Mike Houston had very little time to make up ground recruiting after becoming East Carolina’s head coach just 16 days before college football’s early signing period for the Class of 2019.
But with an aggressive approach that had Houston and his staff traveling from Florida to Pennsylvania for face-to-face meetings with prospects, the Pirates didn’t lose any ground either.
Eighteen players signed a national letter of intent with ECU on Wednesday, all but one of whose recruitment was handled in large part by the previous staff headed by Scottie Montgomery. Houston, in a classy move, praised Montgomery and his staff on signing day for their role in securing a class that so far is rated fifth-best among American Athletic Conference programs by 247sports.com and sixth by Rivals.com.
“Scottie Montgomery and his staff did a real good job with these young men,” Houston said. “A lot of them were committed to his staff, and it’s only right to give them credit for the hard work they put in to get these guys acclimated to East Carolina University.”
As is usually the case with coaching changes, the Pirates did wind up losing several players previously committed to the school. Athlete D.J. Chisolm and receiver Devontez Walker backed off verbal pledges to the Pirates soon after the school announced Montgomery wouldn’t be retained. Offensive lineman Jeff Woods also opted out of the class after the new staff asked him to delay his enrollment at ECU by a semester, according to his high school coach.
The staff also cut ties for the time being with two other previously committed players, running backs Shemar Thompson and Taron Beauford.
But Houston did manage to reel back in offensive lineman Nathan Strother, junior college offensive lineman Bailey Malovic, and athlete Juan Powell back to the class, while also adding in-state running back Demetrius Mauney.
“We did have some very aggressive work to do,” Houston said. “But I said to our staff earlier today that even if we had been here two years and signed this class today, I’d still be ecstatic about this class. It’s a quality group of young men. They are talented. They’re going to be players, a lot of them, with immediate impact on our program.”
Houston will be able to put more of his stamp on the 2019 recruiting class between now and the final signing period that starts February 6th. With scholarships remaining to offer, he hopes to add another defensive lineman and an additional skill player on offense to the class.
That’s when we’ll return with our annual report card on the complete class. Until then, here’s some tidbits and personal evaluations based on film study and conversations with other analysts and coaches about each ECU prospect signed during the early period. The asterisk beside a player’s name indicates he’ll enroll for the spring semester and will participate in spring practice with the Pirates.
*ALEX ANGUS, Defensive back (6-2, 190) Page HS, Greensboro, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 162 safety nationally, No. 77 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. unranked.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Charlotte, Old Dominion.
Recruiting tale: Appalachian State was the first to offer Angus in December 2017 and he wound up committing to the Mountaineers on Feb. 22, 2018. But after making an unofficial visit to ECU in early November, he backed off that pledge on Nov. 7 and to join the Pirates.
Senior stats/honors: Angus made 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss and eight sacks in just nine games. Earned first-team All-Metro 4-A Conference honors and played for North Carolina squad in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
Fast fact: As a sophomore, Angus started on a Page team featuring future FBS recruits in running back Javon Leake (Maryland) and linebacker Alan Tisdale (Virginia Tech). The squad finished 14-2 overall and reached the state 4-AA finals.
My thoughts: Angus is a hybrid safety-outside linebacker who displayed the skill to dominate games at times during his prep career. He’s a sure tackler in the open field and isn’t afraid to stick his nose into a pile at the line of scrimmage to make a hit. It’s impressive to watch him back-pedal in pass coverage, then seamlessly shift gears and close ground rapidly on the receiver. Because of his versatility, size and speed, I could see Angus contributing on special teams as a true freshman for the Pirates.
KEZIAH EVERETT, Defensive line (6-1, 325) Farmville Central HS, Farmville, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 121 defensive tackle nationally, No. 75 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. unranked.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Campbell, Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia.
Recruiting tale: The Pirates were the first to offer Everett a scholarship in April 2017. Although he attended a Junior Day event at North Carolina in March 2018 and was aggressively recruited by the Tar Heels late in the process, Everett never wavered after making a verbal commitment to ECU on June 28.
Senior stats/honors: Everett produced 81 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2018. Played for the North Carolina squad in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game, making one tackle.
Fast fact: One of the state’s top high school performers in the shot put, Everett set the state 2-A record in May 2018 with a toss of 53 feet, 8.5 inches.
