Running back isn’t necessarily a position of need as East Carolina turns its focus to recruiting the Class of 2023. But that doesn’t mean the Pirates aren’t pursuing some prominent rushing prospects to join an already young and talented stable of runners on the current roster.
ECU will have the top returning backfield duo in the American Athletic Conference next fall in Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris. Mitchell led the AAC in rushing yards per game (106.5) and was fifth overall with 852 yards in just eight games, while Harris was 15th with 579 yards. Both have two years of college experience under their belts, but are still sophomores eligibility-wise due to the NCAA granting all players an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Behind that dynamic duo are promising players such as redshirt freshman Joseph McKay, all-purpose junior Maceo Donald, Marshall transfer G’Mone Wilson (sophomore) and freshmen Nemo Squire and Marlon Gunn Jr.
So while ECU shouldn’t be desperate for any new running back talent in the next couple of years, it isn’t ignoring the position. The Pirates have reportedly offered scholarships to at least seven Class of ’23 running back prospects as spring approaches. Because schools can’t comment on who they’ve extended offers to, these are based on published reports or Twitter posts by players announcing the offers.
Here’s a brief look at the seven running backs ECU has reportedly offered to date, and how the Pirates stand with them in the early going.
KEYJUAN BROWN (5-9, 200) South Atlanta HS, Atlanta, GA: This record-setting rusher was one of just two Georgia backs to crack the 2,000-yard barrier last season. Brown carried the ball 251 times for 2,757 yards — an average of 212.1 yards per game — and scored 36 times to earn Region 6-2A Offensive Player of the Year honors from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. In November against Banks County, Brown became just the third player in state history to rush for 400 yards in a state playoff game, piling up 418 yards on a mere 13 carries. ECU is among a growing list of schools that have offered Brown that also includes Bowling Green, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Kansas State, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers and Wake Forest.
ARONNE HERRING (5-10, 175) New Bern HS, New Bern, NC: Another in a long line of college prospects who have developed at this traditional state power, Herring is a two-way star for the Bears. He was named Big Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference Player of the Year as a junior after rushing for 1,547 yards and 16 touchdowns in a performance highlighted by a 15-carry, 308-yard effort against Raleigh Broughton. Herring was also a major force at strong safety on defense where he made 49 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions. ECU offered Herring last September and Charlotte jumped in with one in December. But it’s safe to say at this point the Pirates have the inside track.
JAYLEN JOHNSON (5-10, 195) Appling County HS, Baxley, GA: Johnson is still a bit of a mystery because he was sidelined from December 2020 until last October 30 due to an injury. When he did finally return to action last season, he racked up 305 yards and scored four touchdowns to pick up Region 1-AAA Comeback Player of the Year honors. ECU gave Johnson his 20th FBS offer in mid-February, but to date his on-campus activity has been with Florida State, South Carolina and Tennessee.
MONTRAVIUS LLOYD (6-0, 205) Lakewood HS, St. Petersburg, FL: “Trey” is a two-way standout who also excels at linebacker on defense. Lloyd had 641 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 110 rushing attempts as a junior, while also contributing 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and eight sacks on defense. Arizona, Austin Peay, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina (Jan. 26 offer), Florida State, Pittsburgh, Toledo, USF, Wake Forest and West Virginia have all offered scholarships, but only FSU (March 11) has received a visit from Lloyd at this point.
RYAN MCKINNIS (6-2, 200) Buford HS, Buford, GA: McKinnis has been a contributor on offense and defense the last two seasons in helping Buford claim state AAAAAA championships. He was part of a rotation at running back and a starter at inside linebacker for the Wolves, whose 2021 roster featured 10 players who signed with FBS programs. East Carolina offered the physical McKinnis on January 21 and he made an unofficial visit to Greenville on March 19 along with quarterback teammate Dylan Wittke. In January, he made trips to Louisville and West Virginia. Those schools, along with Arkansas State, Charlotte, Colorado, Connecticut, Duke, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Kansas, Liberty and Massachusetts have also offered McKinnis.
J.T. SMITH JR. (5-11, 195) Hough HS, Cornelius, NC: After starting his prep career as a two-way player at Providence Day, Smith moved to state powerhouse Hough as a junior. As an all-purpose back for the Huskies, he rushed 143 times for 666 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also contributing 25 receptions for 347 yards and two scores. Missouri, where Smith has already made two visits, and Virginia seem to be presently leading a pack in pursuit that also includes Boston College, Buffalo, Central Michigan, East Carolina (April 1, 2021 offer), Georgia Southern, Marshall, Minnesota, Penn State, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
DAYLAN SMOTHERS (6-0, 182) Chambers HS, Charlotte, NC: A consensus four-star prospect, Smothers has attracted scholarship offers from more than 30 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including East Carolina. The Pirates were among the of a flurry of offers extended to Smothers last spring after he racked up 1,303 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in leading Chambers to the state 4-AA championship. But since posting another big year as a junior — 1,700 rushing yards and 30 TDs — he hasn’t shown much interest in ECU and recently listed Alabama, Florida State, N.C. State, Ohio State and Penn State as his favorite schools.