East Carolina has lost at least 13 defensive players to the transfer portal or due to the expiration of eligibility to date. The group combined to make 210 starts during their careers with the Pirates, and included multi-year stalwarts such as Gerard Stringer, Xavier Smith, Myles Berry and Malik Fleming.
Finding immediate or future replacements for so many veterans required ECU to scour the high school and junior college ranks, while also tapping into the transfer portal. So far that has resulted in 15 new defenders joining the program, nine from the prep ranks and six from other college programs.
The latter should immediately help plug big holes in the secondary where three starters and two key backups are among the departed.
Looking ahead to spring and how the recruiting Class of 2023 might fit into the program, we present our annual position-by-position grades for the defensive signees. In addition, we’ll project the best organizational profile we can and look ahead to the recruiting needs as the coaching staff pursues the Class of 2024. These are all projections based on the final depth chart from last season and other information we’d gathered by press time, projections that may be altered by position changes during spring practice, or program defections or additions.
DEFENSIVE END B
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates had a broad range of experience returning at the traditional defensive end position heading into 2022, and everyone on the depth chart had eligibility remaining. So, the position was a big priority in recruiting the Class of 2023, but landing at least one to groom for the future was the projected goal.
WHO SIGNED: Kieren Davis is a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Roswell, GA. Davis began his prep career as a running back at St. Edmund High in Louisiana before transferring to Blessed Trinity as a sophomore. A two-way star at Blessed Trinity, he was an All-Region 7 AAAAAA pick as a junior and senior. Davis is the son of former Georgia and Super Bowl XLIV champion Charles Grant, who was also a defensive lineman.
ECU also picked up Preston Carr (6-3, 250) from the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School. Carr had a stellar high school career at Roxboro (NC) Person where he was the Mid-State 2-A/3-A Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2021. He made 190 career tackles at Person with 33 tackles for loss.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Davis is one of those guys who could be put at almost any position on the football field and he’d be a success. He’s a team first guy and a physical powerhouse. The latter allows him to fight through double teams, while his speed makes him dangerous in pursuit. Watch out for him on special teams early in his career, but eventually he’ll be pushing for a starting job.
Carr, who had offers from all the military academies as well as Ivy League programs out of high school, could wind up to be a pleasant surprise for ECU as a walk-on.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Three-star Desirrio Riles (6-3, 225) from University Christian High in Jacksonville, FL, ranked ECU at the top of his recruiting list after an official visit to Greenville on Jan. 13. An all-around athlete who even played quarterback in high school, Riles also had South Florida among his top schools. But the final decision came down to signing day between the Pirates and Big Ten Conference member Indiana. Riles wound up signing with the Hoosiers during the early period in December.
WHO’S BACK: Junior Chad Stephens (6-1, 265) started the final six games and eight overall at end in 2022. Stephens led the Pirates in tackles for loss (10), while also accumulating 40 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. He’ll be the starter and an all-league candidate next fall.
At the opposite end spot in the 3-4 alignment, junior D’Ante Johnson made all seven of his starts, including the final five. Johnson (6-2, 299) made 18 tackles and a tackle for loss while sharing duties with senior Shaundre Mims and junior Suirad Ware (6-0, 273). Ware returns in 2023 but may see more of his action at nose tackle. Ware was in on seven tackles while appearing in seven games last season (3 starts at end).
Sophomore J.D. Lampley (6-4, 293) was one of the main contributors for ECU from the recruiting Class of 2022 last season. He played in 11 games, making 11 tackles and a tackle for loss and finished the year at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Johnson. Right behind Lampley on the depth chart was Jason Shuford (6-4, 328) who had six tackles in 11 games. Shuford will be a junior next fall.
Other returnees at end include redshirt freshman Jasiyah Robinson (6-1, 230), who recorded two tackles in his only game last year after transferring in from Michigan State.
WHO’S GONE: The transfer portal really took its toll on ECU’s defensive end positions. Rick D’Abreu, a four-year letterwinner with 41 career games and 15 starts under his belt (72 tackles, six sacks), could have sailed with the Pirates one more year. But after being limited to three games in 2022 with ECU, D’Abreu entered his name into the transfer portal on Jan. 13. He’ll spend his final collegiate season playing for the 2022 national runner-up Texas Christian.
Another major contributor over the last two seasons for East Carolina was Immanuel Hickman. Hickman logged 917 snaps over three years and started 14 times during the last two seasons. He departed having made 64 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Also exiting is junior college transfer Elijah Robinson, who had a tackle in six games last year. Robinson is heading way West to play for Hawaii next fall.