My thoughts: If he was two inches taller, Everett would have had every program in the country pursuing him. He is a truly unique athlete for a man of his size. Fast (timed at 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash), powerful (41 repetitions of 185 pounds on bench press) and agile (31-inch vertical jump), Everett can be one of the immediate contributors from this class at ECU. And if the Pirates ever need a jumbo back to block or carry the ball around the goal line, Everett could be that guy.
MALIK FLEMING, Defensive back (5-9, 180) Hapeville Charter Academy, Fairburn, GA
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 178 cornerback nationally, No. 154 in Georgia
(Rivals.com) 3 stars. unranked.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Boston College, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Syracuse, Troy, Tulane.
Recruiting tale: Tulane, Troy and Louisville all got out ahead of ECU with offers to Fleming. The Pirates jumped into the recruiting war for him in December 2017 and he eventually became on of the first players committed to the recruiting Class of 2019 on March 31, 2018.
Senior stats/honors: Collected 14 tackles, four tackles for loss, a quarterback sack and an interception in just seven games as a senior. Fleming returned the interception 38 yards for a touchdown. Named defensive player of the year by coaches for Georgia’s Region 6-AA.
Fast fact: Fleming’s cousin is Kansas City Chiefs’ safety, Eric Berry.
My thoughts: A “one-of-a-kind athlete and talent” is how Hapeville Charter coach Winston Gordon describes Fleming. Speedy with long arms, Fleming excels in man-to-man coverage and has big-play ability as a cornerback. But he’s also an excellent kick returner and special teams performer. Fleming’s work ethic and football instincts could earn him a role early at ECU in the latter capacity.
ALEX FLINN, Quarterback (6-1, 210) A.C. Reynolds HS, Fletcher, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 77 pro-style quarterback nationally, No. 77 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. unranked.
Also offered by: ECU was his only offer.
Recruiting tale: 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 he made a verbal commitment to the Pirates.
Senior stats/honors: Completed 210 of 343 yards passing for 3,113 yards and 34 touchdowns. Was intercepted just eight times. Also rushed 148 times for 673 yards and three more scores. Named offensive player of the year in the Western Mountain 3-A Conference. Earned invitation to the Hawai’i Tiki All-Star Bowl.
Fast fact: Flinn was an All-Western N.C. pick in baseball as a junior after batting .340 with four homer and 35 RBIs.
My thoughts: Under the tutelage former college and NFL offensive coordinator John Shoop, Flinn blossomed in his final two seasons at Reynolds. He’s an extremely accurate passer, and even though he’s not a great runner, Flinn is mobile enough to move the pocket to create space for himself when needed. Flinn also has a fearless attitude, which allows him to stand in a pocket a split second longer or get that five or six yards on the run to keep the chains moving. Could be the “sleeper” of this recruiting class.
TRAVEON FRESHWATER, Defensive end (6-1, 230) Northeastern HS, Elizabeth City, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 44 inside linebacker nationally, No. 48 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 3 stars, No. 28 weakside defensive end nationally, No. 21 in North Carolina
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Duke, Michigan State, N.C. State, North Carolina, Old Dominion, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest.
Recruiting tale: N.C. State emerged as an early leader for Freshwater late in 2017, while the Pirates were back in the pack. But ECU’s former staff wouldn’t take no for an answer and continued to aggressively pursue Freshwater and gradually moved up his list of options. After an unofficial visit to ECU in late July 2018, he offered his commitment to the Pirates on August 6th.
Senior stats/honors: Freshwater made 119 tackles and 19 sacks on defense as a senior, while also rushing for 1,263 yards and 16 touchdowns on offense. Selected to play for the North Carolina squad in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game, but couldn’t participate due to Northeastern playing in the state 2-A finals.
Fast fact: Freshwater sacked future ECU teammate Holton Ahlers twice in the opening game of his junior season.
My thoughts: The centerpiece of the ECU recruiting class, Freshwater is a cross between former UNC great Julius Peppers and this year’s defensive star for the Pirates, Nate Harvey. He’s not quite Peppers’ size, but is bigger than Harvey. What he shares with both is his ability to make big plays and disrupt offenses. Freshwater made an incredible 80 career sacks at Northeastern while playing both ways for four straight years. He’s quick off the line, relentless and has tremendous upper-body strength. Don’t be surprised if someday soon he’s challenging Harvey’s ECU tackles for loss and sack records.
