When it comes to developing under-rated receivers into record breakers at the college level, few programs have done that better than East Carolina.
From Mitchell Galloway to Justin Hardy to Tyler Snead, the Pirates have excelled at making stars out of receivers who were lightly recruited or joined the program as walk-on players. Galloway and Snead rank among ECU’s top-10 pass catchers, while Hardy is second in NCAA career receptions with 387 (ECU’s Zay Jones No. 1 with 399).
Zion Agnew, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder from Ridge View High School in Columbia, SC, has the potential to follow in the footsteps of that trio of overachievers. Agnew became part of East Carolina’s recruiting class of 2023 on June 25th, just 10 days after receiving a scholarship offer from the Pirates.
Agnew’s size and limited varsity football experience had resulted in just one other Football Bowl Subdivision offer. Charlottee, where Agnew’s former high school head coach now directs the receivers, wanted him as a defensive back. Football Championship Subdivision powers James Madison and N.C. A&T were his other options.
But ECU’s coaching staff saw something special in Agnew when they initiated contact last February.
“This is actually my second year at Ridge View, which is my alma mater,” head coach Derek Howard said. “Zion was the first person the former head coach, Perry Parks, who is now the receivers coach at Charlotte, talked about when I came back to the school as head coach. At the time we had a really talented wide receiver group and Zion was just a sophomore coming into his junior year. He didn’t have a lot of varsity experience, but we knew he had a lot of potential and would be a dynamic kid as he moved up to the varsity.”
After seeing limited action as a sophomore on the varsity, Agnew teamed with Appalachian State commit Chris Lawson Jr., to make up one of South Carolina’s top receiver combinations. Agnew led the Blazers with 71 catches for 1,030 yards and 11 touchdowns. His receiving yardage was the eighth-best in the state of South Carolina.
Agnew accumulated more than 100 yards receiving in five of the 10 games in which he played, highlighted by an 11-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 47-41 second-round state AAAAA playoff win against Hillcrest. It was against Hillcrest that Agnew executed one of his biggest plays of the season.
“We were down a touchdown, and the game had been kind of back and forth,” Howard said. “The other team had just scored a touchdown. We threw a quick bubble screen to Zion, and he went 90 yards the other way. That is the type of ability he has. You don’t have to do much to get it to him. He’s consistently making plays and putting the team in great situations to be successful.”
Agnew was also front and center in a 43-7 triumph against rival Blythewood. In addition to completing a pass for 55 yards and rushing once for 22 more and a score, Agnew had six catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. But his most impressive score of the game came on a play in which he was merely Johnny on the Spot.
“We’re going into the red zone and one of our other receivers caught a short pass,” Howard said. “He’s trying to make some defenders miss and fumbles the football. We look up, and who scoops it up and runs it in for a touchdown — Zion.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re going to go deep to him, or whether it’s something short, or he’s just playing hard and finds the football. He’s the kind of kid who is just attracted to the football.”
Agnew’s skill set and recruitment is very similar, for those ECU fans who remember, to Galloway’s. Like Agnew, Galloway hails from South Carolina (Bennettsville) and wasn’t exactly the prototypical size. Galloway, in fact, was a 135-pound running back for Marlboro County High, who moved to wide receiver as a senior at the suggestion of his prep coach.
Galloway only had scholarship offers from The Citadel and Navy before former East Carolina wide receivers coach Dale Steele discovered him late in the recruiting process. Impressed by Galloway’s speed and work ethic, Steele took a chance and offered a scholarship. The move paid off as Galloway would amass 131 catches for 1,754 yards and nine touchdowns for the Pirates between 1992-96. The receiving yardage still ranks ninth-best all-time in ECU history.
Speed is also one of Agnew’s assets. He’s been timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash and at 10.91 seconds over 100 meters.
“When I describe Zion, I describe him as similar to (former NFL receiver) Steve Smith,” Howard said. “I say that because he plays 10 times bigger than his size. He’s extremely physical and extremely strong at the point of contact and catching the football. I think that he takes it personal when people say that he’s got a small stature. And that shows in his play.”
Agnew will team at Ridge View this season with Lawson, a 6-1, 172-pounder who entertained offers from the likes of Duke, Louisville, N.C. State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech before committing to Appalachian State on June 30th. Lawson complemented Agnew by making 40 catches for 673 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“We’re really blessed to have two of the best receivers in the state of South Carolina,” Howard said. “Zion and Chris set the tone for our team. They aren’t selfish guys. They really root for one another and are always the first to congratulate each other on their catches. We’re blessed to have those two young men, who also happen to be really good student-athletes.”
Agnew is on track to graduate from Ridge View in December, so he could join the Pirates as soon as next January. Howard believes Agnew will quickly become a contributor on ECU’s offense.
“I see him as an all-around receiver who ya’ll will probably develop your gameplan around to get him as many touches and take advantage of as many mismatches as he can,” Howard said.