Major recruiting success in the Class of 2022 and the return of quality, experienced talent from last season made offensive tackle seem like a low priority for East Carolina as the focus turned to the Class of 2023.
But while the Pirates may not sign a high number of tackles in the ’23 class, they haven’t been shy about offering scholarships to a large group of highly ranked prospects in hopes of filling their needs.
East Carolina had reportedly already extended scholarships to 15 offensive tackle prospects as of April 29, including a trio of four stars who have each racked up in the excess of 30 offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Because schools can’t comment on who they’ve extended offers to, these offers are based on published reports or Twitter posts by the players themselves.
Here’s a brief look at the 15 offensive tackles ECU has reportedly offered to date, and how the Pirates may stand with them in the early going.
OLAUS ALINEN (6-6, 315) The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, CT: Touted as the biggest college football recruit ever from Europe, Alinen is a native of Pori, Finland whose father, Klaus, was a tight end for the Berlin franchise in the old NFL Europe. Olaus started playing football at age 12 and by 15 was playing against adult men in the nation’s highest level of the sport. He moved to the U.S. for his junior year and has since accumulated more than 40 scholarship offers. ECU jumped on Alinen early with an offer in June 2021, however, wasn’t included when he dropped a top four of Alabama, Georgia, Miami and Ohio State on April 1.
OLUWATOSIN BABALADE (6-6, 317) DeMatha Catholic HS, Hyattsville, MD: “Tree,” as he’s known to teammates and friends, is somewhat of a late bloomer. He picked up his first scholarship offer from Maryland in June 2021, but it was after he earned Capital Conference honorable mention as a junior that his recruitment took off. Babalade, who was offensive line MVP at the Under Armour Next regional camp in April, has received 18 scholarship offers since January 1 to date, including one from ECU in February. He’s scheduled to announce a top six on May 8 with Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Rutgers expected to be in the group.
D.J. CHESTER (6-5, 305) Eagles Landing Academy, McDonough, GA: Here’s another talent from the program that gave ECU running back Keaton Mitchell. Chester is a two-sport standout who was all-region and all-state in the private school ranks in football and is a state champion in both the shot put and hammer in track. Chester had an enjoyable unofficial visit to Greenville on March 20, and during April was on campus at Florida State, Mississippi, Miami, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. He’s currently holding offers from 22 FBS schools with the Seminoles looking like the frontrunners at present.
JOE CROCKER (6-6, 305) Franklin Road Academy, Nashville, TN: Crocker knew nothing about football when he moved from England to Nashville as a fourth grader. But his size and agility quickly turned him into a major college prospect that has doubled the number of scholarships since January. ECU was one of those schools, pulling the trigger with an offer on January 13. Crocker, who boasts an 82-inch wingspan, trimmed his list of possibilities from 30 to 15 schools in early January with the lucky finalists being Eastern Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Mississippi State, TCU, Tennessee, Tulane, UCF, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
CONNER DRAKE (6-6, 315) Providence HS, Charlotte, NC: This three-time All-Southwestern 4-A Conference performer recorded 40 pancake blocks while playing guard as a junior, but projects as a tackle at the next level. East Carolina has been heavily involved with Drake since becoming the third FBS program to offer him a scholarship last December. Drake took an unofficial visit to ECU in March and came away impressed by what the Pirates have to offer. So far, his offer list also includes Charlotte, Georgia Tech (unofficial visit in March), Old Dominion and Tulane.
ROB FOLGER (6-7, 305) St. Xavier HS, Cincinnati, OH: A late bloomer in one of Ohio’s top programs, Folger worked primarily with the junior varsity as a sophomore. He emerged as a force on the offensive line for a 10-3 squad last season and helped pave the way for senior Charles Kellom (Akron commit) to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014. East Carolina joined regional schools such as Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Indiana, Miami Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan in offering Folger a scholarship on January 18. But during a busy March-April of visiting campuses, Folger didn’t check out the Pirates, and instead saw Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Pittsburgh.
WILKIN FORMBY (6-8, 300) Northridge HS, Tuscaloosa, AL: This mountain of a man is a four-star prospect and ranked No. 16 among the nation’s offensive tackles by 247Sports.com. Formby has amassed more than 30 offers from FBS programs, including hometown Alabama. ECU entered the fray for Formby in late January. But it seems his attention is focused more on Southeastern Conference teams such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Tennessee where he’s made his most recent unofficial visits.