*BRYAN GAGG, Quarterback (6-3, 200) Braden River HS, Bradenton, FL
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 42 pro-style quarterback nationally, No. 158 in Florida
(Rivals.com) 3 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: Northern Iowa.
Recruiting tale: Gagg emerged on ECU’s recruiting radar when former receivers coach Keith Gaither saw him during spring practice at Braden River, soon after he transferred there from Sarasota High. After turning in a stellar junior year at Braden River, Gaither returned with a scholarship offer from the Pirates. After consulting with family friend and former ECU running back Ernest Byner, Gagg pulled the trigger on a commitment to the Pirates on March 24, 2018.
Senior stats/honors: Led Braden River to a 9-3 record after completing 142 of 227 passes for 2,220 yards and 21 touchdowns. Gagg was intercepted just six times. Also rushed 51 times for 157 yards.
Fast fact: Gagg’s father Michael, a former baseball pitcher, is a member of the athletic hall of fame at NCAA Division III William Paterson University.
My thoughts: The first thing you notice about Gagg is arm strength and the way he really steps into every throw. He exhibits nice touch on the deep balls and can zip it into tight spaces on slant routes or passes to the sideline. Gagg is also a big, physical quarterback who runs with authority. As a January enrolee, it’ll be interesting to follow Gagg’s progress in the spring and see where he winds up on the quarterback depth chart heading into 2019.
*HOZEY HAJI-BADRI, Defensive tackle (6-3, 270) Chantilly HS/Virginia Prep Sports Academy/ASA College, Chantilly, VA
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 17 junior college strongside defensive end nationally
Also offered by: Buffalo, Georgia State, New Mexico, Old Dominion, UAB, Western Kentucky
Recruiting tale: It was a long, winding road for Haji-Badri to reach Greenville. He received numerous FBS scholarship offers as a senior at Chantilly High and wound up accepting an offer from Temple in 2015. But those plans altered in May 2016 when Haji-Badri re-opened his recruitment and announced he was reclassifying academically. The latter allowed him to spent another year growing physically and improving his academics at the Virginia Prep Sports Academy. West Virginia recruited him as a preferred walk-on out of Virginia Prep, but those plans derailed when he came up shy of a qualifying score on the SAT just weeks before he was scheduled to enroll. A newspaper article about him failing to qualify was seen by the staff at ASA College in Brooklyn, who contacted Haji-Badri and offered a scholarship there. ECU jumped into the picture in October when then-defensive line coach Rodrique Wright made contact. An offer followed on Nov. 1 and Haji-Badri accepted on Nov. 19.
Sophomore stats/honors: Earned All-Northeastern Conference honors after making 16 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Fast fact: Haji-Badri has four younger siblings, all of whom are sisters.
My thoughts: Athleticism and versatility are the two things that jump out at you about Haji-Badri. He’s extremely agile and quick out of his stance. Those abilities make him a candidate to play anywhere from a three-technique to a defensive end position. Getting him into ECU’s strength and conditioning program during the spring will help better prepare him for what could be a prominent role on next year’s defensive front.
*JSI HATFIELD, Wide receiver (5-9, 175) Southern Alamance HS, Graham, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 76 athlete nationally, No. 44 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. Unranked.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Campbell, Charleston Southern, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Elon, Gardner-Webb, Georgia State, Hampton, James Madison, Kent State, Liberty, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Old Dominion, The Citadel, Western Carolina, Wofford.
Recruiting tale: Appalachian State was Hatfield’s second offer and the early favorite to land him. But after visiting ECU for a Junior Day event on March 17, the Pirates extended an offer the following month. He took unofficial visits to Appalachian State and Old Dominion before accepting ECU’s offer on June 24.
Senior stats/honors: Playing mostly at quarterback as a senior, Hatfield completed 38 of 57 passes for 714 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing 184 times for 1,551 yards and 14 scores. He also made 10 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
Fast fact: Hatfield averaged 13.7 points as a guard on the Southern Alamance basketball team as a junior.