NEEDS FOR 2023: The portal losses, especially Hickman, severely depleted the depth at end. Stephens and Johnson will be juniors next fall, but Stephens is entering his fifth year in the program and chances are he’ll move on after 2023. Replacing at least two of those ends in the Class of 2024 will be a priority.
A pair of three-star prospects already in ECU’s crosshairs are 6-2, 220-pound Anthony Reddick from Phebus High in Hampton, VA, and Amaris Williams (6-3, 265) from Clinton (NC) High. The Pirates offered Reddick in January, joining a lengthy list of suitors that also includes Arkansas, Penn State and Virginia Tech. Williams, who had 44 tackles for loss and 18 sacks as a junior, was offered by ECU back in October. He’s currently up to 14 offers, including one from Tennessee where he attended a recent Junior Day event.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Chad Stephens, Greensboro, NC (6-1, 265) Junior
Jasiyah Robinson, Groveport, OH (6-1, 230) Redshirt freshman
Kieran Davis, Roswell, GA (6-2, 240) Freshman
Preston Carr, Timberlake, NC (6-3, 250) Freshman
D’Ante Johnson, Dinwiddie, VA (6-2, 299) Junior
J.D. Lampley, Rockingham, NC (6-4, 293) Sophomore
NOSE TACKLE D
WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates were well stocked at the nose tackle spot and aren’t scheduled to lose anyone at the position to graduation for another two seasons. The need was minimal, but signing at least one at a position where injuries are common was a good goal.
WHO SIGNED: No one, unless one of the defensive line signees shifts here in the future.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: It didn’t help other than saving a scholarship for another position.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: The Pirates had four-star in-state product Keith Sampson from New Bern High on campus for multiple unofficial visits early in the recruiting cycle. Sampson, who was named the state’s defensive player of the year by NCPreps.com, was offered by the Pirates last March and made trips to campus in June, September and November before his interest in ECU began to evaporate. He eventually signed with Florida State.
WHO’S BACK: Former walk-on Elijah Morris (6-1, 275) started all 13 games at nose tackle in 2022, registering 23 tackles, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Morris, who’ll be a junior next fall, has 25 career starts under his belt and 65 tackles.
Junior Suirad Ware (6-0, 273) has played all along the defensive front for ECU — he made three starts at end in 2022 — but finished last season No. 3 on the depth chart at nose tackle. He had seven tackles and a tackle for loss in seven outings.
Like Ware, junior Jason Shuford (6-4, 328) has worked at all the defensive line spots while at ECU. He finished last season No. 3 on the depth chart at one end position and will likely help out there and at nose tackle in 2023. He’ll join promising redshirt freshman C.J. Mims (6-1, 306), sophomore Xavier McIver (6-1, 304) and sophomore Justyn Haynesworth (6-4, 294) competing for playing time at nose tackle in the spring.
WHO’S GONE: Shaundre Mims, the older brother of C.J. Mims, spent his final year of college eligibility with the Pirates after a stellar career at Charleston Southern. The older Mims played in 12 games, starting three at end, but finished the year as the No. 2 nose tackle behind Morris. Mims made a great contribution on defense with 16 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
NEEDS FOR 2023: The Pirates aren’t expected to lose any of their nose tackles after the 2023 season, but to maintain depth at the position should sign one or maybe two in the next class.
January offers went out from ECU to Artavius Jones (6-4, 285) from Blountstown, FL, and Ben Britton (6-3, 270) from Oceanside Collegiate Academy in South Carolina. Jones just finished his third year of organized football and made 58 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Britton has 77 tackles and 17 tackles for loss as a junior at Oceanside Collegiate and has offers from ECU, Georgia Southern and The Citadel.
An in-state player to watch at nose tackle for ECU is Shelby’s Jaden Pierce (6-2, 300). The Pirates offered Pierce back in November and he has since picked up another offer from Appalachian State. Pierce had 50 tackles and eight tackles for loss as a junior.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Elijah Morris, Fayetteville, NC (6-1, 275) Junior
Suirad Ware, Richmond, VA (6-0, 273) Junior
Jason Shuford, Statesville, NC (6-4, 328) Junior
Xavier McIver, Cheraw, SC (6-1, 304) Sophomore
C.J. Mims, Vanceboro, NC (6-1, 306) Redshirt freshman
Justyn Haynesworth, Mechanicsville, VA (6-4, 294) Sophomore
WHAT THEY NEEDED: With the top four players on the depth chart scheduled to return for 2023 at the edge spot, the Pirates were in no rush to sign a large number of players at the position. But with two of those four expected to complete their eligibility next fall, signing one was a reasonable objective.
