Raneiria Dillworth — RaRa to his friends — had yet to catch the attention of college football recruiters back in the fall of 2019 as the regular season kicked off at Robert B. Glenn High School in Kernersville, NC.
It’s not that the scouts weren’t regularly visiting the school located just East of Winston-Salem. College coaches were already involved in recruiting Glenn’s junior defensive end Jahvaree Ritzie, a four-star prospect who had already piled up scholarship offers from Duke, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
But Ritzie would have to share that attention with Dillworth after the first five games of the season.
A three-game stretch in which the 6-foot-1, 200-pound linebacker made 55 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss turned Dillworth into an overnight sensation on the recruiting trail.
“Jahvaree was getting a lot of attention going into his junior year,” Glenn head coach Antwon Stevenson said. “RaRa wasn’t getting as much until game three or four of his junior year. The tape spoke for itself. After seeing him do that on film, it was a no brainer (for recruiters) after that.”
Dillworth would pick up scholarship offers from some of the nation’s top programs such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Oklahoma and Tennessee before opting to remain home to play for North Carolina. By the time he signed with the Tar Heels in December 2020, Dillworth was rated a four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 17 linebacker prospect by 247Sports.com.
After two years in Chapel Hill, however, Dillworth decided to seek a change of scenery and entered the NCAA Transfer Portal on Dec. 4. UNC’s loss proved to be East Carolina’s gain as Dillworth made a verbal commitment to play for the Pirates in 2023 on Jan. 5.
According to rankings compiled by 247Sports.com, Dillworth will be the highest rated prospect to play for East Carolina after he signs a national letter of intent on Feb. 1. Dillworth received a grade of 93 to surpass the previous high rating of 90 awarded to current ECU quarterback Mason Garcia in the recruiting Class of 2020.
“He’s a football guy. He loves the game,” Stevenson said when asked to describe Dillworth. “He’s going to do whatever he has to do to help the team win. He’s very competitive. He’s a team-first guy. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there and doing what he’s supposed to do. They (Pirates) are definitely getting a top-notch guy in RaRa.”
Stevenson got his first glimpse of Dillworth in 2017 when he joined the Glenn High junior varsity team as a running back. One talent that immediately made Stevenson take notice of Dillworth was his speed.
“His ability to get from Point A to Point B is second to none,” Stevenson said. “I’ve never seen anybody get to the ball as he’s been able to. But right off the bat, because he had a smaller frame, he played on the junior varsity his first year. Then his sophomore year we played him at outside linebacker.”
Dillworth, who has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, utilized that speed to become a valuable contributor on defense and special teams to help the Bobcats to a 6-7 finish and a second-round state playoff berth. But it was his junior season in 2019 that thrusted Dillworth into recruiting prominence.
Moving to inside linebacker because teams had started to run away from him the previous season, Dillwoth became a tackling machine. In the third game of the season against Parkland, he registered 25 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks. He followed up with 10 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss against North Forsyth and 20 tackles and three tackles for loss against High Point Central.
Dillworth would finish the year with 198 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and an interception to earn first-team All-Northwest honors from the Winston-Salem Journal.
Within a week in January after the completion of his junior season, Dillworth picked up 14 scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Just before the scheduled start of his senior campaign in April 2020, he decided to play for North Carolina over Alabama.
Like many other top prospects in the recruiting Class of 2021, Dillworth never got a chance to play his senior season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina high schools moved their football season to the spring, which Dillworth and many others opted to miss so they could enroll in college early.
Regarded as one of the gems of UNC’s recruiting class that year, Dillworth played in all 12 games as a true freshman, making six tackles and a tackle for loss in a backup roll. He again saw significant action this season, appearing in 10 games with 13 tackles and a sack.
But with UNC’s starting linebacker corps set to return in 2023, Dillworth decided it was time for a change. East Carolina immediately became a frontrunner for Dillworth once he entered the transfer portal because of previous relationships.
The Pirates were one of the first schools to offer Dillworth a scholarship while in high school and during that process he established a solid connection with defensive line coach Roy Tesh.
“The relationship he already had built with Coach Tesh when he was still in high school was big,” Stevenson said. “The biggest thing for RaRa was getting somewhere he could trust his coaches and trust the staff.”
Dillworth received reassurance about ECU’s coaching staff from a special relative. Former ECU cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian, now with the NFL’s Denver Broncos, is Dillworth’s cousin and one of his biggest supporters.
“I think his cousin, Ja’Quan McMillian, played a big part as well,” Stevenson said. “I think Ja’Quan made him believe he can trust the staff.”
Dillworth had plenty of other suitors before choosing ECU. According to Stevenson, Florida, Penn State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia were among the schools reaching out after Dillworth entered the transfer portal.
“The why (he left UNC) didn’t matter to me,” Stevenson said. “My biggest concern was that he get somewhere he’d have a chance to play and be happy. I think he has that now being committed to East Carolina.”
The Pirates have some big holes to fill at linebacker in 2023. The Pirates are losing Myles Berry, Gerard Stringer and Chance Bates to graduation and Jireh Wilson entered the transfer portal and will play at Central Florida next fall.