My thoughts: One of the fastest athletes in ECU’s recruiting class, Hatfield is a triple threat who can run, catch and pass the football. Because he hasn’t gotten much experience at receiver as a prep player, it will take some time for him to develop into a contributor in the Pirates’ passing game. But once Hatfield learns the finer points of the position, his ability to make yards after the catch will be a valuable asset.
TRENT HOLLER, Offensive line (6-2, 285) Greater Latrobe HS, Latrobe, PA
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 13 center nationally, No. 29 in Pennsylvania
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. Unranked.
Also offered by: Albany, Ball State, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Delaware, Duquesne, Elon, Fordham, Lehigh, Maine, Notre Dame College, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Robert Morris, West Virginia, Youngstown State.
Recruiting tale: The Pirates were tipped off about Holler from the brother of former offensive line coach Don Mahoney, who also coaches in the Latrobe area. ECU reached out to Holler and offered him a scholarship in June 2018. By August, Holler had narrowed his options to the Pirates, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. After pondering those options for a month, Holler announced for ECU in September.
Senior stats/honors: Earned All-Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League 5-A honors as a defensive lineman in helping Greater Latrobe end an eight-year playoff drought. He made 34 tackles, seven sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Fast fact: Father, Dick Holler, attended Elon University in North Carolina.
My thoughts: Holler is a true center prospect whose ability to snap the ball, then maneuver himself into blocking position is advanced for a prep player. He has the quickness and foot speed to pull on run plays and doesn’t stop after making the initial block. It’s common on film to see Holler continuing down field to take on a safety or cornerback after completing his primary assignment.
C.J. JOHNSON, Wide receiver (6-2, 220) D.H. Conley HS, Greenville, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 198 wide receiver nationally, No. 66 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 3 stars. Unranked.
Also offered by: Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Recruiting tale: There was really never much doubt Johnson would land at ECU, even though North Carolina was among his early favorites. The opportunity to play for his hometown school and reconnect with his former prep quarterback, Holton Ahlers, led Johnson to make his pledge to the Pirates on May 17, 2018.
Senior stats/honors: Johnson did everything but sell popcorn at Conley this season. He completed seven of 12 passing attempts for 42 yards and two touchdowns, had 77 receptions for 1,701 yards and 23 scores, made 16 tackles and two picks on defense, returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns and averaged 38.1 on punts.
Fast fact: Johnson played quarterback in middle school, but moved to receiver once he reached the Conley varsity because Ahlers was firmly entrenched as the program’s starter.
My thoughts: The next record-breaking receiver at East Carolina? Johnson certainly has the goods to join ECU’s receiving elite. He has big hands and is a natural pass catcher. Because of his body type, Johnson is a great target in the red zone and is also a mismatch for many corners when running deep routes. Throw in Johnson’s work ethic and mental toughness, and the sky is the limit for what he might achieve at ECU.
JEREMY LEWIS, Tight end (6-3, 215) South Central HS, Greenville, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 78 weakside defensive end nationally, No. 58 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars. Unranked.
Also offered by: Charlotte, Duke, Georgia State, North Carolina, Old Dominion, Tennessee, Virginia, Wake Forest
Recruiting tale: Another local prospect who was practically a slam dunk for the Pirates, Lewis did camp and attend Junior Day activities at North Carolina. But ECU was always foremost in his heart, which prompted his commitment on June 28.
Senior stats/honors: Lewis was an impact player on both sides of the football as a senior. He made 95 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks on defense at end, highlighted by a nine-tackle, four tackle-for-loss game against West Craven. At tight end on offense, Lewis caught 36 passes for 802 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Fast fact: Lewis’ older brother, Kiante Anderson, lettered for the Pirates in 2016 and 2017 at defensive end.
My thoughts: I don’t believe I was the only person surprised when Lewis showed up on ECU’s signing list as a tight end. The fact is he has the potential to be a big-play, disruptive pass-rushing force on defense once he adds some more size to his frame. But Houston envisions Lewis evolving into a hybrid player who can line up in the backfield as a fullback, attach himself to the line like a traditional tight end, or split out wide for a physical mismatch against a safety or linebacker. I can see that, too, because Lewis is that gifted.
