If success truly does breed success, then East Carolina’s football program should be back to its winning ways in the near future.
The 20 high school and junior college players verbally committed to ECU’s recruiting Class of 2018 won 64 percent of their games this season, captured five conference championships and 16 advanced to the postseason play.
The majority of those are expected to officially become Pirates on December 20 when college football conducts its first early signing period. Prospects can sign a binding national letter of intent during a 72-hour period starting that day, or they can wait until the regular signing period starts on the first Wednesday of February 2018.
Several of those who sign on the 20th will also graduate early from high school or junior college and enroll at ECU in January.
In anticipation of the early signing period, here’s a look at each committed player’s team and individual results from 2017. The list does not include offensive lineman Stevon Brown from Archbishop Curley High in Baltimore, MD, who backed out of his pledge to the Pirates on Nov. 5.
*HOLTON AHLERS, QB (6-4, 235) D.H. Conley High School, Greenville – Ahlers capped an incredible prep career with a brilliant senior season. The lefty passer completed 223 of 358 throws for 3,763 yards and 61 touchdowns (only 4 interceptions). Ahlers passed for 300 or more yards six times in 13 games with a season-high of 464 against West Craven. He added 933 more yards and 14 touchdowns rushing on 109 carries. The performance helped D.H. Conley to a 6-0 record and the Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference title. The Vikings advanced to the third round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs before falling to Eastern Guilford, 44-29. Ahlers’ performance earned him a berth on the North Carolina squad for the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas game later this month. He is expected to sign with the Pirates on Dec. 20 and enroll at ECU in January.
*MYLES BERRY, S (6-2, 202) Dudley High School, Greensboro – What started as an outstanding senior year for Berry ended abruptly at midseason when he suffered an ankle injury playing against future ECU teammate Jaren Rainey and Southwest Guilford. Berry wound up playing just five games, during which he made 33 tackles and an interception that he returned 44 yards. Dudley, the defending state champion, finished third in the Piedmont Triad 3-A Conference race with a 3-2 record and reached the second round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs before falling to Wilmington New Hanover, 38-21. The Panthers finished with a 10-3 overall record.
*JOHNNY BOGLE, TE-FB (6-2, 265) Nease High School, Ponte Vedra, Fla. – Bogle was a two-way performer for the revered Nease High program whose alumni former Florida Gators quarterback greats Tim Tebow and Shane Matthews. He had the biggest impact on the defensive line where he made 34 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks in eight games. Nease placed second in Florida’s 6-A District 4 standings with a 3-1 record, but failed to reach the state playoffs.
*JADAKIS BONDS, WR (6-4, 170) Riverside High School, Williamston – The top rusher and receiver for the Knights this season, Bonds also contributed to a state playoff team as a kick returner, passer and defender. He led Riverside in rushing with 85 attempts for 758 yards and nine touchdowns and was the top receiver with 51 catches for 795 yards and eight more scores. Bonds also completed 2 of 9 passes for 22 yards, had 139 yards on punt returns and made 20 tackles on defense. His biggest outing of the year occurred against Princeton when he rushed for 332 yards on 13 carries, including touchdown runs of 49 and 85 yards. The Knights tied for third place in the Coastal Plains 1-A Conference with a 3-3 record and finished 7-6 overall after a second-round NCHSAA 1-AA playoff loss against A.C. Reynolds, 56-7. Bonds may sign with ECU on Dec. 20, but isn’t expected to enroll in January.
*NICK DENNIS, C (6-4, 315) Navarro Community College, Midland, Texas – The most recent addition to the ECU Class of 2018, Dennis was a center-defensive tackle at Midland Lee High School before signing with Navarro in April 2016. This season he was a key factor in Navarro running back DeAndre Cook gaining 1,133 yards rushing. Dennis earned second-team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference honors for his efforts. The Bulldogs went 4-3 to finish tied for fourth in the SWJCFC Region XIV standings and finished 6-4 overall. Dennis had previously been committed to Southern Miss, but backed off that pledge Nov. 24. He chose ECU over offers from Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico, North Texas, Southern Miss and Troy. He’ll have three years to play two seasons with the Pirates.
*DAMEL HICKMAN, CB (6-1, 170) Butler High School, Matthews – Hickman may have been the most active pass defender in Mecklenburg County this season. He intercepted five passes and produced 10 pass breakups in helping Butler tie for first in the Southwestern 4-A Conference with Myers Park, both with 6-1 records. Hickman was also effective against the run, making 45 tackles, a tackle for loss and two sacks. All those statistics earned him a spot on the All-Southwestern 4-A Conference squad. Butler finished 8-3 overall after dropping a 28-24 decision against Myers Park in the first round of the NCHSAA 4-AA playoffs.