IAN GEFRARD (6-6, 350) Whitefield Academy, Mableton, GA: Geffrard has emerged as one of Georgia’s top blocking prospects after a junior season in which he was an All-Region 2-A Private School first-team pick and was chosen to participate in the Georgia Elite Classic All-Star game. ECU (Jan. 28, 2022) is among a handful of schools that have offered Geffrard along with Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Austin Peay, Boston College, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Louisville, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina and Texas. Auburn and UNC appear to be his top schools at present.
JOSHUA HOLL (6-6, 290) Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC: An under-the-radar prospect, Holl is still a developing player who has yet to turn 17. As a junior, he earned second-team all-state honors from the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association while playing right tackle. His recruitment is just starting to pick up with East Carolina jumping on the bandwagon first with an offer on April 22. Valparaiso is Holl’s only other offer to date, but Appalachian State and others are starting to show interest.
JORDAN KNOX (6-4, 305) Northwestern HS, Rock Hill, SC: A prep teammate of wide receiver Elijah Caldwell, whom ECU is also recruiting, Knox was named the Tri-County Offensive Lineman of the Year as a junior after recording 38 knockdown blocks and grading out at 88 percent on his assignments. The Pirates offered Knox in January and are one of 18 schools with scholarships on the table. Northwestern, where Knox took an unofficial visit in mid-April, appears to be the frontrunner and the only school he has set an official visit with to date (June 3-5). Duke is the other school Knox has visited the most.
PAUL MUBENGA (6-4, 280) Buford HS, Buford, GA: Along with older brother Japhet, Mubenga helped Buford capture the state 6-A state title in 2021. The elder Mubenga has since signed to play defensive end at Murray State, while younger brother Paul is still reeling in offers from major programs across the nation. Paul Mubenga, an all-region pick as a junior, had 37 offers as of April 25. ECU’s January offer was among those as was Mubenga’s defensive end teammate Alijah Williams. Williams came to Greenville for a Junior Day event in March and was impressed, but Mubenga’s only trips to North Carolina have been to Duke and Wake Forest.
PARKER PETERSON (6-7, 280) Alpharetta HS, Alpharetta, GA: Talk about your growth spurts. Peterson weighed in at 198 pounds as a freshman, grew to 238 pounds as a sophomore and was 275 as a junior. The additional size helped him earn second-team all-region honors as a junior. Offered by ECU in March along with center teammate Obadiah Obasuyi, both were on campus March 20 for an unofficial visit. Akron, Appalachian State, Grambling, Memphis, Ohio, Marshall, UAB, Massachusetts and Jacksonville State have also offered.
WESLEY SHAW (6-4, 280) Jesuit HS, Tampa, FL: Jesuit was one of the nation’s top prep teams in 2021, rolling to a 15-0 record and the state 6-A championship. Unfortunately, Shaw missed the entire season after suffering a torn ACL and undergoing surgery last August. He was a starter as a sophomore, registering seven pancake blocks in 14 games. That was enough to warrant scholarship offers from Air Force, Army, East Carolina (April 2021), Florida International, USF and West Virginia. Shaw made an unofficial visit to Greenville last June and traveled to USF in January, so the Pirates remain in the mix.
LUCAS SIMMONS (6-8, 296) Clearwater Academy International, Clearwater, FL: A native of Sweden, Simmons is the son of former Oklahoma offensive lineman Able Simmons. The elder Simmons traveled to Europe during his final year of college and wound up making Sweden his home. His son has racked up more than 30 FBS scholarship offers, including an early one from East Carolina (May 22, 2021). The Pirates were not among the top 12 finalists that Simmons announced on March 23 (Arkansas, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, USC and USF). Oklahoma State received the first official visit from Simmons on April 22.
FRANKIE TINILAU (6-5, 315) LaSalle HS, Miami, FL: Tinilau was born in Australia and grew up playing rugby until introduced to American football at age 14. He quickly became one of the top young international players, earning Europe Elite’s Under-19 Athlete of the Year honors. He came to the United States in 2020 to attend St. Bernard High in California, but when the pandemic hit and halted all sports he returned home to Australia to play in an adult club league. Tinilau has now enrolled at LaSalle for his senior season. East Carolina offered Tinilau in early March, but just a month later he wound up making a verbal commitment to Miami.