For every young player who trots in from the sideline in his first college game and makes a big play — an athlete like East Carolina wide receiver Tyler Snead — there is a community of former high school teammates and coaches, like the crowd at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, cheering that player on.
Snead, who came to Greenville as a walk-on and is generously listed in the East Carolina media guide as 5-foot-7, has emerged as one of the Pirates’ top receiving threats since he saw his first minutes, and his first touchdown, against Memphis on November 3. He has caught touchdown passes in all three of his appearances, and with 15.7 yards per catch he is the most prolific receiver on the roster.
Over in Raleigh, as they wrapped up their season with the Millbrook Wildcats, Clarence Inscore and Brandon Simmons have also devoted as much attention as they can to Snead’s rookie rise.
Inscore, the Millbrook head coach, got a text from Snead right after ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery awarded him a scholarship on Monday. Simmons, a former Pirate player who now coaches the quarterbacks, receivers and special teams at Millbrook, was standing on the sideline at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, video camera running, when Snead scored his first touchdown against Memphis.
“I was standing with guys from my ’08 team, Leon Best and C.J. Wilson,” said Simmons, who played running back and special teams for the Pirates from 2006 to 2008. “When he got in, I stopped in my tracks. I was like, ‘Hold up. hold up. That’s my guy right there.’ And when I saw Holton throw it to him, my phone was on record and I got to see his first touchdown. And I was probably the loudest person in the stadium, because I knew who he was and I knew how much he had put into it.”
Snead and Simmons have texted often this fall, with Snead anticipating the type of impact he could have when he was given a chance to move from the scout team to the active roster. Simmons advised him that he wasn’t likely to see significant playing time as a freshman unless players ahead of him were either injured or ineffective. But both situations came to pass, and the ECU coaches saw the intangible quality in Snead that his high school coaches identified years ago.
“He’s a special athlete,” Inscore said. “He’s got a big skill set in a small body. He’s just a big-time playmaker. He works his butt off, and once you get him on the field it’s hard to get him off.”
ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen saw Snead play last fall at Millbrook, also the high school home of Pirates quarterback Reid Herring and offensive lineman Donovan Noel. Petersen convinced the rest of the coaching staff to give him a shot, even though most Division I schools passed on him because of his size.
When Petersen told Inscore that he believed Snead had a chance to come in and earn some playing time as a freshman, Inscore responded, “Coach, I’ll tell you, if you ever get him on the field, you won’t get him off.’ ”
Those words have proven prophetic, especially after Snead electrified the Dowdy-Ficklen crowd against Connecticut on Saturday with six catches for 62 yards and three touchdowns.
Both of his coaches are planning to be at Carter-Finley Stadium on December 1 to watch the Pirates take on N.C. State, and both see the recent success of Snead and fellow freshmen like quarterback Holton Ahlers and running back Trace Christian as vivid proof that ECU’s future is bright.
Snead reminds Simmons of players from his era at ECU, former teammates like Kyle Chase and Michael Bowman, who were considered undersized but earned starting jobs because of their furious work ethic and exceptional hustle.
“These types of players, the blue collar, hardworking guys, is how you build your program,” Simmons said. “Far too many times in the recruiting realm we get caught up in stars, we get caught up in the pageantry. But at the pinnacle of it all it boils down to hard work, discipline and making it happen when your number is called.”