To say that East Carolina has established a recruiting base in the Tri-City area of Virginia would be an understatement. The stretch along the Interstate 95 corridor that runs from Richmond to Petersburg has produced current Pirates such as redshirt freshman defensive back Jonathan Coleman II, sophomore defensive lineman Rick D’Abreu, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Immanuel Hickman and freshman defensive tackle D’Anta Johnson, as well as assistant coach Byron Thweatt.
The connection was extended to include two more Tri-City products in early July when a pair of Matoaca High teammates made verbal commitments to East Carolina.
Jonathan Coleman’s younger brother, wide receiver-tight end Jacob Coleman, gave his pledge to the Pirates on July 3 after considering offers from at least 15 other schools. Among those were Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Boston College, Buffalo, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Kent State, Massachusetts, Ohio, Old Dominion, Rutgers and Temple.
Three days later, Coleman’s wide receiver teammate Troy Lewis added his name to ECU’s recruiting Class of 2021 over offers from Air Force, Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, Kent State, Massachusetts, Navy, Old Dominion, Rice and Western Michigan, among others.
“We’ve had 17 kids go play college football in two years, which means we have countless coaches in and out of the building recruiting, and that’s not to mention Jacob and Troy and eight to 10 other guys from this class,” Matoaca head coach Jay Parker said. “They (ECU staff) are the ones that are here literally the most. They know what kind of talent is in the 804.”
It was during a visit while recruiting Hickman that the ECU staff discovered the younger Coleman, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder who has played everything from quarterback to punter during what to date has been a three-year varsity career at Matoaca. Like many states, Virginia prep association has already voted to delay the start of the fall sports seasons due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If football is played in Virginia this academic year, it will be in the spring.
While Parker was discussing Hickman with an ECU assistant one day, the younger Coleman walked by.
“He walks by and the coach says, ‘Who is that?”’ Parker said. “I said, ‘That’s Jacob Coleman.’ At the time he was a freshman. The coach was like, ‘That’s a freshman?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’ll be recruiting him in a couple of years.”
Parker was right. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Coleman joined the Matoaca varsity as a freshman and over his first three seasons saw action at quarterback, running back, tight end, fullback, outside receiver, outside linebacker and even punter. As a junior, he made 35 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns to earn first-team All-Region 5B honors as a tight end and averaged 38.6 yards per punt to snag a spot on the second team.
While Jonathan Coleman joined the Pirates as a recruited walk-on at safety, Jacob will play offense as a tight end-slot receiver, according to Parker.
“We played him everywhere because when you have a weapon like that you’ve got to use him,” Parker said. “Jacob is a little different than Jonathan. Jacob is taller and longer. Both of them are versatile. But Jacob is a longer, more explosive type of athlete, whereas Jonathan was more cerebral, smart and in the right place at the right time.”
One of the highlights of the 2019 season for Coleman occurred in a 20-15 setback against rival Dinwiddie last October.
“We were driving in the fourth quarter,” Parker described the play. “He had lined up in the slot and was running a corner route to the pylon. Jacob was open, but our quarterback underthrew him so it kind of led him back into the defender. Jacob still made the catch with both of his hands on the other side of the defensive back on the two- or three-yard line. It was one of those plays where you say, ‘Wow! What in the world just happened?’ ”
Lewis also had an impressive game against Dinwiddie that day, hauling in six passes for 105 yards. It was midway through a junior season in which Lewis made 35 catches for 675 yards and five touchdowns to earn third-team All-Region 5B honors.
Lewis battled injuries as a freshman that limited his playing time on the junior varsity before becoming a varsity starter as a sophomore. The 6-3, 195-pounder is a two-way starter for the Warriors at receiver and safety. The Pirates have recruited Lewis as a wide receiver.
“He has great length and is a big target,” Parker said. “The thing he really developed during his junior year is the ability to run away from defenders for touchdowns. He had multiple touchdowns of over 50 yards last year running away from defenders essentially. That’s the type of explosion that was a change from his sophomore year. As a sophomore, he was more of a possession receiver. He’d catch it and that was pretty much where we were going to get it. His junior year he developed the ability to make somebody miss and turn a 15-yard gain into a 50-yard gain.”
The Pirates offered Coleman in March and Lewis in April, and no doubt the built-in relationships with the program played a factor in their final decision.
“It definitely did,” Parker said. “Manny and Jonathan are like best friends, and Jacob and Troy are best friends. A lot of times they’d ride to practice together when they were all here. It’s kind of surreal to think about that you have four kids at the same FBS university.”
Coleman and Lewis probably won’t be the last Warriors pursued by East Carolina. Lewis’s younger brother, Paul, is a 6-1, 175-pound receiver-cornerback prospect who’ll be a sophomore this fall.
“He’s a multi-sport athlete as well, so we’re looking forward to coaching him the next few years,” Parker said. “You talk about a really good athlete. He could have a similar type scenario in a couple of years if Paul continues to work hard like Troy has.”
East Carolina now has four receiver prospects in its recruiting Class of 2021 out of the eight players who have made verbal commitments. The others are Javonte Sherman from Valdosta, GA, and Toler Keigley from Mobile, AL.