Antonio Moore recognized greatness in Traveon Freshwater at an early age.
Freshwater was just seven years old when Moore, the head coach at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, saw him play for the River City Rampage youth football team.
“I taught his mom and I’ve been monitoring him since little league,” Moore said. “Even then, he was bigger than everyone else. Then he was a man among boys in middle school. So we knew good things would happen.”
And they have.
Freshwater has been one of North Carolina’s most productive and decorated prep players over the last two seasons as a running back and linebacker for Moore. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and collected over 100 tackles in each of those campaigns to help Northeastern record 24 wins.
The performance grabbed the attention of Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Appalachian State, Duke, Michigan State, N.C. State, North Carolina, Old Dominion, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, all of which offered Freshwater scholarships. But the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder opted to stay close to home when he gave a verbal commitment last week to East Carolina.
Moore said the Pirates were not initially among Freshwater’s top schools in the early stages of the recruiting process. But the willingness of the ECU coaching staff to continue recruiting Freshwater aggressively paid off in the end.
“East Carolina was kind of like fifth or sixth on his list at one point,” Moore said. “But one of the things (ECU senior defensive analyst) coach [David] Mackie said was ‘We’re not going to give up on him.’ They kept coming and talking to him, and started showing him the academic program. They made a huge turnaround, going from fifth or sixth to number one.”
Freshwater represents a major recruiting coup for ECU. He is currently the highest rated player in the class, according to Rivals.com and second-highest by 247Sports.com. Rivals has Freshwater as the nation’s No. 7 weakside defensive end prospect, while 247Sports ranks him No. 16 as an inside linebacker. Only placekicker Patrick Nations from Walhalla, SC, who is 10th nationally at his position, is rated higher by 247Sports than Freshwater.
Moore has watched Freshwater develop in the Northeastern program since promoting him to the varsity early during the 2015 season. Freshwater began his freshman year on the junior varsity, which is a common practice by Moore.
“I never bring freshmen straight up,” Moore said. “I let them play JV for a couple of games to earn it. I feel like a kid should work a little bit and earn what he gets. So he had to earn it, and by the fifth game of the year we brought him up.”
Playing mostly on defense, Freshwater displayed his potential by making 64 tackles and 12 quarterback sacks in just nine games during his rookie season. But that proved to be just a glimpse of what was to come.
An increased role on offense and defense saw Freshwater emerge as a true star during a sophomore season in which the Eagles went 11-3 and reached the third round of the state 2-A playoffs. Along with his teammate since their youth league days, J.R. Walker, Freshwater formed a powerful one-two punch on offense. Both racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing with Freshwater’s 1,441 yards and 23 touchdowns leading the team.
Freshwater was also a terror on defense, producing 150 tackles and 23 sacks. For his defensive effort, Freshwater was named Northeastern Coastal 2-A Conference Defensive Player of the Year, All-Area by the Daily Advance newspaper and first-team All-State by The Associated Press.
Incredibly, Freshwater managed to surpass all those achievements as a junior when, along with Walker and 6-5, 210-pound defensive end Jorell Baum, he propelled Northeastern to a 13-1 finish and another trip to the third round of the state 2-A playoffs. The Eagles would fall to eventual state champion Wallace-Rose Hill in a wild shootout, 63-52, in which Freshwater ran for 188 yards on 23 carries and made 12 tackles.
On the season, Freshwater piled up 2,015 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on 118 carries on offense. He rushed for more than 100 yards 11 times, highlighted by a 14-carry, 253-yard, two-touchdown effort against Eastern power Clinton in the state playoffs. Freshwater was just as dominant on defense where he made 157 tackles and 27 sacks.
Two of those quarterbacks sacks came in the opening game of the season against future ECU teammate and then D.H. Conley quarterback Holton Ahlers.
Northeastern had taken a 55-49 lead in overtime, but Ahlers had moved Conley into position at the 10-yard line for a potential go-ahead score.
“It was fourth down, and all they had to do was score and make the extra point to win the game,” Moore said. “I looked at Freshwater and said, ‘I need you to make a play.’ He looked at me and nodded his head.
“Ahlers was about to throw the ball and Freshwater grabbed his jersey and pulled him down to win the game for us. I thought that was a huge play because Ahlers is not a small kid. But Traveon pulled him to the ground and we won. He’s made many plays like that in three years.”
Moore expects Freshwater to make many plays like that at ECU in the near future.
“They have recruited him as a linebacker and I believe he’ll play right away,” Moore said. “Physically, he fits the profile right now of a college player.”
Freshwater might not be the only Northeastern player in ECU’s recruiting Class of 2019 before it’s all said and done. Moore said Baum also has an offer from the Pirates in addition to Kent State, Old Dominion, Tennessee and others. He made 90 tackles and six sacks last season for the Eagles.