East Carolina had a more traditional recruiting period leading up to the early signing period that began Wednesday.
“This time last year, we were in the middle of a pandemic,” said Pirates coach Mike Houston.
Last year’s signing class was put together with limited contact between coaches and prospects. Recruits were limited to virtual campus visits and coaches could not venture out to see potential Pirates play in person.
“I just left about 300 people over there in Harvey Hall,” Houston said Wednesday afternoon of a signing day gathering.
There also was a noon production on ESPN+ examining the incoming players and their potential impact.
“What a difference a year makes,” Houston said. “And we had bowl practice this morning. It’s been a good year, and an exciting day for Pirate Nation.”
Houston’s third team at ECU will make the program’s first postseason trip since the 2014 season when the Pirates take on Boston College in Annapolis on Monday, Dec. 27, at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN). Houston and staff were involved in keeping commitments intact during bowl preparations for the first time in his tenure in Greenville.
Bowl practice will continue and so will recruiting for the 2022 roster.
“We welcome 18 new Pirates with the beginning of our signing class,” Houston said. “That’s another thing that’s probably changing and evolving more and more is just how our recruiting works at the collegiate level. But we’re very excited about these young men joining our program, very excited about where the program is right now, where it’s headed, excited about the bowl preparations and the match up against Boston College.”
Stocking up on offensive linemen
The class announced Wednesday doesn’t have a quarterback but includes five offensive linemen, with transfer Parker Moorer, who has played extensively at West Virginia.
“That was the emphasis on offense,” Houston said. “It’s kind of the same as we did my first year here with recruiting all those young defensive linemen that we’re watching play right now. We have to significantly build that (offensive line) room to a higher level to continue to ascend this program.
“You look at the high school guys, I’ll start with Omari Allen. Incredible potential. I mean, just incredible potential. He has a Noah Henderson-type ability level. He’s very raw, but a big kid. We told him he needed to lose some weight. He lost a ton of weight and he’s moving around very, very well. He’s extremely athletic. I think he has an incredibly high ceiling.
“You look at Ethan Lang. Ethan, IMG Academy. He plays on the national team. He’s playing against the best players in the country. He was a starting guard and center this year. I think he started at guard, played a lot at center. We see him being a college center, but I think he’s a guy that’s coming in in January, I think he’s a guy that you never want to put too much on a freshman, but he’s a guy that maybe you could see at least traveling next year, maybe playing a little bit.
“I think Jacob Sacra is the other one very similar to Ethan. He played at St. Francis Academy, which is the only team to beat IMG this year. Jacob is, according to 247, the highest rated offensive lineman to ever sign at East Carolina.
“Then you look at Eli Samples out of Georgia and just a young man, very good athlete, played multiple positions for them. We see him most likely being a tackle for us, a guy that’ll come in, probably look to develop him a little bit more with his body, but I think he’s another one that has a very high ceiling.
“Then you look at the transfer Parker Moorer from West Virginia. Here’s a guy that played 10 games in the Big 12, started five. He played very, very well. He’s from North Carolina, from Charlotte, a high school teammate of Ryan Jones, which was a connection for us. The family wanted him closer to home. Family wanted him in a different kind of environment, different kind of locker room. So excited to get him. I think he’ll contribute immediately.”
Defensive lineman C.J. Mims of West Craven was expected to be in the newly-announced signing class after committing to ECU on June 27.
There was a surprise on Wednesday as his brother, Shaundre Mims, a proven defensive lineman at Charleston Southern, will use his final season of collegiate eligibility with the Pirates.
“CJ, we’ve been recruiting him all along and got to meet (Shaundre) throughout the process,” Houston said. “Of course, Shaundre played against us this year. He had a very good game against us (nine assists). He was all conference (Big South) down there at Charleston Southern. He was their best D lineman. When he went into the transfer portal, he reached out to us. We’ve been having ongoing conversations and it’s something that I really wanted to do. He only has one year. You say, why take a guy that’s only got one year? For me, it goes back to a couple of things. It goes back to that family and mom wanted Shaundre close to home. His other offers were a distance where she would not be able to see him play, or at least very little. CJ and Shaundre wanted to play one more year together.
“I got to know Shaundre. High character, work ethic, great motor. He’s going to be a good player. He’ll help us. I think he’ll be a good older guy in that room, but I think he’s another guy that just fits our culture. It wasn’t a deal where we had to. C.J. was going to sign anyway with us, but it was more of … I think two things, two separate guys, but it is pretty neat story to get two brothers together for a year.
Win over Power Five
Running back Marlon Gunn Jr. from Baton Rouge, LA, came aboard the Pirate ship despite some rigorous recruiting competition. Gunn was the last to join the class at 10:57 a.m. on Wednesday.
“Excited,” Houston said in response to Gunn’s signing. “I was talking to him while in the middle of practice out there. I flew down to see he and mom on Friday. He was up here for a game earlier in the season. Just a guy, again, high character, good size for a back, really good speed. I think he has very high-end ability, which is the reason why you had some Power Fives trying to come in on him late, but just really excited to get him.”
California, Florida State, Louisiana Tech, Purdue, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian, Tulane and Virginia were all after Gunn.
“We’ve got a good running back room right now, but we all know that those guys can’t sign a lifetime contract to stay here forever,” Houston said. “He’s a guy that I think will come in and he’ll challenge for playing time and he’ll be a guy that will contribute and he’ll be a really good player.”
Portal sparks change
The increased availability of players through the transfer portal may have allowed the Pirates to compete for some more elite high school players.
“I think recruiting is going to change permanently for the foreseeable future,” Houston said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like. With the name and image likeness stuff, and you look at Tennessee, every offensive line at Tennessee, I think is $50,000 a year or something. I mean, when you’re starting to talk about that kind of money for recruits, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I wonder. There’s got to be some regulations somewhere, but I think the transfer piece is going to change how you recruit high schools.”
The NCAA has made a change that allows first-time transfers to play the year immediately following their transfer, rather than having to sit out a year. Immediate eligibility is not available for second-time transfers.
“For us, philosophy-wise, I still want to recruit high school kids,” Houston said. “I’m big on recruiting, developing. You get your kind of culture character guy. But now if you recruit a high school kid, now he can leave. That’s another piece with the transfer portal that if you recruit a transfer, at least they’re tied to you. But I think it’s going to be a balancing act. You’re going to recruit a little bit of everything, but that’s also why I said this is the beginning of this year’s class, because you’ll see us a add possibly a couple of guys before January spring semester starts. I think you’ll probably see us add some more in May. I think this is going to be something that’s going to be an ongoing process.”
Running back Nemo Squire of Dillon, SC, was listed at five feet, nine inches, in earlier reports. He was down at 5-6 and 189 pounds on the official ECU website on Wednesday.
While Squire may be short in stature, he is long on connections to Pirate tradition. Dillon’s offensive line coach is Norman Quick, who played from 1981-84 in the Ed Emory coaching era at ECU.
Getting his kicks
Punter David Chapeau was among signees announced Wednesday. He hails from Athens, GA, which has been the epicenter of the college football world for much of the 2021 season. His mother competed in track and field at Georgia.
Punter Jonn Young will be leaving the program. Australian Luke Larsen did much of the punting in the regular season finale against Cincinnati, but Chapeau should give him some competition next year, having averaged 43 yards per boot as a high school senior.