Chris Tolbert was working as defensive coordinator at Louisburg, a junior college north of Raleigh, back in the fall of 2015 when Larrell Murchison showed up for preseason practice.
Murchison had been a two-way star at East Bladen High in Elizabethown, splitting time between fullback in a Delaware Wing-T offense and end on defense.
Despite a successful prep career, playing opportunities at the college level were limited, so Murchison opted for a two-year stay at Louisburg to help transition into a full-time defensive lineman.
“Larrell was probably a one- or no-star guy out of high school,” said Tolbert, who will make his debut as the Hurricanes’ head coach in 2019. “Our first day in pads we told him to get down in a stance and he looked like a frog on the lily pad. But once we got him in that stance drilling day after day, he really develop into something special.
“Elijah is the same way.”
Murchison’s progress at Louisburg earned him a scholarship offer to play for N.C. State, where this season as a senior he’s regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Elijah to whom Colbert refers is Elijah Robinson, a redshirt freshman defensive end for Louisburg whose development seems to be following a similar path as Murchison’s.
And that’s good news for East Carolina, which grabbed a verbal commitment from the under-the-radar defensive lineman for its recruiting Class of 2020 back on June 30.
Because Robinson was such a raw talent, he sat out the 2018 season at Louisburg to increase his size and strength. So when he committed to the Pirates it turned a few heads around the state because his name wasn’t prominent on many recruiting lists.
But Robinson was well known in the Wilmington area where he was truly a special athlete. In this day and age where specializing in one sport is the norm, Robinson was a star in four different athletic endeavors.
As a senior, Robinson was an honorable mention all-area pick by the Wilmington Star News and third-team All-Mideastern 4-A Conference in basketball after averaging 8.7 point and 7.4 rebounds.
He was also the leading scorer (39 goals, 11 assists) and second-team all-area pick as a midfielder for the lacrosse team and as a wrestler in the 220-pound class Robinson produced a double-digit win total.
Those exploits occurred after a senior football season in which Robinson had 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions from his linebacker position. The performance earned him second-team all-area honors from the Star News.
All that activity may have worked against Robinson in football recruiting. Although he was a good student with solid grades, Robinson could never really put much weight on his 6-foot-4 frame. So, with limited playing options beyond high school, Robinson headed to Louisburg.
“He came in to summer camp, probably about 6-3 and 190 pounds, and he could run,” Tolbert said. “But we had some really good players in front of him as a freshman, so we were fortunate enough to be able to redshirt him.
“He really is the poster child for redshirting. He came in an did everything we asked him to do. He had really good grades coming in, but he continued to stay on top of his grades and he worked hard in the weight room, ate the right stuff, showed up for practices and today he’s a 6-4, 240-pound kid.”
Tolbert, who had previously worked at state high school powerhouse Wake Forest before joining the staff at Louisburg, had often crossed paths with ECU defensive line coach Jeff Hanson while recruiting Virginia when the latter was at James Madison. So when JMU’s Mike Houston was hired to become head coach of the Pirates, and Hanson followed him to Greenville, Tolbert reached out with a phone call.
“I told him we were the best kept secret on the East Coast,” Tolbert said. “So he (Hanson) came over and met a bunch of our guys. One of the guys he met, (defensive lineman) Brian Smith, is now at ECU.
“But when Coach Hanson was here he also met Elijah. When Elijah walks into a room his personality automatically draws your attention. Coach Hanson liked what he saw, so they invited Elijah to campus over the summer where he was able to get a lot of work in with Coach Hanson. I think after watching him in camp they felt like they wanted to move forward with Elijah. The rest is history.”
Robinson received an official offer from ECU on June 22, then took an unofficial visit to campus on the 25th before tendering his verbal commitment.
An ankle sprain kept Robinson from making his Louisburg debut last Saturday in a 44-0 season-opening victory against Myrtle Beach Prep. But Tolbert is expecting a big season from Robinson once he’s completely healthy.
“He still has a lot of work to do, but we have really high expectations for him and expect him to be a great asset,” Tolbert said. “He soaked up everything as a redshirt freshman and (has) the knowledge of what we’re doing. He’s also a great leader. When you’re in a two-year place, you don’t have that senior leadership of guys who have been in the system. You’re always teaching somebody. So it’s great to get hold of someone like him who has that.
“Then there’s his work ethic. His motor never stops running, on or off the field. Everything matters to him. Being on time to meetings is important to him. He’s never a guy we had to chase down. He is always there. I think for that reason he’ll fit in really well with the way they’re doing things at East Carolina now.”
Tolbert does expect other schools to show interest in Robinson as the 2019 season progresses. But he thinks Robinson is a solid commitment to the Pirates.
“I’m happy for Elijah and East Carolina,” Tolbert said. “They have a great staff over there. (Defensive coordinator) Coach (Bob) Trott is one of the best in the business. Coach Hanson is one of the best in the business. He’ll be in good hands there on that side of the ball. So if East Carolina winds up being his only offer, that’s great.”
Robinson is one of 20 players currently committed to ECU’s Class of 2020. Four of those are defensive line prospects, including Scotland defensive end Jason Romero, West Brunswick defensive tackle J’Vian McCray and Cheraw, SC, defensive tackle Xavier McIver.