Mike Morris was working with the junior varsity football team at Fluvanna High School in Virginia in August 2017 when a a player on the varsity field caught his attention.
“It was about the third week of camp,” said Morris, a Fluvanna graduate who was promoted to varsity head coach in May 2018. “I started watching the varsity scrimmage and they had this big kid playing defensive end who could move really well laterally. I watched the way he moved and how he pushed people out of his way.
“A little time later I saw him in the weight room and saw the kind of the strength he had and his work ethic. A lot of kids have the size, speed and agility, but they don’t have the work ethic to do something with it.”
The player who impressed Morris so much back then was a 6-foot-6, 310-pound sophomore Walt Stribling, who became the fourth prospect to make a verbal commitment to East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2020 on May 19.
Following in the footsteps of his father, a former quarterback for the Flying Flucos, Stribing was preparing for his own varsity debut in 2017 after spending a freshman season with the junior varsity.
“My father was a very good athlete, so I guess I got some God-given talent and ran with it,” Stribling said. “But I was just a normal-size kid. My freshman year I was 6-1. By my sophomore year I was 6-6. When I started to grow like that, I realized I could do something with it.”
Stribling would do something with his talent, but it would be on offense instead of at defensive end. He became a starter for Fluvanna at offensive tackle, earning second-team All-Central Virginia honors on a club that went just 2-8.
Like Morris had been earlier, college recruiters also became impressed with Stribling, especially then-James Madison coach Mike Houston and his new offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler. Houston and Shankweiler received a first-hand look at Stribling when he attended the JMU football camp after his sophomore season.
“My relationship with Coach Shankweiler and Coach Houston developed over like three years,” Stribling said. “We’ve been staying in touch and they continued to recruit me (after moving to East Carolina). Coach Shankweiler is a good coach and I just clicked with his coaching style since the first time I went to JMU’s camp back then.”
When Houston accepted the head coaching position at East Carolina, Shankweiler made a triumphant return with him to Greenville where he’s worked three times previously under head coaches Art Baker and Bill Lewis (1987-91), Steve Logan (1992-2002) and Skip Holtz (2005-09).
After a junior season that saw him earn All-Jefferson District and All-Central Virginia honors, Stribling made the trip down to Greenville for a Junior Day event on March 23. During the visit, he had a chance to interact with ECU offensive linemen Matt Morgan and D’Ante Smith.
“I was able to hang out with those guys,” Stribling said. “I also got a little more one-on-one time with Coach Shankweiler. After that, I knew what my decision was going to be.”
Morris admits he was surprised the commitment to ECU came so early because he expected more opportunities to materialize. But knowing Stribling as well as he does, the decision made perfect sense.
“I think, yes, I was surprised because I thought with the spring (practice) period coming up there would be more interest for him to consider,” Morris said. “But, no, because I know he’s a team first player. He wanted to get that decision out of the way to focus on what he’s doing here during the offseason and his senior season. He wants to try to win a district championship, and he wants to be here with his teammates. The culture is changing around here and he wants to be a part of that.”
When Morris was promoted to varsity head coach at Fluvanna in May 2018, he installed a Wing-T offense in which Stribling immediately became a focal point.
“About two weeks into camp we figured out he’d be a major cog on offense because of what we were doing,” Morris said. “We kind of went old school and ran the ball quite a bit. A lot of times other teams knew what we were running. But even then Walt was able to move people and be a road grader.
“I think the best example of him in our offense is that we flip-flop the line a lot. For instance, certain plays we run behind Walt, so our backs know that. It gives them more confidence. In our second game of the season, we were down 21-6 at halftime. But we ended up winning by about 30 points because in the second half we went out and imposed our will. Walt had a lot to do with that.”
Morris calls Stribling “a prototypical college tackle.”
“He’s got good feet, long arms, good bend and pretty good numbers in the weight room,” Morris said. “He’s just going to get better. He carries his weight really well. He’s about 6-6, 315 or so now, but doesn’t look fat or overweight. Once he gets into a college weight room with a good trainer, he’ll get stronger and fill out.”
Although other teams have attempted to get involved with Stribling since his commitment to ECU, he plans to stick with his decision, graduate in December from Fluvanna and head to Greenville for the spring semester in January 2020.
“A bunch of teams have contacted me,” Stribling said. “But I’ve just told them I’m content with my decision and I’m going to stick with it.”