East Carolina’s first winning record and bowl bid since 2014 had a lot to do with improvement on defense. The recruiting Class of 2022 will offer some immediate assistance in continuing that trend in addition to providing some developing talent for the future.
The Pirates were among the American Athletic Conference’s worst defensive units in 2020, finishing 10th in scoring defense (35.4 points per game), ninth in total defense (447.3 yards per game), eighth in rushing defense (201.3) and eighth in passing defense (246.0). Those numbers improved to 26.3 for scoring defense (4th in AAC), 394.8 in total defense (6th), 161.7 rushing defense (still 8th, but more than 40 less yards a game), and 233.1 in pass defense (7th) in 2021.
With starting experience returning at most every position, ECU head coach Mike Houston believes his recruiting class can help fill some holes in the secondary and further strengthen a defensive line that could be one of the AAC’s deepest and most talented next fall.
“I think with the secondary (recruits) you have guys who give you good length,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said. “With Jordan (Huff), I expect him to come in and play immediately. Isaiah (Brown-Murray), coming from a top-end high school football program in the state, he will compete for playing time this spring. And Shavon (Revel) is a very gifted athlete and we’re looking forward to getting him on campus.
“My first year here we had five defensive linemen who played all four spots. That was all we had. There were no defensive linemen in the program. Now you look and we’ve got 11 kids at tackle, not counting our ends or rushes. We’ve created a situation where we have a ton of depth. We have successfully addressed the defensive line position for the next several years, and that should turn into a strength for our program.”
Looking ahead to spring and how the recruiting Class of 2022 might fit into the program, we present our annual position-by-position grades for the defensive signees. In addition, we’ll project the best organizational profile we can and look ahead to the recruiting needs as the coaching staff pursues the Class of 2023. These are all projections based on the final depth chart from last season and other information we’d gathered by press time, but may be altered by position changes during spring practice, or program defections or additions.
DEFENSIVE LINE A+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates weren’t scheduled to lose anyone significant on the defensive line to graduation, but you can never have enough big boys up front. So grabbing one or two was the original goal. ECU exceeded those expectations with big signees from the transfer portal.
WHO SIGNED: The Pirates secured an underrated prospect in Ja’Maurion Franklin from Lake City, SC. Franklin was an all-state 3-A selection as a senior, but only had one other FBS scholarship offer from Charlotte. The prep coaches in South Carolina respected Franklin’s talents enough to select him for both the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl all-star games featuring the state’s best players.
ECU also landed two of the best defensive line prospects in its home state. J.D. Lampley starred at state 4-A powerhouse Richmond Senior in Rockingham where he contributed 22 tackles for loss, eight sacks and forced 16 quarterback hurries as a senior. He chose the Pirates over offers from Air Force, Army, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Navy, Richmond and South Carolina. Likewise, C.J. Mims was an all-area and all-conference player at West Craven High near New Bern. Mims was pursued by Army, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Georgia State, Liberty and Navy.
Through the transfer portal East Carolina was also able to add Mims’ older brother, Shaundre, a three-time all-league pick who earned Football Championship Subdivision All-American honors as a senior at Charleston Southern. The elder Mims played in 36 career games for the Buccaneers, making 126 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 25 sacks. Shaundre Mims will have just one year of eligibility with the Pirates.
From Nevada, the Pirates welcomed Jake Powers after the early signing period as a grad transfer. Powers began his college career as a walk-on, but eventually became a key player for the Wolf Pack. Powers produced 21 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as a junior while playing in 11 games in 2021. He’ll have two years of eligibility left at ECU.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates gained immediate depth and experience with the additions of Shaundre Mims and Powers. Both are quality pass rushers, with Powers more of an edge guy and Mims is a quick, up-the-middle rusher.
Lampley is a powerful, explosive, blue-collar athlete with an intense desire to succeed. He spent a lot of time at rush end in high school, but will be used as an interior lineman at ECU. Lampley is already enrolled and will compete for playing time in spring practice.
The younger Mims is a compact-built tank who is well fitted for the nose tackle position. His prep coach calls him a “hard worker” and “student of the game.” With ECU’s depth on the interior, it will be interesting to see if Lampley or Mims can crack the depth chart next fall. If not, 2022 will be a chance for them to learn and improve physically to become part of the Pirates’ defensive line of the future.
