Establishing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks is the goal of every defense in this pass-happy era of college football.
At the forefront of that effort in most defensive alignments are “edge rushers,” who, in many cases, are defensive ends or outside linebackers performing as an extension of the defensive line.
Players such as Nate Harvey, Kendall Futrell and most recently, Jeremy Lewis, have excelled for East Carolina in that role.
Finding the next Harvey, Futrell or Lewis appears to be a significant priority for ECU as it pursues the Recruiting Class of 2023.
Below is a look at 12 high school prospects the Pirates have reportedly extended scholarship offers to from the Class of ’23 as of June 15. 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.
JASON ABBEY (6-4, 215) Freeman HS, Richmond, VA: Abbey isn’t your normal football prospect. He didn’t play the sport during three years of middle school, focusing instead on swimming. But he made the transition to the gridiron as a freshman, and it’s paid off with a half dozen scholarship offers from FBS programs. ECU is included in that group, extending its offer back in January when he was on campus for a Junior Day event. But Abbey ultimately decided to stay in-state for his college career when he made a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech on April 22.
DAVID ANDERSON (6-4, 225) Kecoughtan HS, Hampton, VA: Anderson is a lean, fast athlete who doubles as a tight end on offense at Kecoughtan. He’s been a varsity player since his freshman season, and also excels in basketball and track. Anderson won both the state indoor and the National Elite Division at the Adidas Track Nationals in the shot put as a junior. East Carolina (Jan. 27, 2022 offer) is heavily involved with Anderson along with Buffalo, Duke, Old Dominion, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
MEKHI BUCHANAN (6-5, 220) Allatoona HS, Acworth, GA: There’s a lot to like about already, but plenty of room for development in Buchanan, whose lengthy offer list includes East Carolina. The Pirates extended the offer while Buchanan was on campus in January for a Junior Day. He returned to Greenville in early April for an unofficial visit, which makes ECU one of the few schools he’s visited to date along with Kentucky (April 3).
JAYBRON HARVEY (6-4, 216) Southern Durham HS, Durham, NC: Harvey, who has been timed at 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash, enjoyed an incredible junior season in which he made 129 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 28 sacks. The reward has been substantial as more than 25 FBS programs have offered scholarships, including ECU (March 2, 2022). Harvey, whose father Jamien played linebacker at West Virginia, narrowed his list of favorites to Louisville, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wake Forest on June 12, and had official visits set with the Cardinals (June 17), Gamecocks (June 10) and Tar Heels (June 3) in that same month.
RAVON “R.J.” JOHNSON (6-5, 220) Meadowcreek HS, Norcross, GA: Johnson is an athlete with a long wingspan and plenty of room for growth. He racked up second-team All-Region 7-AAAAAA honors as a junior after recording 8.5 sacks and was also selected as a Scholar-Athlete by the Gwinnett County TD Club. ECU offered Johnson in January and he took an unofficial visit to Greenville in March. The Pirates have also offered his Meadowcreek wide receiver teammate Keshaun Singleton. Minnesota (official visit June 17), Georgia Tech and Georgia State appear to be ECU’s top competitors for Johnson, who is scheduled to announce his decision on August 5.
AYMERIC KOUMBA (6-4, 230) Pionniers de Touraine School, Paris, France: The Pirates discovered Koumba on June 7 during a PPI Recruits Tour camp at Kennesaw State. The PPI Tours are designed to expose international football players to U.S. colleges. Koumba, who just started playing American football four years ago, was so impressive at the camp that ECU offered him a scholarship on the spot. The Pirates are competing for Koumba against Buffalo, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia Tech and Michigan, all of which have offered scholarships.
KERRINGTON LEE (6-5, 230) Dwyer HS, Palm Beach Gardens, FL: After playing left tackle as a sophomore, Lee made the transition to defense as a junior. He excelled at end, making 47 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. East Carolina (Feb, 25, 2022) joined a long list of FBS schools offering scholarships to Lee after that performance. But Lee opted for Wake Forest on April 27, 2022, choosing the Demon Deacons over Duke and Vanderbilt.
EZRA ODINJOR (6-4, 230) Allatoona HS, Acworth, GA: A prep teammate of the above-mentioned Mekhi Buchanan, Odinjor enjoyed a stellar junior year in which he made 43 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in eight games. The potential here has earned Odinjor plenty of attention in the form of 15 scholarship offers. ECU is among those schools, having entered the competition in January while Odinjor and some of his prep teammates were on campus for a Junior Day experience.
BRANDEN PALMER (6-4, 205) Hough HS, Cornelius, NC: East Carolina was the first FBS program to offer Palmer back in October 2021 after he transferred to Hough from another Charlotte area powerhouse, Chambers. He’s collected other offers from Central Michigan, Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Kent State, Liberty, Maryland, Miami Ohio, Old Dominion and West Virginia since then. But the Pirates have remained in play for Palmer, who recorded 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a junior. He was on campus in November and back on January 29, 2022, for the Junior Day event. It doesn’t hurt ECU’s case that the Pirates have also offered Hough teammates J.T. Smith (running back-athlete) and Markell Quick (wide receiver).
RICO WALKER (6-3, 233) Hickory HS, Hickory, NC: The son of former Auburn defensive lineman Ricardo Walker received his first scholarship offer after just three varsity games following his freshman season from South Carolina. Since then, he’s become a national caliber recruit who’s amassed almost 30 offers. ECU entered the arena with Walker with an offer in April 2021. The Pirates, however, weren’t among his top 11 schools released on May 15 (Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Michigan State, North Carolina and Tennessee). Walker has set official visits to Maryland (June 17) and UNC (June 24).
ALIJAH WILLIAMS (6-2, 220) Buford HS, Buford, GA: Williams is a defensive standout with the three-time defending state champion Wolves. His offer list ranges from NCAA Division II Fayetteville State to Duke and Western Kentucky. ECU has been heavily involved with Williams, who was offered in January and made the trip to Greenville for Junior Day on March 19. He noted in a Twitter post that he would make a return visit to ECU, but so far his summer itinerary has only included Duke (April 12), Mississippi State (April 9), Wake Forest (June 3) and an official visit to Bowling Green (June 10).
DAMON WILSON (6-5, 235) Venice HS, Venice, FL: More of a traditional defensive end in size, Wilson is a consensus four-star who racked up 23 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and forced 25 quarterback hurries as a junior for the Florida state 8A champions. ECU stepped in with an offer to Wilson on May 1, but his focus recently has been on official visits to Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State. Wilson’s stepbrother, Omari Phillips, is a freshman defensive lineman at Tennessee.