Blue Dragons’ team.
Through the first seven games this year, Hutchinson compiled a 6-1 mark and rose to No. 9 nationally in the junior college rankings. Witherspoon contributed 27 tackles, a tackle for loss and seven pass breakups toward that result, despite most teams directing their offense away from him.
“I don’t recall any highlights . . . I guess he doesn’t get a lot of action, that’s his highlight,” Krause said. “Teams don’t throw at him. We’re so man-coverage oriented that the best thing our guy can do is make the quarterback look somewhere else.
“It’s been a source of frustration for him because he feels like he’s not making enough plays. He just doesn’t get a lot of action because his guy is never open. There’s no reason for the quarterback to try him. Time and time again he’s just solid against every route and every type of receiver.”
Witherspoon developed his coverage skills at Central Gwinnett High located in Lawrenceville, GA. He was a reserve for the varsity squad at Central Gwinnett as a 5-9, 160-pound freshman before becoming a starter the following season. Witherspoon produced 23 tackles and a tackle for loss as a sophomore, then capped his prep career with 76 tackles, an interception and six passes defended as a senior.
Signing with Hutchinson in February 2015, Witherspoon headed to Kansas where he worked on academics for a year before returning to the football field. The early academic start has put Witherspoon in position to graduate from Hutchinson in December and possibly enroll at ECU for the spring semester.
Krause said the Pirates will be getting a cornerback who is not only strong in coverage, but is capable of being physical as well.
“We’ve used him on the opponent’s best receiver week in and week out for two years,” Krause said. “You put him on their best receiver and forget about it. You just worry about the rest of your gameplan.
“So the coverage stuff you come to expect. But he really opens eyes when he has a chance to be physical and tackle guys. He had one play last week where he got off a block and made a great tackle on a scrambling quarterback.
“East Carolina is getting a good one. I don’t know what they already have, but if this guy doesn’t make them better, I’d be shocked.”
Witherspoon is the seventh defensive back prospect to join the ECU class, but the first junior college player. He’ll have two years of eligibility with the Pirates.
Joining Witherspoon on his official visit to Greenville on October 6th was Hutchinson teammate B.J. Emmons. Emmons, a running back from Morganton, originally signed with Alabama and appeared in the first seven games of the 2016 season with the Crimson Tide. He rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown before suffering a fractured foot that required two surgeries to correct.
Emmons transferred from Alabama to Hutchinson in July and he leads the Blue Dragons with 387 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season. Louisville and East Carolina have both offered scholarships to Emmons.
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