In Franklin, ECU gained a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker who started his prep career as a safety before a growth spurt led to him being moved to the front line. He has the frame to add significant weight, so he may wind up moving to the interior before his career with the Pirates is over. Franklin will likely need time to develop before he’s ready to see college action, but his prep coach called him “a player with NFL potential.”
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Only one prep defensive line prospect who took an official visit to East Carolina didn’t sign with the Pirates. Defensive tackle Santana Hopper from Shelby, NC, who had 73 career tackles for loss in helping Shelby High to two state titles, was offered by ECU in May 2020 and made an official visit to Greenville in late June. But with Shelby located in the Western part of North Carolina, Hopper decided to play closer to home at Appalachian State.
WHO’S BACK: Pretty much everyone who spent time at the defensive line positions in ECU’s main 3-4 alignment last season are scheduled to return in 2022. Seven players who made at least three starts are among that group and two others saw action in reserve roles.
Junior Rick D’Abreu headlines the unit and looms as an all-star candidate in 2022. D’Abreu has seen action at both tackle and end in 32 career games that includes 15 starts. He started the final six games at the end last season, making 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Right behind D’Abreu is a group of sophomores who all enjoyed productive 2021 seasons. Suirad Ware, who was listed as a co-starter at end with D’Abreu for the bowl game, made 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks while playing in 10 games with four starts. Immanuel Hickman, an end, started 10 of 12 games, recording 26 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks along the way. Elijah Morris made 25 stops, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks while making eight starts and playing in 11 games at tackle. And finally, Xavier McIver made three starts at tackle (12 games overall) and had 14 tackles.
One other returning player who made three starts and played in all 12 games is junior D’Angelo McKinnie. McKinnie, an end, made nine tackles.
Other experienced returnees include sophomore D’Anta Johnson (8 games, 2 tackles in 2021), redshirt freshman Jason Shuford (8 games) and sophomore J’Vian McCray (4 games, 1 tackle). Johnson can play end or tackle, while Shuford and McCray are mainly tackles.
Rounding out the defensive line corps are redshirt freshman walk-on Zion Wilson (tackle), redshirt freshman Avery Durham (tackle), sophomore Justyn Haynesworth (tackle), sophomore Zakaai Wilson (end) and freshman Kareem Stinson (end).
WHO’S GONE: ECU lost two defensive ends to the transfer portal. Junior college transfer Henry Garrison played 30 snaps in 2020 for his only action in two seasons with the Pirates. Garrison entered the portal in January and was still looking for a new home at press time.
The bigger loss was Traveon Freshwater, who was the highest rated prospect in ECU’s recruiting Class of 2019. Rated the nation’s No. 32 linebacker, Freshwater was moved from defensive line to tight end and back to defensive end during his brief time in Greenville, and never really found his footing. His ECU career ended with just 20 snaps in the 2020 season opener against Central Florida. Freshwater hit the transfer portal in December and has since signed up to play for NCAA Division II Elizabeth City State.
NEEDS FOR 2023: There will only be one senior among ECU’s defensive line in 2022 (graduate transfer Shaundre Mims), and there are only three juniors on the projected depth chart. But regardless of the numbers, signing two should be an annual goal.