*BAILEY MALOVIC, Offensive line (6-6, 260) Dutch Fork HS/Highland CC, Irmo, SC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 11 junior college offensive tackle nationally
(Rivals.com) 3 stars, No. 97 junior college prospect overall nationally.
Also offered by: Arkansas State, Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, New Mexico State, Old Dominion, Southern Miss, Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin, UAB.
Recruiting tale: Malovic received light recruiting interest after helping Dutch Fork to the state AAAAA title as a senior in 2016. So off he went to Highland Community College, where the Pirates arrived late on the scene in early November 2018. Malovic visited Greenville on Nov. 16 and committed Nov. 20. But he backed off that pledge briefly for three days in December after the coaching change before re-joining the class on Dec. 15.
Senior stats/honors: Malovic played in nine games as a sophomore at Highland, helping the Scotties average 395.4 yards of total offense per game.
Fast fact: Played high school football for Tom Knotts, who won nine state titles while coaching Charlotte-area programs.
My thoughts: A spring arrival in Greenville will be good for ECU and Malovic. The Pirates desperately need starting help and depth on the offensive line, so the opportunity to make an early impact is there for Malovic. Under normal circumstances, Malovic could use a redshirt year to beef up and get stronger, but at ECU he may not have that luxury next season.
DEMETRIUS MAUNEY, Running back (6-0-195) East Rutherford HS, Forest City, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 60 athlete nationally, No. 37 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 3 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Campbell, Charlotte, Colorado State, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Southern, James Madison, Old Dominion, Purdue, Temple, Wofford.
Recruiting tale: Originally Mauney gave his verbal commitment to Big Ten Conference member Purdue on June 16. But the distance from home to West Lafayette, IN, caused Mauney to have second thoughts, so he decommitted on Aug. 14. Houston’s staff had been recruiting Mauney for James Madison, so when they arrived at ECU in December they continued their pursuit. It paid off with a verbal commitment on Dec. 6.
Senior stats/honors: A two-way star at East Rutherford, Mauney racked up 1,375 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 152 carries as a senior. Defensively, he piled up 83 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Played for the North Carolina squad in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
Fast fact: Amassed 5,074 career all-purpose yards at East Rutherford – 4,427 rushing, 14 receiving, 559 in kickoff returns and 74 on interception returns.
My thoughts: Mauney is a chain mover. He rarely gets dropped in the backfield because he’s always moving forward with a powerful leg drive. Deceptively fast, Mauney has the skills to be an every-down back who doesn’t have to be removed on passing plays. Barring another running back signee between now and February, ECU will be just an injury away from needing Mauney’s contribution at running back next fall.
*JA’QUAN MCMILLIAN, Cornerback (5-9, 165) West Forsyth HS, Winston-Salem, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 158 cornerback nationally, No. 63 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 3 stars, unranked nationally, No. 40 in North Carolina.
Also offered by: Appalachian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Wake Forest, West Virginia.
Recruiting tale: McMillian received offers from a variety of Power Five conference schools, but once ECU offered in October 2017 none of those seemed relevant. He committed to the Pirates on July 12, 2018.
Senior stats/honors: Chosen for the Winston-Salem Journal’s All-Northwest team and All-Central Piedmont 4-A Conference squad as a senior. Made five tackles and a tackle for loss for the North Carolina squad in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
Fast fact: Older brother, Jayshawn, was West Forsyth’s starting quarterback when Ja’Quan was a varsity freshman.
My thoughts: McMillian has that combination of great football instincts and athletic ability that allows him to make big plays on defense. He understands the cornerback position and West Forsyth coach Adrian Snow calls him “the best defensive back we’ve ever had.” That’s saying something considering the talent West has produced in recent years. Picking up a few pounds of muscle will be necessary before McMillian is ready to make an impact in Greenville. But there’s plenty of time between now and next fall for that to happen.
*PATRICK NATIONS, Placekicker (6-0, 190) Walhalla HS, Tamassee, SC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 2 stars, No. 15 placekicker nationally, No. 73 in South Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: North Greenville.
Recruiting tale: East Carolina arrived on the scene to offer Nations in April 2018. A month later, during an unofficial visit to campus, he made a verbal commitment to play for the Pirates.
Senior stats/honors: The left-footed kicker was named Class 4-A Specialist of the Year as a senior by the South Carolina Coaches Association. He was selected to play in the 2018 Touchstone Energy Bowl all-star game.
