I hope all of you out there in Pirate Nation had a very merry Christmas and that Santa was good to you.
He certainly rewarded Mike Houston for being on the “nice” list. And the East Carolina football coach didn’t even have to wait until the 25th to unwrap his presents — all 25 of them.
Christmas came to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Dec. 18, the first day of college football’s early signing period, when the newest group of Pirates joined the program by submitting their binding National Letters of Intent.
It will take time, perhaps years, before it is known just how good this class actually is and whether it will become the jumping off point for ECU’s next great era.
But it’s arrival should still be cause for optimism, because no matter how skilled a coach and his staff might be, no program can truly succeed without an abundance of quality players.
That’s been the Pirates’ biggest problem during its current streak of five straight losing seasons.
While talent and depth on the roster may have been good enough to keep ECU at or near the top of Conference USA on a consistent basis, it needed to be upgraded when the program made the move to the more competitive American Athletic Conference in 2014.
That just didn’t happen.
For all of former coach Scottie Montgomery’s shortcomings — the most glaring of which was that he was thrown in over his head by then-athletic director Jeff Compher — his teams didn’t have much of a chance because of the disparity in size, speed and skill they faced against most of their league rivals.
To Montgomery’s credit, his recruiting effort has helped narrow some of that talent gap. Among the players his staff brought to ECU are prolific quarterback Holton Ahlers, reliable receiver Blake Proehl, leading tackler Xavier Smith and athletic free safety Tank Robinson.
Now Houston is making the talent pool even deeper in the first full cycle of his tenure.
According to both 247Sports and Rivals.com, the Pirates’ 2020 recruiting class is ranked as the second best in the AAC.
Not the top, but not close to the bottom, either.
It’s a balanced group that addresses a number of different needs. Of the 14 defensive signees, seven play on the line, five in the secondary and a pair of linebackers. The 10 offensive players include three linemen, two running backs, a receiver, a tight end and three quarterbacks to be groomed as Ahlers’ future successor.
Houston even went all the way to Australia — figuratively, at least — to find the Pirates’ next punter.
The most important aspect of this class is that a majority of it will arrive on campus for the start of the new semester in January, allowing them to participate in spring practice and have a better chance at making an immediate contribution next fall.
Two of them are junior college transfers, defensive ends Henry Garrison and Elijah Robinson, who have two and three years of eligibility remaining respectively. The early enrolling freshmen are linebackers Eric Doctor and Teylor Jackson, running back Rahjai Harris, defensive tackle J’Vian McCray, defensive end Jason Romero, offensive lineman Walt Stribling and defensive back Tegan Wilk — all of whom are three-star prospects — along with punter Luke Larsen.
Of the 25 new Pirates, all but three are from the Interstate-95 corridor from Florida to New Jersey, with five players from here in the Old North State.
“This class is large in number, but also high in quality,” Houston said in a statement announcing the new additions, calling them “a big next step for our program.
“It was obvious after our first year in this league that we needed to address size and speed in our program and this class will certainly help us close the gap.”
How much and how soon that will happen will only be known in time.
As Christmas presents go, Houston and an anxious fan base can only hope that this recruiting class of 2020 is the gift that keeps on giving.
Dick Denton says
Brett, it is Henry Garrison, not Gardener.
Danny Whitford says
Thank you for the heads up on the error, Dick. It has been corrected. — Danny Whitford, Editor