The Pirates extended January 2022 offers to a trio of defensive line prospects, including Semaj Turner (6-2, 235) from Reagan High in Pfafftown, NC, Ari Watford (6-5, 210) from Virginia Beach, VA, and David Anderson (6-4, 240) from Hampton, VA. Turner produced an incredible junior year at Reagan, collecting 83 total tackles, 26 tackles for loss and a school-record 17.5 sacks. He also has offers from Appalachian State, Buffalo, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Watford played just two games at Salem High last season due to injury, but collected 10 tackles and five sacks during that limited time. Watford and Anderson have multiple offers from Power Five conference schools.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Rick D’Abreu, Chester, VA (6-2, 258) Junior
Suirad Ware, Richmond, VA (6-0, 278) Sophomore
D’Angelo McKinnie, Kenansville, NC (6-4, 288) Junior
D’Anta Johnson, Dinwiddie, VA (6-2, 305) Sophomore OR
J’Vian McCray, Shalotte, NC (6-1, 318) Sophomore
Jake Powers, Granite Bay, CA (6-2, 235) Junior
Elijah Morris, Fayetteville, NC (6-1, 276), Sophomore
Xavier McIver, Cheraw, SC (6-1, 312) Sophomore OR
Jason Shuford, Statesville, NC (6-4, 333) Redshirt freshman
Shaundre Mims, Vanceboro, NC (6-0, 276) Graduate
Justyn Haynesworth, Mechanicsburg, VA (6-1, 286) Sophomore
Avery Durham, Yadkinville, NC (6-7, 288) Redshirt freshman
Zion Wilson, Belhaven, NC (6-3, 329) Redshirt freshman
J.D. Lampley, Rockingham, NC (6-2, 293) Freshman
C.J. Mims, Vanceboro, NC (6-0, 302) Freshman
Immanuel Hickman, Chesterfield, VA (6-3, 257) Sophomore
Chad Stephens, Greensboro, NC (6-0, 266) Sophomore
Jasiyah Robinson, Groveport, OH (6-1, 253) Redshirt freshman
Kareen Stinson, Charlotte, NC (6-3, 273) Freshman
Zakkai Wilson, Pinetown, NC (6-4, 253) Sophomore
Ja’Maurion Franklin, Lake City, SC (6-4, 233) Freshman
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER D+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates weren’t expected to lose any outside linebacker/edge players after the 2021 season, so the need was minimal. But to continue to build depth signing one or two was still a practical goal. ECU signed one linebacker, and he’s an inside guy so it drew a blank here unless one of the other recruits winds up transitioning outside (see Samuel Dankah). It wasn’t a total fail grade-wise, however, because the need wasn’t great.
WHO SIGNED: No one. But there is a chance that eventually the aforementioned Dankah could grow into an edge/outside linebacker at some point in his career.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: It didn’t. But that’s OK for now because barring injuries the Pirates should have sufficient depth at those positions.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: ECU was the first school to offer Daejuan Thompson, a three-star prospect from Whiteville, NC. The 6-2, 195-pounder, who made 113 tackles and 24 tackles for loss as a senior, committed to N.C. State on June 8, 2021. But later that month he took an official visit to East Carolina. The trip caused many recruiting websites to predict Thompson would flip to the Pirates. But from July forward, Thompson was totally focused on the Wolfpack and signed there in December.
WHO’S BACK: All six of the players listed on the depth chart for ECU’s cancelled bowl game are scheduled to return. Headlining the group are two veterans who have made 26 starts between them for the Pirates. Junior Jeremy Lewis began his career at tight end, but transitioned to a more natural defensive spot after the 2020 season. Lewis started eight of 12 games at his new position, finishing fourth in team tackles (49), tied for second in tackles for loss (6) and tied for first in sacks (4). His big-play skills could make him an all-star candidate in 2022. Senior Gerard Stringer made a nice comeback from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the entire 2020 season. Stringer made five starts and played in 10 games overall while collecting 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Stringer was listed a co-starter at the linebacker spot opposite Lewis for the bowl game along with junior Jireh Wilson and sophomore Teagan Wilk. Wilson, who has made 16 starts the last two seasons, ranked sixth in team tackles with 44, had four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception. Although most of Wilk’s playing time occurred at safety, his big-play abilities led to a reserve role at outside linebacker as well.
Similar to Wilk, sophomore Chad Stephens also played a dual role, serving as a backup at the end of the year at outside linebacker and defensive end. Stephens and sophomore Eric Doctor were co-No. 2s behind Lewis at the close of the 2021 season. Doctor played in six games, but didn’t log a tackle.
Also ready to compete for playing time in 2022 will be junior Elijah Robinson, who has experienced some significant physical growth since transferring in from the junior college ranks in 2020. He didn’t see any playing time last season.
Trevon Hayes, a preferred walk-on from Hampton, VA, will also be in the mix. The freshman did not play in 2021.
