Bryan Gagg utilized an inside source when considering a football scholarship offer extended by the East Carolina Pirates in early February.
A 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback from Bradenton, Florida, Gagg was first noticed by ECU wide receivers coach Keith Gaither while Gagg was participating in spring practice with the Braden River High Pirates in April 2017. Gagg had just transferred to Braden River from Sarasota High, where he had been the starting quarterback since his freshman season.
Then, after Gagg had put together a stellar junior year at Braden River in which he passe for 2,252 yards and 28 touchdowns, Gaither returned with a scholarship offer last February.
Although somewhat familiar with the ECU program, Gagg sought more information from family friend Earnest Byner after receiving the offer.
Byner, of course, is one of the greatest players in ECU history. He produced 2,049 yards rushing as a running back for the Pirates between 1980-83 and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1998. And Byner just happens to be a work colleague of Gagg’s mother.
“Earnest Byner is a family friend, and I talked to him a lot about his experience there and what is going on now,” Gagg said. “So my interest [in ECU] was pretty immediate. I just fell in love with the coaches, and when I finally went up there for the spring game it reassured me that everything I thought about the program was true.
“I came up on Friday night, watched practice or the walk through, then after the spring game I went to [head] coach [Scottie] Mo’s [Montgomery] office to commit.”
Gagg became the fourth member of ECU’s recruiting Class of 2019 on March 24 and will join an impressive collection of young quarterback prospects in Greenville next January.
The decision marked another major step in a football career that began for a five-year-old Gagg back in Sparta, New Jersey. He began playing flag football as a running back at that age, although baseball was a larger part of his family tree.
Gagg’s father, Michael, was a standout pitcher for NCAA Division III William Paterson University from 1985-88. Michael Gagg produced a 19-2 record and 3.69 earned run average during that time, which was enough to get him elected to the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2015.
Uncle Robert Gagg was a third baseman and pitcher, who was taken in the 1974 major league baseball draft by the New York Yankees. He spent one season playing in the Yankees’ minor league system. Robert’s son and Bryan’s cousin, Bobby Gagg, is a former All-American pitcher for Coastal Carolina.
“I come from a baseball family,” Bryan Gagg said. “Most of my early life was focused more around baseball and even basketball. But I just fell in love with football.
“I think the first year I played (flag) football I was a running back. But since I started playing tackle at around eight or nine I’ve always been a quarterback. I was always ahead of the other kids when it came to arm strength and stuff. I always had a strong arm and was pretty smart. So that’s probably why they put me at quarterback. I love the idea of having the ball in my hands every play.”
The Gagg family moved from New Jersey to Florida when Bryan was 10. By his eighth grade year, he was already dreaming about playing college football. When Gagg earned the starting quarterback job at Sarasota High School as a freshman, that dream seemed even closer to reality.
For two seasons, Gagg directed the offense at Sarasota where he made 23 starts while throwing for more than 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. But coaching changes after Gagg’s sophomore season prompted a move to the Braden River school district last spring.
With Gagg behind center, Braden River produced a 10-2 record and reached the second round of the Class 7-A state playoffs. Gagg completed 128 of 188 passes on the season, earning him a spot on the Bradenton Herald’s All-Area first team.
Braden River is poised for another big season in 2018 with Gagg and nationally recruited athlete-receiver Knowledge McDaniel returning along with some top defensive talent.
East Carolina was the first school to offer Gagg a scholarship and the attention shown by the coaching staff convinced him to make a quicker decision than expected.
“I didn’t think it (commitment) would happen that quick,” Gagg said. “But they were the first school to offer and talked to me just about every single day. A lot of teams were waiting to see more of me. But East Carolina didn’t hesitate. And it was just an instant attraction to the school and coaches.”
Gagg is on schedule to graduate from Braden River next December, so he can enroll at ECU in January 2019. He’ll join a quarterback corps that already includes Reid Herring, Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi.
“Once you get to college you’re going to compete against the best every day,” Gagg said. “I didn’t worry about who they had when I committed. Whoever is there I’ll compete with every day. That can only make me better competing against them.”