*NOLAN JOHNSON, CB (6-3, 190) Southwest Guilford High School, High Point – A broken thumb early in the year limited Johnson to just a handful of games as a senior. He returned for the final three games of the season and made 19 tackles during that stretch. Even without Johnson, the Cowboys produced a second-place finish in the Piedmont Triad 3-A Conference with a 5-1 record and advanced to the second round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs before losing to eventual state finalist A.C. Reynolds, 21-7. Johnson will sign with the Pirates on Dec. 20 and is scheduled to report to campus for the spring semester on Jan. 4.
*TREY LOVE, DE (6-3, 230) Southeast Guilford High School, Greensboro – Love made contributions on offense and defense for the 9-3 Falcons this season. He was used mainly as a blocker on offense at running back, but did log one carry for 3 yards and he caught three passes for 10 yards and a touchdown. But it was defense that Love excelled, making 32 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks. Southeast placed second in the Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference with a 5-1 mark, but was eliminated in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs by defending state champion Dudley, 21-13.
*D’ANGELO MCKINNIE, DE (6-4, 230) Southwest Onslow High School, Jacksonville – A major defensive force for a Southwest team that went 7-0 to win the Coastal 8 1-A/2-A Conference title, McKinnie collected 52 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior. He produced his best performance of the season in a 44-8 win against White Oak when he made nine tackles and six tackles for loss. The Stallions, who are coached by former ECU offensive lineman Charlie Dempsey, advanced to the Eastern 2-A finals before falling to Wallace-Rose Hill, 49-7, to finish with an 11-4 overall record.
*CHANDLER MEDEIROS, DT (6-3, 250) South Iredell High School, Statesville – The Vikings won the North Piedmont 3-A Conference crown with a 5-0 record and advanced to the third round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs before losing to A.C. Reynolds, 17-7. Medeiros was a key contributor to that successful run, picking up 55 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His performance earned Medeiros a spot on the All-North Piedmont 3-A Conference team as well as a roster spot on the North Carolina squad for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
*JUWON MOODY, WR (5-10, 170) Conway High School, Conway, S.C. – Juwon and twin brother Jaylen were the offensive and defensive cornerstones for the Tigers in 2017. Juwon was Conway’s big-play threat on offense with 37 catches for 829 yards – an average of 22.4 per catch – and had nine touchdown receptions. He also contributed 250 yards on kickoff returns and rushed six times for 93 more yards. Juwon had outstanding games against Wilson, in which he made nine catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns, and against Socastee when he had three receptions for 141 yards and two scores. Jaylen led the team in tackles with 105 and had 11.5 tackles for loss as Conway finished first in South Carolina’s AAAAA Region IV with a 5-0 record. The Tigers made it to the second round of the state AAAAA playoffs before falling, 35-28 against Spring Valley to complete a 10-2 campaign.
*DONOVAN NOEL, OT (6-4, 267) Millbrook High School, Raleigh – An all-star performer as a senior, Noel was awarded a roster spot on the North Carolina team for the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game. He then earned All-Cap 7 4-A Conference honors at the completion of Millbrook’s season. The Wildcats wound up fourth in the Cap 7 standings with a 3-3 record and went 6-7 overall after absorbing a 51-13 loss against eventual state finalist Wake Forest in the second round of the state 4-AA playoffs. Noel will sign on Dec. 20 with the Pirates and is expected to enroll for the spring semester in January.
*ANDRES PEGUES, WR (6-3, 200) Hoke County High School, Raeford – Pegues endured a tough senior year. Slowed by injuries and playing for a team that was winless, Pegues appeared in just eight games. He still managed 22 catches for 224 yards and five touchdowns at receiver, had 74 yards in punt returns and made five tackles on defense. The Bucks, playing under former ECU offensive lineman David Jorgenson, placed last in the Sandhills 4-A Conference with an 0-7 mark and went 0-11 overall.