WHO SIGNED: DeMoris Jenkins (6-5, 220) is an in-state prospect from North Mecklenburg High in Huntersville. Jenkins is a basketball-turned-football-player who just started to tap into his potential as a senior when he made 55 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and six sacks. The performance earned him a spot on the North Carolina squad for the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Jenkins has great length and athleticism, but may need some time to develop physically and gain more experience. But his potential is limitless and he could wind up being the steal of the recruiting class.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Steve Cattledge Jr. was one of the nation’s top tacklers in the junior college ranks with 120 for East Mississippi Community College last season. The 6-4, 220-pounder was also among the nation’s best in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (10). A native of Columbus, MS, Cattledge received a variety of scholarship offers, but narrowed his list to ECU and Troy, both of which he took official visits to in December. The Trojans won out, signing Cattledge during the early period.
WHO’S BACK: As noted above, the Pirates return the four players who manned the depth chart at edge throughout the 2022 season, beginning with starter Jeremy Lewis. Lewis (6-3, 232), who’ll be a senior next fall, started all 13 games a year ago and was the team’s fourth-leading tackler with 60. He was also second in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (4.5).
Right behind Lewis on the depth chart in order were Jack Powers (6-3, 237), Eric Doctor (6-1, 249) and Samuel Dankah (6-5, 213), all of whom played in at least seven games. Powers, a senior next year, produced 25 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in his first season in Greenville after transferring in from Nevada. Doctor, a junior, saw action in 11 games, while Dankah, a sophomore, played in seven.
Also back at the edge spot is redshirt freshman Trevon Hayes (6-0, 248).
WHO’S GONE: No one really, although the Pirates did lose a talented prospect in Ja’Marion Franklin from Lake City, SC. Franklin had just signed with ECU in December 2021, but soon after arriving on campus in June of last year he abruptly left the program without ever suiting up with the Pirates.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Edge looms as a major priority for East Carolina in the Class of 2024. Powers will exhaust his eligibility at the end of the 2023 season, and although Lewis could technically return for a fifth year we’d expect he’ll opt for a run at the NFL.
Signing at least two edge players to replace that duo is essential, but adding three wouldn’t be out of the question with Doctor having only two years to go.
Edge defenders seem to be plentiful in the state of Georgia for the Class of 2024 based on ECU’s recent offers. The Pirates extended offers in January to Chase Morrison from Roswell, Jackson Bussey from Norcross and Cole Mullins from Hoschton. Morrison (6-5, 245) earned defensive player of the year honors as a junior for Georgia’s Region 7-6A after collecting 109 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. ECU joined a group of schools that have offered Morrison, including Duke, Florida Atlanta, Georgia Southern, Indiana, Liberty, Marshall and Tulane.
An in-state edge to keep an eye on is 6-5, 220-pound Tiyyan Robinson from Durham’s Hillside High. ECU joined Miami of Ohio and Ohio in extending a scholarship offer to Robinson in late January.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Jeremy Lewis, Greenville, NC (6-3, 232) Senior
Jack Powers, Granite Bay, CA (6-3, 237) Senior
Eric Doctor, Orlando, FL (6-1, 249) Junior
Samuel Dankah, Lorton, VA (6-5, 213) Sophomore
Trevon Hayes, Hampton, VA (6-0, 248) Redshirt freshman
DeMoris Jenkins, Huntersville, NC (6-5, 220) Freshman
STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER A
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Signing one or two for the outside linebacker/safety position was the original number with the knowledge that at least one prominent player would be departing after the 2022 season. An unexpected exit after the season made getting two who might help out immediately an even bigger priority.
WHO SIGNED: A former four-star prospect and an all-conference FBS performer were two of ECU’s biggest additions during the recruiting cycle. B.J. Davis (6-2, 210) decided to spend his final year of college eligibility with the Pirates after a stellar four seasons at South Carolinas State, where he made 246 career tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss and six interceptions. Davis was twice a first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference pick.
RaRa Dillworth (6-1, 200) was rated the nation’s No. 6 outside linebacker prospect by 247Sports.com as a senior at Glenn High in Winston-Salem, NC. Dillworth signed with North Carolina and spent two seasons there before entering the transfer portal. He played in 22 games for the Tar Heels, making 19 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Dillworth is the cousin of former ECU All-American cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Both Davis and Dillworth are enrolled for spring and should be ready to make major contributions next fall. Davis adds experience and playmaking abilities to the secondary, and should push Kingston McKinstry and Michael Edwards III for the starting job.