WHO’S GONE: Dre Terry, a former walk-on from Chowan, earned a scholarship before the 2020 season. Terry saw significant time on special teams and as a reserve that season, playing 165 snaps. He then played in six games last season, but after earning his degree in December decided to enter the transfer portal. Terry has signed up to play for Alabama A&M next fall.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Stringer is a senior and Lewis, Wilson and Elijah Robinson are juniors, so starting the process of replacing at least two of those seems to be an appropriate number.
The Pirates got involved early with a pair of four-star prospects in Dee Crayton (6-1, 210) from Alpharetta, GA, and Grant Tucker (6-3, 184) from Charlotte, NC. But during January’s Junior Day event, 6-4, 215-pound Jason Abbey from Douglas Freeman High in Richmond, VA, was one of the attendees. Abbey received his offer from the Pirates during the visit.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Jeremy Lewis, Greenville, NC (6-3, 225) Junior
Eric Doctor, Orlando, FL (6-0, 250) Sophomore OR
Chad Stephens, Greensboro, NC (6-0, 266)
Elijah Robinson, Wilmington, NC (6-4, 231) Junior
Gerard Stringer, Suffolk, VA (6-2, 206) Senior OR
Jireh Wilson, Jacksonville, NC (6-3, 211) Junior OR
Teagan Wilk, Berwick, PA (5-11, 190) Sophomore
Trevon Hayes, Hampton, VA (6-0, 246) Freshman
The italicized paragraphs below reflect updates to this article.
Update (Feb. 9, 2022):
MIDDLE LINEBACKER C+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Three of the five inside linebackers who logged the most playing time in 2021 will be seniors or juniors next fall. The Pirates needed to secure at least two potential replacements in anticipation of their pending exit. One with solid potential signed, but that didn’t quite fulfill the need.
WHO SIGNED: Zakye Barker (5-10, 228) from Norcross, GA, was a one-man tackling machine in high school. Barker racked up 456 career tackles in 38 prep games (12 per game), 107 of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. He picked ECU over offers from Air Force, Army, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Liberty, Navy and Tulane.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Barker is a guy who’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder because of all the doubters about his height. His prep coach said it best. If he was two inches taller every school in American would have recruited him. Barker is already enrolled at ECU and could make a quick impact on special teams. Eventually, though, he’ll crack the inside backer rotation and exceed expectations.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: ECU actually entertained two three-star inside guys last summer. Carter Wyatt from West Brunswick High in Shalotte, NC, had a major senior season in which he made 146 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. But before that, Wyatt was offered by ECU in May 2021 and made the trek North to visit campus in early June. But that was as far as it went with the Pirates and Wyatt eventually chose to play for Duke.
Three-star Taylor Love (6-0, 210) from Opelika, AL, got his offer from ECU last March. He came to campus for an official visit in late June, but in November chose AAC member Tulane instead of the Pirates.
WHO’S BACK: The heart of the ECU defense will also feature two of the program’s most veteran players. Myles Berry and Xavier Smith have a combined 99 games of experience under their collective belts, and made 56 starts between them. The senior duo also represents two of the top-ranked tacklers from a year ago.
Berry ranked third among ECU defenders with 53 hits while starting 10 times at one inside backer spot. Xavier Smith registered 44 tackles (5th) in 12 games, splitting time at the other inside spot with graduated Bruce Bevins. Backing up that duo was sophomore Teylor Jackson, who worked in 11 games.
In his first year as a Pirate after arriving from the junior college ranks, junior Jacoby Simpson spelled Smith and Bevins, and also helped out on special teams in nine games (3 tackles).
WHO’S GONE: Second-team All-AAC pick Bruce Bivens led ECU with 57 tackles last season and ended a his five-year career with 234 tackles. Bivens played in 55 games overall and made 31 starts, including nine as a senior.
Also gone is Aaron Ramseur, who was a regular contributor on ECU’s defense for four straight seasons. He shared playing time last season with Berry, making 41 tackles in just nine games (one start).
High Point product Wistar Allen, who joined the Pirates as a preferred walk-on in January 2021 after spending a year at Richmond, saw his ECU career come to an abrupt end last October when he and a teammate were arrested on assault charges and dismissed from the program.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Berry and Smith are seniors, so ECU stands to lose a good chunk of the inside linebacker corps after the 2022 season. The depth chart could be pretty thin there in 2023 if the Pirates don’t sign at least two inside backers in the next class.
