Bryce Weaver planned to spend the summer of 2021 attending college football camps in hopes of sparking recruiting interest.
Weaver, already 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, was coming off a sophomore season at D.H. Conley High School in Greenville, NC, in which he started every game on the offensive line. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vikings only played seven games during a shortened spring season in which college recruiters had limited scouting opportunities.
“I wasn’t getting recruited by anybody at all,” Weaver said. “So, I went to two camps that year. I went to the (N.C.) State camp and nobody talked to me. Then I went to the East Carolina camp, and I still didn’t know they were going to recruit me. But when I went to get my height and weight measured, their former player personnel director, Derek White, grabbed me and said they had watched my (highlight) film. He said I was a local kid, so they were going to recruit me.”
Thus began a process that culminated June 25 with the now 6-3, 305-pound interior offensive lineman becoming a member of ECU’s recruiting class of 2023. Weaver made his verbal commitment to the Pirates over an offer from Football Championship Subdivision Elon.
The decision wasn’t surprising considering Weaver grew up just minutes from ECU’s campus and attended a high school with deep connections to the Pirate football program. Conley has produced future Pirates such as safety Kenny Phillips (1982-83), wide receiver Michael Hickman (2006-07) and running backs Demarcus Fox (2001-04) and Jamie Wilson (1997-2000) among others. The current ECU roster also features former Conley stars Holton Ahlers at quarterback and C.J. Johnson at receiver.
But despite those strong ties, Conley coach Nate Conner said it wasn’t written in stone that Weaver would become a Pirate.
“I don’t think it was a given because a lot of other good schools, like Elon, which would have been a great fit, were interested,” Conner said. “And he’s had a lot of interest from a lot of other places from our surrounding region that not necessarily offers transpired, but it could have happened in the future.
“But I think they (ECU) really just identified him early because of the relationship we have here at our school. They did a fantastic job identifying his potential and really building a relationship with him. I think when you factor in those variables into a local kid who has grown up around it (ECU football), all those things aligned. They made it hard for Bryce to see himself anywhere else.”
Weaver isn’t expected to join the Pirates until next summer after completing his senior year at Conley, where he competes for both the football and basketball teams. He is following in the footsteps of two older brothers who were also star athletes at Conley.
D.J. Weaver played soccer and basketball for the Vikings and went on to play college basketball for NCAA Division III N.C. Wesleyan. D.J. was twice named basketball MVP during his career at Wesleyan. Brother Kam Weaver was a four-year starter at linebacker for D.H. Conley and played one season of college football at NCAA Division II Chowan. Kam transferred to East Carolina as a student and is on the verge of earning his degree.
“My brothers kept me grounded my whole life,” Bryce Weaver said. “They bullied me around and made me aggressive.”
The latter has paid off for Bryce, who played most of his freshman season for the D.H. Conley junior varsity before a late-season promotion to the varsity. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 high school football season in North Carolina was moved to the spring of 2021. So, Weaver was still playing with the Conley basketball team when football season kicked off.
Weaver was slated to start at guard or tackle for the football team, but when a COVID outbreak forced some other teammates into quarantine he was forced to make his first varsity start at center.
“That speaks to his savvy athletic ability that we had the confidence for him to go in and play center for us those first two games,” Conner said. “That was kind of the start of his varsity career, and he’s played everywhere for us since.”
That includes defense where, as a lineman, Weaver made 26 tackles and a tackle for loss last season.
But it’s as an offensive guard or center that the Pirates plan to utilize Weaver.
“(Head) Coach (Mike) Houston was telling me he would like to see me play center and guard whenever I get there,” Weaver said. “I think my feet are definitely the best part of my game. My pass … (blocking) is pretty good. I definitely could improve on my run blocking, but I’m pretty good at that, too. My feet are quick so I can drop back on a quick edge (rusher), or, if there’s a bigger guy in front of me, I can get in front of him quick and just hold him there if he tries to bull rush me.”
Conner compares Weaver favorably to former Conley blocker Panda Askew, who now plays for Charlotte, and current ECU offensive lineman Nishad Strother.
“He always reminds us of Panda Askew, who ECU recruited but ended up going to Charlotte,” Conner said. “I also think he’s similar — and I don’t know this young man so it’s probably not a fair comparison to make — but he’s similar to Nishad Strother from Havelock. They have a similar body style. He’s (Strother) not overly long either, but a thicker, athletic kid. I think ECU probably sees a little bit of that in him (Weaver) and they’ve had success with him (Strother).”
Weaver’s biggest asset, according to Conner, is his aggressiveness.
“He finishes blocks,” Conner said. “He likes to get down and dirty a little bit and finish things. He has one of two plays on his highlight film where he gets a penalty because it’s a little excessive. But he takes pride in being a bigger guy who can get some movement and move down field.”
Weaver is part of a wave of high school prospects who made verbal commitments to East Carolina between June 18 and June 28. The Pirates now have 11 commitments for the recruiting class of 2023.