Dillworth, who’ll be a junior, is known for his speed and ability to play from sideline to sideline. He will be highly motivated to prove his prep ranking was no fluke at ECU and should compete for immediate time.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Taye Seymore (6-1, 200) was not only a big-time, two-way star in football, he was also one of the fastest athletes in the state of Georgia. Seymore placed fourth in the state 100-meter dash meet as a junior and totalled 63 tackles, five tackles for loss and intercepted two passes as a senior in football at South Atlanta High School. ECU received a verbal commitment from Seymore back in July, but when hometown Georgia Tech swooped in with an offer in October things changed. Seymore backed off his pledge to the Pirates on Dec. 8 and signed with the Yellow Jackets on Dec. 21.
WHO’S BACK: Senior Kingston McKinstry (6-1, 191) has been slowed by injuries since coming to ECU from Iowa Central Community College. But he stayed healthy long enough to make four tackles in seven games a year ago and was No. 3 on the depth chart for most of the season.
WHO’S GONE: Gerard Springer was a four-year letterwinner with the Pirates and finished his career with 27 starts. Stringer started 12 games and ranked second in team tackles last season (70) while adding 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
The Pirates expected to have back Jireh Wilson, who started seven games in 2022 but was also Springer’s backup. Wilson, who had 190 career tackles, decided in late December to enter the transfer portal. He was a three-year starter in the secondary and led the Pirates in passes broken up (6) last season. Wilson wound up transferring to Central Florida, which moves from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12 on July 1.
NEEDS FOR 2023: East Carolina appears to be paper thin at the SAM spot, although players at other positions could easily shift there to fill any gaps. But with Davis only being around one season, and Dillworth and Edwards in the junior class, it would be prudent to snare two or more recruits to fill the gaps.
Two targets already on ECU’s recruiting board are Noah “Nobo” Shaw from Asheville, NC, and Quentin Reddick from Charlotte. Both are safety size players with the frames to grow into outside backers at the college level.
The 6-2, 195-pound Shaw is the son of former Western Carolina cornerback Randy Shaw. As a junior, he compiled 115 tackles, three tackles for loss and intercepted two passes. Shaw was in Greenville for an unofficial visit Jan. 28 after receiving an offer from the Pirates Jan. 5. He is also entertaining offers from Charlotte, Eastern Michigan and Missouri among others.
Reddick (6-3, 185) was a headhunter for Independence last season, collecting 76 tackles and five interceptions. ECU offered on Jan. 13, joining Appalachian State, Charlotte, Duke, James Madison, Middle Tennessee State, Missouri, Virginia and Wake Forest.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Kingston McKinstry, Grove City, OH (6-1, 191) Senior
B.J. Davis, Blair, SC (6-2, 210) Graduate
RaRa Dillworth, Winston-Salem, NC (6-1, 200) Junior
INSIDE LINEBACKER A
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Three players who registered starts at the inside positions last year completed their eligibility, which made this a prominent piece to the 2023 recruiting puzzle. Signing at least two was the target, and it would be helpful if at least one was ready to play next fall.
WHO SIGNED: Dwight Johnson Jr. is the son of the former Baylor and NFL defensive lineman, and his uncle, Derrick Johnson, was a first-round NFL pick and All-Pro linebacker. The younger Johnson (6-1, 210) was a four-year varsity player at Dutchtown High in Hampton, GA, and as a senior was a first-team all-state pick by Recruit Georgia.
The Pirates tapped into another Georgia prep program to sign 6-2, 220-pound Julien Davis from Union Grove High in McDonough. Davis was a two-way standout at Union Grove and was selected to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s All-Region 2-5A team as a senior at linebacker.
Maybe the key inside linebacker signee for ECU was Tyquan King (6-3, 215), who spent the past two seasons staring at Football Championship Subdivision power North Carolina A&T. King was one of the top defensive performers in the Big South Conference last season, earning all-league first-team honors after making 94 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception. The Dillon, SC, native comes to Greenville with two years of eligibility remaining.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: King is ready both physically and experience-wise to play a major role on ECU’s defensive immediately. He enrolled for the spring semester and should compete for one of the starting inside backer jobs.
Johnson is a rugged, physical athlete who relishes contact and has that rare ability to take over games on defense. He could figure into the depth chart at inside linebacker very early next fall and will for sure get a shot at playing time on special teams.