*JAREN RAINEY, S (6-3, 190) Southwest Guilford High School, High Point – Rainey did a little bit of everything for the Cowboys as a senior. He spent some time at quarterback, completing 28 of 70 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns, but was also one of the team’s top rushers with 421 yards and five more scores on 55 carries. Rainey also caught four passes for 154 yards and a touchdown and made an interception on defense, which is where he’ll play at ECU. One of the highlights of Rainey’s season was a 65-yard touchdown run that helped Southwest stun defending state champion Greensboro Dudley, 34-6. Rainey helped the Cowboys to a second-place finish in the Piedmont Triad 3-A Conference standings with a 5-1 mark. They finished 9-4 overall and reached the second round of the state 3-A playoffs before losing to A.C. Reynolds, 21-7. Rainey capped his senior year by being named to the North Carolina squad for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolina’s all-star game. He is expected to sign on Dec. 20 and enroll at ECU in January.
*AUSTIN RICHARDSON, CB (6-0, 180) Porter Ridge High School, Indian Trail – Minor knee surgery before the start of the 2017 season limited Richardson to just three games as a senior. Upon his return, Richardson had 16 yards rushing on six carries and caught two passes for 46 yards on offense, while also making 10 tackles, a sack and an interception on the defensive side. Despite missing Richardson for most of the year, Porter Ridge still managed a respectable 5-2 mark to finish tied for third in the Southwestern 4-A Conference race. The Pirates succumbed in the second round of the state 4-A playoffs, 17-10, against eventual state champion Harding to finish 8-5 overall.
*XAVIER SMITH, LB (6-0, 235) Brooke Point High School, Stafford, Virginia – Brooke Point coach Tommy Buzzo used Smith’s skill as a running back on offense and middle linebacker on defense this season. Smith was especially effective on the defensive side where he was named co-defensive player of the year in the Commonwealth District and to the All-District first team. His performance helped Brooke Point place second in the Commonwealth District regular-season standings with a 4-2 record. The Black Hawks then rolled into the third round of the Group 5-A playoffs before losing, 59-26, against rival Stafford. The setback left Brooke Point with a 10-3 overall mark. Smith is expected to be an early signee with ECU and a January enrollee.
*GERARD STRINGER, LB (6-3, 190) Nansemond River High School, Suffolk, Virginia – A big-time rusher and tackler for a Nansemond River squad that placed fifth in Virginia’s Southeastern Region standings with a 5-4 record. Stringer collected more than 100 tackles, made two interceptions, forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal as a defender for the Warriors. He moved in as Nansemond River’s chief running back late in the year and delivered a 187-yard, two-touchdown performance in a regional semifinal victory against Indian River. A 28-18 loss against Highland Springs in the VHSL Group 5-A playoff fourth round ended the Warriors season at 9-5.
*JIREH WILSON, S (6-3, 191) Northside High School, Jacksonville – Wilson is just another versatile athlete in ECU’s 2018 class. He starred on both side of the ball for Northside, but was especially impressive at wide receiver. Wilson led Northside with 40 catches for 649 yards and 11 touchdowns for the season. The highlight of the year came in a 49-22 win against White Oak in which Wilson caught seven passes for 134 yards and had touchdown catches of 40, 17, 6 and 11 yards. He also contributed 15 yards rushing on three carries, had 196 yards in punt returns and 58 yards on kickoff returns. On defense, Wilson made four interceptions and recovered three fumbles. The North Carolina squad for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game selected Wilson to play defensive back. Northside finished fourth in the Coastal 3-A Conference with a 2-3 record and was 6-6 overall. The Monarchs were eliminated in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs by Jacksonville, 56-22.
*PEYTON WINSTEAD, OL (6-3, 290) Leesville Road High School, Raleigh – Peyton will follow in the footsteps of his father, Bob, who previously played for the Pirates. Peyton will sign with ECU on Dec. 20 and enroll in January. As a senior at Leesville Road, Winstead was the top blocker for a team that placed third in the Cap 7 4-A Conference with a 4-2 record. The Pride would finish 8-5 overall following a second-round NCHSAA 4-AA playoff loss against Green Hope, 42-23. For his efforts, Winstead was named to the All-Cap 7 4-A Conference first-team.
*MIKE WITHERSPOON, CB (6-1, 193) Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Lawrenceville, Ga. – Witherspoon capped a two-year career at Hutchinson with a stellar sophomore campaign. He produced 42 tackles, a tackle for loss and 10 pass breakups in 12 games. The Blue Dragons went 4-3 to place fourth in the Jayhawk Conference standings. They earned a big to the Salt City Bowl where they fell, 48-34, to Eastern Arizona to finish 7-5 overall. Witherspoon contributed five tackles in the Salt City Bowl game. He’s expected to sign with the Pirates on Dec. 20 and enroll in school in January.