The name Alex Flinn probably wasn’t familiar to even the most devoted followers of East Carolina’s football recruiting efforts when the Asheville quarterback made a verbal commitment to the Pirates on June 23rd.
Flinn had quietly picked up a scholarship offer from ECU in May, but his name didn’t really pop up on the recruiting radar until he took an unofficial visit to campus June 19th. Four days later the 6-foot-1, 212-pounder, who has only started one season at A.C. Reynolds High School, made his pledge to the Pirates and assumed the position of the biggest “sleeper” prospect in the Class of 2019.
But Flinn’s sudden development into a Football Bowl Subdivision prospect has been no surprise to Reynolds coach Shane Laws.
“I’ve watched him come up from our youth league and he’s always been a really strong quarterback,” Laws said. “We knew he had the potential to be the kind of player he is now. The problem was he was playing behind another really good quarterback. So, as a sophomore, he played some snaps, but wasn’t the starter. He actually played some tight end for us that year.
“But last year we moved the guy playing in front of him to another position so Alex could become the starter.”
The result saw Flinn go from throwing 38 passes as a sophomore to 447 last season. He completed 300 for 3,972 yards and 40 touchdowns while recording just 10 interceptions. Flinn also rushed 118 times for 451 yards and eight scores while leading Reynolds to an unbeaten run through the Western Mountain Athletic Conference and a berth in the state 3-AA championship game.
ECU offensive coordinator Tony Peterson and tight ends coach Shannon Moore took notice of the performance, which included Flinn out-dueling Sun Valley’s Florida State-bound quarterback Sam Howell in the state semifinals. Peterson and Moore immediately made Flinn feel like a priority in their recruiting efforts.
“Alex knew about East Carolina, but he had never been to campus,” Laws said. “The relationship he developed with their coaches through the recruiting process sold him more than anything. He felt they had a genuine interest and he was a high priority for them all along. Then, when he got on campus, he really felt at home. I think that was kind of it once he got the chance to get on campus and be around the coaches a little more.”
Flinn’s rapid rise from part-timer as a sophomore to major college prospect as a junior was influenced by a special addition to the Reynolds’ coaching staff. John Shoop, who spent two-and-a-half decades as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in the NFL and at the major college level, settled in Asheville with his wife after being let go from the staff at Purdue in 2015.
With son Sidney joining the Reynolds’ football team last season as a punter, Shoop accepted an offer from Laws to become the Rockets’ quarterbacks coach. Laws said Shoop has had a positive influence on Flinn, especially in the mental aspects of playing quarterback.
“Being coached by someone who has worked with NFL quarterbacks and great ones in college would help anybody,” Laws said. “But Alex is like a sponge. He absorbs everything John talks to him about. That has a lot to do with his growth.”
Shoop has told Laws that Flinn’s accuracy – he completed 67 percent of his throws in 2017 – reminds him of former Marshall and NFL quarterback Chad Pennington.
“They are similar in size and Chad was known for his accuracy coming out of high school,” Laws said. “Chad went on to become a great college quarterback and had a really good NFL career. I think John is saying that Alex has that kind of potential.”
Flinn’s “growth” manifested in some stellar performances during the 2017 season. He kicked off the year by completing 15 of 19 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns in a 50-9 opening rout of Southern Durham. Four times Flinn would top the 300-yard mark passing, including a season-high 368-yard, four-touchdown effort in September against Erwin. In back-to-back games Flinn passed for five touchdowns each against North Buncombe and West Henderson in October.
But it was the state semifinal against Sun Valley and its heralded passer Howell that was Flinn’s most impressive effort of the season. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 282 yards, rushed 15 times for 140 more yards and accounted for two touchdowns in a 28-25 upset.
“We were down at halftime,” Laws said. “Sun Valley is a really good team and had a really good defense. But Alex came out in the second half and made a lot of good throws, including some really tough third-down throws, that kept the chains moving. He had to escape pressure and get out of trouble several times, and turned some third-and-longs into first downs.
“Then, late in the game when we got the lead and were trying to hold onto the football, we had a lot of designed runs where he’d keep the ball. He showed his toughness when he kept getting five and six yards when everyone in the stadium knew we were going to run the football. He did everything in that game you could ask a quarterback to do.”
The Rockets would fall 27-17 to New Hanover in the 3-AA title game a week later with Flinn completing 28 of 49 passes for 229 yards in the setback.
Flinn’s exploits on the athletic field didn’t end with football season. He went on to earn a spot on the Asheville Citizen-Times All-Western North Carolina baseball team after batting .340 with four homers and a team-leading 35 RBIs.
Another honor came Flinn’s way in June when he received an invitation to the Hawaii Tiki Senior All-Star Bowl next December.
Flinn joins an ECU recruiting class that already included a quarterback in Bryan Gagg from Bradenton, FL. They’ll both become part of a Pirate quarterback corps in 2019 along with Reid Herring, Kinglsey Ifedi and Holton Ahlers.
“He understands what is in front of him,” Laws said. “Any Division I program he’d go to would be the same situation. He understands he has to be a really good player to beat out some of those guys to get on the field. But he’s smart and picks up things fast. I think he’ll be fine and will be in a situation where he’s competing on the field. Maybe not as a freshman, but pretty soon.”