The Southern Durham High football program has produced a number of future major college players known for being able to run between the tackles or make plays in space.
Guys such as Akeem Judd, who played at Ole Miss and is now with the NFL’s New York Jets, Maurice Trowell and Tony Creecy (both played at N.C. State) and current North Carolina running back Jordon Brown all exhibited those abilities with the Spartans and beyond.
“We look for guys like that,” Southern coach Darius Robinson said. “We’re very fortunate to have a lot of kids that are very athletic come through here.”
The latest to fit that mold is 5-foot-10, 177-pound Taron Beauford, whose all-around skills caught the attention of ECU running backs coach Jason Nichols last May. Nichols extended a scholarship offer after watching sophomore season video of Beauford and reviewing his academics. Beauford accepted the offer on February 7, 2018 to become the first member of East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2019.
Robinson, who moved from assistant to head coach at Southern Durham in January 2014, recognized Beauford’s talents at early age. Beauford starred for the Durham Titans, a national Pop Warner football powerhouse, before moving up to the middle school level.
Because of a focus on academics, Beauford chose to enroll at Southern Durham, which now goes by the official name of the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability. As a magnet school with a focus on technology, engineering, business and bio-med fields, Southern is open to any county students who have the academic background to be admitted.
“Taron was one of those kids who we knew right away was special, not just on the field but off of it as well,” Robinson said. “We were fortunate he chose to come to our school. We were able to get him in and the rest is history.”
Because the Spartans had a stacked varsity team that advanced all the way to the state 3-AA finals in 2015, Beauford spent most of his freshman season on the junior varsity. He earned a promotion to the varsity for Southern’s playoff run, but didn’t see any action.
But as a sophomore in 2016, Beauford became a weapon rushing and catching the football as a running back and slot receiver. He was the Spartans’ third-leading rusher with 401 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries, while also posting the second-highest yards-per-catch average receiving (14 receptions, 304 yards for 21.7 average). In a sign of things to come, Beauford also completed two pass attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Beauford shifted to quarterback five games into the 2017 season when injuries depleted the Southern roster at that position. He completed 53 of 95 passes for 841 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also rushing 108 times for 454 yards and five scores. The performance earned Beauford All-Big Eight 3-A Conference honors.
“He made so many great plays for us,” Robinson said. “But the one that sticks out in my mind is because he’s not a quarterback. When I say that, I mean he didn’t grow up at quarterback, but because of his knowledge of the game and his instincts we felt like he was our best option after our starter got hurt.
“We were playing (rival) Northern (Durham) and they were making a run to come back. The pocket broke down on him on a third-and-15 play. So Taron pulled the ball down and scored a touchdown from our 30-yard line. It kind of changed the momentum of the game. He made multiple people miss in space on that play.”
Those are the kind of plays that impressed ECU’s Nichols enough to give Beauford his first and only scholarship offer at this point.
“I told Taron the way recruiting is now, if you don’t have a strong commitment or strong offer from a team going into your senior year, it’s going to be kind of tough to sit and wait because now everyone is trying to get their top guys committed early,” Robinson said. “Right now you have a strong offer [from ECU], so go ahead and consider that.
“So he met with his mom and she told him, ‘Just go ahead and commit.’ He loved the relationship with coach Nichols and coach (Scottie) Montgomery, and East Carolina as a school as well.”
Robinson expects Beauford will play a hybrid running back-slot receiver position for East Carolina.
“He’ll be a kid who is hard to defend because he’s a matchup issue when he lines up in the slot,” Robinson said. “You’ll have to have an athletic, shifty linebacker to keep up with him in the slot. But coming out of the backfield, he will hit the hole between the tackles and can pound it. You can even line him up at quarterback because he understands quarterback play.
“I look at him as a hybrid guy who can run and be that explosive, quick guy, but who can also be very physical between the tackles.”
Beauford carries a 3.8 grade-point average in his core courses, according to Robinson, and is expected to graduate from Southern in December so he can enroll at East Carolina in January 2019.
“East Carolina will be getting the perfect team guy,” Robinson said. “He’s a selfless kid. He doesn’t think about himself when it comes to sports. He sacrifices for others to be able to have opportunities. He wants everyone to be just as good as him. That way the team can be successful.”