Isaiah Foote had played football, but fancied himself a basketball player while advancing through the elementary and middle school ranks in Maryland Calvert County.
“My dad played football in high school, but my mom was not a big fan of football. She still really isn’t,” Foote said. “I played organized football the first time when I was 12. But I really played a bunch of basketball after that and didn’t pick it (football) back up until high school.”
Foote was eventually inspired to make a return to the gridiron one day at lunch near the end of his eighth grade year when Calvert High School football coach Rick Sneade dropped by for a visit. Sneade immediately took notice of the sizable Foote.
“We went down to the middle school at lunch time and asked who was interested in playing football,” Sneade said. “We’re there in a room of about 100 eighth graders and here comes this tall, good looking kid who was a lot bigger than everyone else. I don’t know what it was. Maybe something appealed to him about my kindness. But we took his information down and he started showing up that spring to lift weights.”
Foote would develop over the next three years into a 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive lineman whose skills prompted colleges such as Buffalo, Kent State, Marshall, Massachusetts and Temple to offer him scholarships. But it was East Carolina that won Foote’s verbal commitment on June 11 as part of a successful June recruiting spree that saw the Pirates secure nine pledges in 19 days.
Inside linebackers coach Byron Thweatt made the initial contact with Foote soon after joining coach Mike Houston’s ECU staff from Marshall in December. He made a return visit to Calvert High in January to gather more information on Foote, according to Sneade.
“He came up, saw some film, talked to us and immediately went back to East Carolina to let them know about Isaiah,” Sneade said. “They didn’t offer at that point, but wanted to get him down there for a Junior Day in February. So we moved our schedule around, got down there and that’s when Coach Houston extended the offer.”
Although impressed by ECU, Foote wanted to check out some of the other schools recruiting him before announcing a final decision.
“I finished with Temple, which was the last on my main list of possible places I could attend,” Foote said. “But I just felt more at home at East Carolina. The place reminds me of Calvert County, which is basically where I’ve grown up most of my life. It has kind of a country atmosphere. And what I really liked was the school. The graduation rate of their (football) players is pretty high.”
Landing a scholarship with a Football Bowl Subdivision college program wasn’t necessarily in the cards when Foote joined the Calvert High program as a freshman. Foote began the season playing for the junior varsity, but received a late-season promotion to varsity as it was advancing to the semifinals of the state 2-A playoffs.
“As a ninth grader he was a lot bigger than everybody else, but was very unpolished and unrefined,” Sneade said. “He didn’t have very much of a football IQ. He was just an athlete running around.
“But he was not scared. He was physical when going in the right direction. That year we had a long run into the playoffs and he was the only freshmen we brought up to practice with us. When he knew where to go he played really physical against the varsity players. That showed us a lot. One, he had athletic ability, two, he had no fear, and three, you could tell those four weeks were beneficial to his development.”
Foote became a varsity starter at offensive guard as a sophomore, then emerged as an all-star performer last season for a Calvert squad that finished 6-4. He was named to the All-Southern Maryland Football Coaches Association first team and was an All-Calvert County selection.
Sneade said one of the highlights of Foote’s junior campaign occurred in the eighth game of the season against La Plata. Foote leads Calvert running back Dre Mackall through a hole on the right side and Mackall rides his coat tail all the way to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown run.
“It’s a great story,” Sneade said. “We had the day off from school and we wanted to keep the kids together. So we came together at a local restaurant for breakfast. As we sat there eating Isaiah was holding court with our bigger boys. He was saying one thing that got on his nerves was when the running backs grab his back on counter plays when he’s pulling in front of them.
“Well, Dre looks over his shoulder when he hears Isaiah saying that. Sure enough in the game we sucked their defense in. Isaiah is supposed to block the linebacker, but he’s not there. So he starts going to block downfield. Dre grabs the back of his (Foote’s) jersey and follows him all the way to the end zone. It looks like he’s (Foote) running down the field with a tailback in his hip pocket.
“That’s the kind of stuff the (college) coaches are excited about.”
Mackall would finish the game with 347 yards and six touchdowns on 16 carries.
Sneade believes Foote will be a player who’ll contribute quickly at East Carolina.
“He’s special,” Sneade said. “His attitude and leadership are great. You combine that with the fact he’s had a lot of challenging things in life to overcome is a testament to his grit and that the good Lord has big plans for him.”
Foote is the third third offensive line prospect to join the ECU Class of 2020. He follows center Jaquaez Powell from Southwest Edgecombe High in Pinetops, NC, and Walt Stribling, a tackle from Palmyra, VA.