One inside target for ECU will be Vinnie Canosa, a 6-1, 215-pounder from Alltoona High in Acworth, GA. Canosa got an offer from the Pirates on Jan. 29 while on campus for a Junior Day event. Canosa was the 6-6A Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-state pick as a junior after making 73 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. ECU was his first FBS offer and based on Twitter posts he thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Greenville.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Myles Berry, Greensboro, NC (6-1, 219) Senior
Teylor Jackson, Washington, DC (6-0, 226) Sophomore
Xavier Smith, Stafford, VA (6-0, 247) Senior
Jacoby Simpson, Houston, TX (6-0, 236) Junior
Zakye Barker, Norcross, GA (5-10, 228) Freshman
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Players who started the most games at free and strong safety completed their eligibility in 2021, but the Pirates still have nine scholarship athletes remaining. This wasn’t a high priority, but filling at least one of those roster spots was still a goal. The Pirates went above that with two safety signees, although one may not play the position for long.
WHO SIGNED: Samuel Dankah is a 6-5, 213-pounder from Lorton, VA, who spent last season prepping at Fort Union Military Academy. Before that Dankah was a three-year starter at South County High School, where he was a teammate of wide receiver signee Brock Spalding. He also received scholarship offers from Buffalo, Massachusetts, Norfolk State and Old Dominion.
The Pirates secured a major secondary addition from Hutchinson Community College in Jordan Huff. Huff originally signed with Georgia Tech out of Morgan County High in Madison, GA, where he was a three-star all-purpose athlete. He spent two seasons with the Yellow Jackets, playing in eight games and recording one tackle before departing for Hutchinson. Huff collected 19 tackles and made two interceptions in six games for Hutchinson in 2021. Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Texas State were other schools that pursued Huff at Hutchinson.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Both signees have already arrived on campus, giving them a head start on learning the ins and outs of ECU secondary play. Due to his experience, Huff is expected to compete for playing time immediately, and maybe even vie for one of the starting safety jobs. Huff is also capable of playing cornerback, if needed.
Dankah is one of the most intriguing players in the signing class. His height and speed are unique for a safety and could eventually make him a force there for the Pirates. If he adds weight, which he most certainly will, he could wind up shifting to outside linebacker or even defensive end before his ECU is complete. Wherever he winds up, Dankah has the talent to become something special.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: The Pirates thought they had pulled off another recruiting coup from Eagle’s Landing Christian School in McDonough, GA, when three-star safety P.J. Simmons made a verbal commitment last July 22. Eagle’s Landing is the same school that produced ECU’s star running back Keaton Mitchell. But as Simmons’ senior year at Eagle’s Landing unfolded he decided in October to back off his pledge and eventually signed with Georgia State.
WHO’S BACK: Nine players who have played in at least one game for ECU are back at the safety spots.
Junior Shawn Dourseau has been a regular contributor at safety for ECU since transferring from Riverside Community College in California prior to the 2020. He immediately became a regular for the Pirates, starting all nine games in the abbreviated COVID-19 season. Dourseau ranked third on the team with 58 tackles in his rookie year. He followed that up by making four starts in 12 games last year, collecting 37 tackles, a sack and an interception along the way. Dourseau should be in the middle of the competition to become the 2022 starter at strong safety.
A leading candidate to move into the free safety spot is sophomore Juan Powell, who has played in 18 games and made seven starts in three seasons. Powell started five times a year ago, making 26 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception, before an injury sent him to the sidelines for three of the final four contests.
Juniors Demetrius Mauney, Julius Wood and Kingston McKinstry, along with sophomores Teagan Wilk, Jonathan Coleman II, Ty Moss and Devin King are veterans with varying game experience. Mauney, who was ECU’s leading rusher back in 2019, showed great promise after making the transition to safety last spring. He played in 11 games on special teams and as a backup safety, making 10 tackles. With a year of experience under his belt, the physical Mauney should be ready to crack the depth chart at strong safety in 2022.