Fast fact: Nations has also earned all-league honors as a receiver and defensive back for Walhalla.
My thoughts: This guy isn’t just a kicker. Nations is a true athlete was also a highly regarded safety at the high school level. But the Pirates like him for the high lift he gets on his place kicks and the leg strength that regularly saw him send kickoffs into the end zone as a prep player. With Jake Verity around for one more year, ECU can probably redshirt Nations in 2019. But he is the clear heir apparent to Verity.
*JUAN POWELL, Athlete (5-11, 170) Douglass HS, Atlanta, GA
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 3 stars, No. 128 cornerback nationally, No. 116 in Georgia
(Rivals.com) 2 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: Cincinnati, Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, Massachusetts, South Florida, Syracuse, Troy, Tulane.
Recruiting tale: Powell was among the first players to commit to the Class of 2019 back in March 2018. But as more offers came his way and the coaching change occurred at East Carolina, Powell decided to back off that pledge on Dec. 1 to re-evaluate his situation. But after a face-to-face meeting with Houston during an official visit Dec. 7, he began to turn his attention back to ECU. He made a late visit to Troy, which set up the only real drama for ECU on signing day. But Powell put his signature on a letter of intent to play for the Pirates.
Senior stats/honors: Powell rushed for 1,432 yards and 19 touchdowns on 130 carries to earn Georgia Region 6-AA Athlete of the Year honors.
Fast fact: Completed 17 passes in high school, eight of which went for touchdowns.
My thoughts: Enticing Powell back to the ECU recruiting class might have been Houston’s best effort. Powell is a speed athlete with game-breaking potential on offense or defense. He put together an impressive high school career competing against some of the best in Georgia, so he’ll come to Greenville battle tested. One of the highlights of spring practice for the Pirates will be to see who among the offense and defense coaches wins the battle to have Powell on their side of the ball.
CHAD STEPHENS, Linebacker (6-0, 225) Southeast Guilford HS, Greensboro, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 2 stars, No. 151 outside linebacker nationally, No. 76 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: Air Force, Army, Campbell, Charleston Southern, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Kentucky, Furman, Hampton, James Madison, Liberty, Navy, Richmond, The Citadel, Western Carolina.
Recruiting tale: A close relationship with former prep teammate Trey Love, a freshman defensive lineman at ECU, helped the Pirates close the deal with Stephens. He committed to ECU on June 21, 2018, but did take an unofficial trip to North Carolina in November to cause a few nervous moments before signing day.
Senior stats/honors: Stephens rushed 58 times for 268 yards and eight touchdowns on offense, while also catching 14 passes for 164 yards. He also made three interceptions on defense.
Fast fact: Stephens’ father, Cameron, works for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department.
My thoughts: A sideline-to-sideline defender, Stephens plays physical and with great instincts. He has the flexibility to play inside or outside at linebacker, but may need some time to develop his technique after spending much of his prep career focused on offense.
NISHAD STROTHER, Offensive line (6-3, 290) Havelock HS, Havelock, NC
In the ratings: (247Sports.com) 2 stars, No. 187 offensive nationally, No. 112 in North Carolina
(Rivals.com) 2 stars, unranked.
Also offered by: Charlotte, Georgia State, N.C. Central, Western Carolina.
Recruiting tale: Havelock has long been an ECU stronghold when it comes to football recruiting. So it was no surprise when Strother added his name to the Pirates’ class on June 25, 2018. But it was a surprise two months later when he decided to withdraw his pledge. Strother consequently committed to Charlotte on Oct. 15 and seemed destined to play elsewhere besides ECU. But the new staff wouldn’t take no for an answer and finally convinced Strother to come back aboard on Dec. 16.
Senior stats/honors: A two-way starter at state powerhouse Havelock, Strother helped the Rams average 476.8 yards of total offense a game and paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers as a senior.
Fast fact: Strother earned MVP honors at East Carolina’s Big Man Camp in June.
My thoughts: Strother has great footwork for a big man and plays with great effort every down. He improved his strength by leaps and bounds between his junior and senior prep seasons. Havelock coach Caleb King compares Strother to another Rams’ great, Corey Robinson, who spent three seasons as a starter at South Carolina and is now with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.