East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery’s December signing class was about quantity and quality.
The Pirates followed up with one quality letter of intent signed by defensive lineman Dorian Hardy of Elizabeth, NJ, on the traditional signing date Wednesday although Montgomery didn’t rule out issuing additional grants.
Programs that extended offers to Hardy included Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Miami (FL), North Carolina, N.C. State, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. There were more but that’s a pretty strong top 10 right there.
Hardy originally committed to Penn State but the Nittany Lions backed off after Hardy was involved in a fight with teammates.
He subsequently changed high schools.
“After that, things picked up for him recruiting again,” Montgomery said. “He visited Big 12, SEC. He visited a lot of big-time schools. From the beginning, his Mom (Sharon) told us it had nothing to do with any logos or any conferences or anything. It was about the team that built the best relationship with her son and the one that was going to take the best care of her son.”
Montgomery said new defensive coordinator David Blackwell was able to get Hardy to campus for an official visit last weekend.
“There was a lot of competition for that last weekend,” Montgomery said. “We felt like if we could just get him here, our university and Greenville would do the work.”
Montgomery said the Pirates had done their due diligence in terms of evaluating Hardy’s character.
“We did a lot of research,” Montgomery said. “One of the things that really, really helped us is that we had a really, really good source on the inside. … We wanted to make sure it wasn’t a pattern of behavior. A lot of us have been in fights, either on the field or leaving the field. … We’re still in the process. He will prove himself continually by the day. We’re going to do a good job on monitoring every situation. We’ll give him the opportunity to grow and be a very productive student-athlete here at ECU.
“We don’t have any reservations about giving him an opportunity to play. He’s extremely talented.”
The Pirates coach added that there are a lot of young players that will boost the program in terms of depth and talent.
Recruiting schedule has changed
The first Wednesday in February used to be national signing day but it isn’t what it used to be in college football.
ECU signed the bulk of its recruits this past December, in accordance with the new, earlier signing period.
“It is kind of secondary now,” Montgomery said. “There are limits to what you can get done with only a few spots, but we’re really excited to be able to sign Dorian Hardy. It’s a big-time signee for us. It will give us some pass rush ability that we’ve always wanted.”
Hardy will get an opportunity to compete for immediate playing time, Montgomery said. The ECU coach likes the fact that Hardy brings his potential for immediate help from the high school level as opposed to a junior college transfer whose window of eligibility is more compacted.
Montgomery indicated that the Pirates could add to the class which included 19 signees in December.,
“We’re kind of finalizing the process in terms of some additional players,” Montgomery said. “We need to do a little more research before we do what we need to do. We potentially will have one more signee and then, like I always do, keep one in my back pocket just for things that may come up here in the next few months or so.”
That could mean a punter or another quarterback.
Gardner Minshew completed 174 of 304 passes last season for 2,140 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions as the Pirates went 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference. Minshew supplanted Thomas Sirk as the starter late in the year after completing 52 of 68 for 463 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 52-27 loss at Houston on Nov. 4.
Minshew appeared to have the inside track on the starting quarterback assignment going into the start of spring practice on Feb. 19,
Then Minshew left the program for his home in Brandon, MS. His departure was announced on Jan. 30.
“They do have a really extremely serious family matter is what we were told,” Montgomery said. “I’m here to support him in every situation. If this thing works out, if he has the ability to return, that door is open. . . . It was very difficult for him because of how far he was away from home.”
The situation leaves three quarterbacks in the program.
“At the same time, I am ready to have some fun this spring,” Montgomery said. “I really like the quarterback room right now. I’m excited about Reid Herring. I’m excited about Kingsley Ifedi. Of course, there’s a lot of excitement around Holton (Ahlers) and what he can come in and try to get accomplished here.”
Ahlers, a freshman from D.H. Conley, is already enrolled at ECU.
“As much as I regret everything for Gardner because he’s one of our family members here, I think there are some opportunities for somebody,” Montgomery said. ” … I think they may provide a different way of playing and a different way of leading than perhaps Gardner would have.”
There has been speculation that ECU would sign a graduate transfer quarterback as Montgomery did with Thomas Sirk from Duke last year.
“Once I come out of spring I’ll have a little bit better understanding, but I’ve got a good feeling right now that the guy we need to prepare to win games is already in the building,” Montgomery said. ” . . . For depth purposes, we have to find someone to have four student-athletes at that position. That’s kind of a base rule. . . . It’s pretty customary to see four people at that position.
The Pirates were last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in more than one defensive category last year so it wasn’t surprising that there has been a staff overhaul on that side of the ball.
“As a leader, you’ve got to be able to make decisions for the organization,” Montgomery said. “I felt like there were some decisions that we needed to make and we made them. Defensively, we didn’t play the way I wanted to play last year. That’s not to point the finger at anybody else, but you can’t remain the same and continue to let things happen over and over and over and expect a different result.”
“We brought in just about a completely new (defensive) staff,” Montgomery said. ” . . . I love Coach Blackwell. I love the ability to go get Coach Wright and Coach Riley, coming in next as well. It’s just been fun to watch these guys work together. They’ve got a lot of energy. There’s a lot of juice and probably the guy with the most juice in the whole room is Coach Blackwell. . . . I’m impressed with his energy level and also his organization in the meeting room. Coaching every single spot on our defense is something that we needed.”
Don Mahoney is the new offensive line coach.
“On the offensive side, everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been able to run the football and we’ve developed players to be draft picks or Pro Bowlers,” said Montgomery, who has been on staffs at Duke and with the Pittsburgh Steelers after playing in the NFL. “Bringing in Coach Mahoney, with his ability, he’s coached a first-round draft pick. … He sees eye-to-eye with where I want our run game to be. Hopefully, we can get that going pretty fast. We look forward to him doing big things with our offensive line.”
Former Pirate defensive lineman Kirk Doll has returned to the ECU coaching staff as special teams coordinator, freeing Shannon Moore to focus exclusively on tight ends.
Doll helped LSU win a national championship. He has worked at Notre Dame and with the Denver Broncos.
“What a coach,” Montgomery said. “I’ve known Coach Doll for a little while now. … What I didn’t know was how good a recruiter he was.”
The ECU staff has been working on the signing class for 2019.