Wood, a junior college transfer, started 2021 working primarily on special teams. But when injuries depleted the safety corps he gradually got more snaps in the secondary. He played in all 12 games and recorded 16 tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up three passes. McKinstry is also a JUCO transfer who was expected to make a contribution in the secondary last season. An injury kept him out for most of the year before he returned to play in two of the final four games.
Wilk is a bit of a wild card in the secondary. He was listed on the depth chart for the bowl game as a backup at both outside linebacker and strong safety. Also capable of playing free safety, Wilk made two starts in 11 games in 2021, recording 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He is a big-play guy who could start at any of those three positions. But either place, he’ll play an important role in ECU’s defensive scheme.
Coleman (6 games, 2 tackles), Moss (1 game) and King (8 games) round out the safeties with game experience.
Promising redshirt freshman Cruz Temple, Marshall transfer Devon King (sophomore) and redshirt freshman Daren Perry are other safeties on the roster.
WHO’S GONE: Warren Saba was one of ECU’s top defensive players in 2021 at free safety. Saba started seven of 12 games there and led the Pirates with four interceptions. He added 32 tackles and two tackles for loss.
At strong safety, North Carolina transfer D.J. Ford started the first six games before being slowed by an ankle injury. Ford still made 32 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in 11 overall games.
Ford and Saba performed before NFL scouts in the Hula Bowl all-star game in January and are considered candidates for the draft in April.
David Laney, a redshirt freshman who came to ECU as a highly touted recruit, decided to enter the transfer portal in late December. Laney played in nine games as a true freshman in 2020, but didn’t see action in 2021. He has since transferred to FCS N.C. A&T.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Although there are no seniors in the safety corps for ECU, there are four juniors, some of whom will have the option to depart following the 2022 campaign. Signing two, especially at free safety, would help fulfill the needs.
Four-star Michael Daugherty, from Loganville, GA, received an offer from the Pirates on Jan. 24, while three-star Ayden Duncanson from Mableton, GA, got his on Jan. 29. Duncanson plays at Whitefield Academy where he made 23 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. He’s also received an offer from Vanderbilt.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Juan Powell, Atlanta, GA (5-11, 183) Sophomore
Jordan Huff, Madison, GA (6-2, 185) Sophomore
Cruz Temple, Abbeville, SC (5-11, 201) Redshirt freshman
Devon King, Belmont, NC (6-0, 187) Sophomore
Dru Dotter, Havelock, NC (6-0, 155) Freshman
Shawn Dourseau, Perris, CA (5-11, 187) Junior OR
Teagan Wilk, Berwick, PA (5-11, 190) Sophomore
Julius Wood, Columbus, OH (6-2, 186) Junior
Demetrius Mauney, East Rutherford, NC (6-0, 200) Junior
Kingston McKinstry, Grove City, OH (6-1, 190) Junior
Jonathan Coleman II, Chesterfield, VA (6-1, 194) Sophomore
Ty Moss, Whiteville, NC (6-1, 195) Freshman
Samuel Dankah, Lorton, VA (6-5, 213) Freshman
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Cornerback didn’t originally appear to be a major need for ECU in the Class of 2022. When the ’21 season began, all of the primary players still had at least two years of eligibility remaining. So maybe signing one cornerback looked like a proper objective. Of course, that changed with two unexpected losses, which made the signing of two cornerbacks an important recruiting win for the Pirates.
WHO SIGNED: Isaiah Brown-Murray comes from a prep program at Hough High in Huntersville, NC, that has developed 12 FBS defensive backs since 2018. A three-year starter for the Huskies, he recorded 99 career tackles, seven tackles for loss and five interceptions. Brown-Murray chose ECU over offers from Akron, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Kansas, Kent State, Louisville, Marshall and Old Dominion.
Louisburg junior college transfer Shavon Revel was the first player to make a verbal commitment to ECU’s recruiting Class of 2022. Revel only played one six-game season at Louisburg due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was known for his athleticism as a prep player at both R.J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem, NC, and Reagan High in Pfafftown. ECU was the first school to offer Revel.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Brown-Murray isn’t the biggest of corners, but as his prep coach said “he’s a Power Five-skill kid.” He makes up for any height deficiency with his high football IQ and exceptional athleticism. Brown-Murray should be an immediate help to ECU’s special teams as a defender and kick returner, and don’t be surprised if he cracks the two-deep depth chart at some point next season.
Revel has good length and great leaping ability, which helps him deal with taller receivers. He he played a variety of positions in high school and had limited snaps at Louisburg where he first became a full-time cornerback, but Revel still has things to learn about the position. He’ll have four years of eligibility to develop at ECU.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: The Pirates got three-star Jackson Vick on campus for an unofficial visit in early June. Vick, who resides just minutes down the road from Greenville in nearby Bailey, had ECU on his list of final options, but eventually chose to play at N.C. State.
WHO’S BACK: Junior Malik Fleming is the lone returning starter from a year ago, and one of the more experienced players on ECU’s roster. Fleming has appeared in 33 games with the Pirates and made 18 starts, including 11 in 2021. He finished ninth in team tackles (34) last season and was third in interceptions (2).
Another junior, Damel Hickman, also returns with significant experience. Hickman has played in 25 games for ECU and finished last season at No. 2 on the depth chart at one corner. He’ll be the favorite to claim a starting job opposite Fleming next fall.
The rest of the cornerbacks are untested, but all were three-star prospects coming out of high school and two have been in the program for two years already. C.J. Crump and Sean Tucker are listed as freshmen, even though they are part of the recruiting Class of 2020. Redshirt freshman Jayden Chalmers is entering his second year at ECU after a prep year at Fork Union Military Academy. The Pirates will need all three to step up and compete for playing time at positions where depth is lacking.
WHO’S GONE: Nolan Johnson, who made three starts last season and 11 in four seasons at ECU, received his degree in December. So, with two years of eligibility remaining, he decided to enter the transfer portal and wound up signing with Miami of Ohio.
Johnson’s departure hurt ECU’s experience and depth at cornerback, but the real blow at the position occurred in early January when second-team All-AAC pick Ja’Quan McMillian declared himself eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft. McMillian had two years of college eligibility left, but after making 31 starts over the last three seasons he felt prepared for the pro ranks.
Walk-on Seth Giles joined Johnson in the transfer portal, but has yet to announce a new destination.
NEEDS FOR 2023: This area may be the biggest need in the Class of 2023. Because Johnson and McMillian decided to leave after most of the 2022 class was recruited, the Pirates weren’t able to compensate for their absence. Fleming and Hickman will be juniors next fall, so ECU could quickly be facing some severe depth issues at corner if one or both of them leave early. Signing three corners is a must, but as many as four wouldn’t hurt.
Two January offers from the Pirates were extended to Jace Arnold (5-10, 168) from Marietta, GA, and Chris Peal (6-0, 175), a highly touted in-state cornerback prospect from Providence Day School in Charlotte.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Damel Hickman, Charlotte, NC (6-0, 176) Junior
C.J. Crump, Greensboro, NC (6-0, 182) Freshman
Shawn Revel, Winston-Salem, NC (6-2, 170) Sophomore
Malik Fleming, Fairburn, GA (5-10, 187) Junior
Sean Tucker, Washington, DC (6-0, 169) Freshman
Jayden Chalmers, Sanford, NC (6-0, 159) Redshirt freshman
Isaiah Brown-Murray, Huntersville, NC (5-9, 177) Freshman
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Even though the Pirates had an heir apparent to All-AAC second-team pick Jonn Young, they needed to bring in at least one punter for depth chart purposes. They did so via the transfer portal with a strong-legged former Georgia prep player.
WHO SIGNED: David Chapeau, from Athens, GA, never played in a game while spending a year at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He decided last August to enter the transfer portal and finally secured a spot at ECU a day before the early signing period began in December. Chapeau punted for four years at North Oconee High School in Athens, earning first-team All-8-AAAA honors as a senior. He averaged 43 yards per punt that season and landed 15 of his 28 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Chapeau gives ECU a solid backup who is capable of taking over as a starter, if needed. He’s an extremely accurate punter and could actually find a role as the Pirates’ precision punter.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: ECU wasn’t seriously pursuing a punter until Chapeau became available, so this category doesn’t apply.
WHO’S BACK: Australian native Luke Larsen may be the nation’s oldest freshman at age 30 when the 2022 season gets underway next fall. Larsen got into games here and there during his first two years in Greenville working as Jonn Young’s backup. He appeared in five games during the 2020 season, recording 13 punts for a 41.2 average. Larsen also stepped in for Young in the season finale against Cincinnati last year, handling five punts for a 41.6 average.
WHO’S GONE: Jonn Young handled ECU’s punting duties for four straight seasons and finished his career by earning second-team All-AAC honors as a senior. Young was fourth among AAC punters with a 43.1 average in 2021 and tied for first by placing 21 of his 47 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
NEEDS FOR 2023: This probably won’t be an area of concern for ECU in recruiting since Larsen technically has four years of eligibility remaining and Chapeau could be around two or three more seasons.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Luke Larsen, Keilor Park, Victoria, Australia (6-3, 233) Freshman
David Chapeau, Athens, GA (6-1, 249) Junior
LONG SNAPPER B+
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates appeared to be in good shape with specialty snaps since both players who handled those duties last season would have been sophomores or redshirt freshmen in 2022. But when three of the long snappers on the ECU roster decided to hit the transfer portal at the end of the year, the Pirates were left scrambling to find replacements. Fortunately, they found a pair of quality ones after the early signing period.
WHO SIGNED: Alex Harper, who grew up about 45 minutes from Greenville in Rosewood, NC, spent three years in the Football Championship Subdivision program at N.C. Central. Harper entered his name in the transfer portal on Jan. 1 and three days later announced his intentions to transfer to ECU.
Tripp Smith, from Simpsonville, SC, came aboard as a preferred walk-on in February. Smith also had an offer from FCS Presbyterian before committing to the Pirates.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates were able, in a pinch, to find two quality prospects at long snapper. Because he already has experience at the college level, Harper is capable and ready to move into the starting role. But Smith has skills, too, and will battle Harper for that right. Together, they give ECU quality and depth at this underrated position.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: No one, unless you count the three veterans who decided to enter the transfer portal.
WHO’S BACK: Nada. But am I the only one who thinks it’s unusual to have three long snappers head for the transfer portal from one school? If one had stayed around, he probably would have been the starter.
WHO’S GONE: Slade Roy played in all 12 games for the Pirates last year while handling the long snapper duties as a true freshman. But in late December he decided to enter the transfer portal and landed at national power LSU.
Roy’s backup last season, Liam Crowley, played in two games in 2021 and one in 2020. Crowley and freshman Max Parker, are also no longer on the ECU roster and reportedly have entered the transfer portal.
NEEDS FOR 2023: The Pirates aren’t likely to use a scholarship on recruiting another long snapper, but finding one to add to the current duo would make sense.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Alex Harper, Rosewood, NC (6-0, 250) Sophomore
Tripp Smith, Simpsonville, SC (6-1, 225) Freshman
OVERALL OFFENSIVE RECRUITING GRADE B
With high school prospects such as Jacob Sacra, Brock Spalding, Nemo Squire and Marlon Gunn Jr., the Pirates have added great promise for the future. But the biggest success story of the recruiting Class of 2022 for ECU came via the transfer portal where they added three players who’ll make an immediate impact on the offensive line. The portal also delivered a receiver from the national championship team at Georgia who becomes an even more important addition now with C.J. Johnson’s future up in the air. [View Sammy Batten’s detailed offensive recruiting report card.]
OVERALL DEFENSIVE RECRUITING GRADE B+
The defensive line additions from both the prep ranks and transfer portal will help make that unit one of the strongest and deepest in the AAC next fall. Ja’Maruion Franklin and Samuel Dankah are two intriguing prospects, who, depending on how they develop physically, will wind up being steals for ECU in this class. [View Sammy Batten’s detailed defensive recruiting report card.]
OVERALL RECRUITING CLASS GRADE B+
For the most part, the Pirates met their needs, and in areas such as the offensive and defensive lines clearly exceeded expectations. The fun part is Houston is expecting even more additions to the class before the end of the signing period which runs until April. So we could be adjusting this final grade to something even higher.