Davis has excellent speed for a linebacker but is strong enough to take on blockers and still make plays. Again, a reserve role is entirely possible for Davis as a true freshman, depending on how quickly he picks up the defensive scheme and how others develop at the position.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Three-star Michael Short from Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High was actually committed to the Pirates for six months. Short earned all-conference honors as a senior at Mallard Creek after making 93 tackles and 21 tackles for loss. The Pirates stepped in with an offer last May and received his verbal commitment after an unofficial visit to campus in June. But Short had a change of heart in early December when he backed off his pledge to ECU and signed with North Carolina during the early period.
WHO’S BACK: Only three players who saw action in 2022 return at inside linebacker, and only one of those have ever started a game for East Carolina.
Junior Teylor Jackson (6-1, 225) is the most experienced veteran returning. Jackson had made 32 tackles in 29 career games at ECU and finished the 2022 season at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Chance Bates at one inside spot. He made 15 tackles for two tackles for loss in nine games last season, which included a start against Coastal Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
Another junior, Michael Edwards III (6-2, 204) settled in nicely at ECU after transferring in from Georgia Southern. Edwards made 17 tackles in 13 games and was the chief backup to Myles Berry.
Redshirt freshman Jackson Barker (6-1, 205), a walk-on from Fuquay-Varina, saw action in two games last season on special teams.
Highly regarded redshirt freshman Zakye Barker (5-11, 228), who was injured for much of his rookie campaign, and freshman Jamari Young (6-1, 205) round out the inside linebacker returnees.
WHO’S GONE: A trio of veteran performers, including both starters for the majority of 2022 have departed. Xavier Smith has been a mainstay on ECU’s defense since arriving on campus in the fall of 2018. He completed his eligibility having appeared in 56 games (41 starts) and with 245 career tackles. Smith totalled 47 tackles and had three tackles for loss last season while starting 11 of 12 games.
Myles Berry was the Pirates’ No. 3 tackler in 2022 with 65 hits (4.5 tackles for loss) while starting 11 of 13 contests. Berry saw action in 38 career games, making 22 starts, and finished his career with 148 tackles.
The Pirates got a solid year from Kennesaw State transfer Chance Bates in his only season in Greenville. Bates made three starts in 13 games and logged 52 tackles and an interception.
NEEDS FOR 2023: With the influx of new talent, and the fact nobody is expected to exit the inside linebacker corps after the 2023 season, there doesn’t appear to be a serious need here. But just in case one of the juniors moves on after the ’23 season, signing at least one would be a smart move.
Only four linebackers had reported offers from East Carolina by mid-February with one of those going to 6-2, 215-pound Alto Moore from Rome, GA. Moore has also picked up offers from Liberty and Michigan State.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Teylor Jackson, Washington, DC (6-1, 225) Junior
Zakye Barker, Norcross, GA (5-11, 228) Redshirt freshman
Julien Davis, McDonough, GA (6-2, 220) Freshman
Michael Edwards III, Trussville, GA (6-2, 204) Junior
Tyquan King, Dillon, SC (6-3, 215) Junior
Dwight Johnson Jr., Hampton, GA (6-1, 210) Freshman
Jackson Barker, Fuquay-Varina, NC (6-1, 205) Redshirt freshman
Jamari Young, Temple Hills, MD (6-1, 205) Redshirt freshman
WHAT THEY NEEDED: With four juniors among the safety corps, including some of whom had the option to depart after the 2022 season, signing two with an emphasis on free safety, seemed like the right number.
WHO SIGNED: The Pirates ventured south to land three prep safeties and are bringing in two others who previously played at other in-state colleges.
The high school signees are Javion Clark (6-2, 175) from Macon, GA, Greg Turner (6-2, 195) from Ellenwood, GA, and Kamaurri McKinley (6-0, 174) from Lakeland, FL.
Clark enjoyed a breakout sophomore year at Jones County High when he made 85 tackles and broke up eight passes. The performance earned him a scholarship offer to Georgia Tech, which he accepted in August 2021. But after a knee injury sidelined him for much of his junior campaign, Clark backed off that pledge and committed to Toledo last November. Clark, who had 38 tackles and two interceptions as a senior, opted out of that promise in December to join his Jones County teammate Javious Bond at East Carolina.
McKinley is a former Toledo commit, who made 78 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass breakups over his final two seasons at Lakeland High.
Turner helped Cedar Grove reach the Georgia state 3A title game as a senior after transferring from Hapeville Charter.
Joining the Pirates from Football Championship Subdivision Elon University is Omar Rogers (6-0, 200) from Burlington, NJ. Rogers lettered three seasons at Elon where he made 145 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and seven interceptions in 22 career games. He earned second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors in 2022 and will have two seasons of eligibility left at ECU.
One of the most publicized signees in ECU’s Class of 2023 came from the transfer portal in Dontavius Nash (6-2, 180) from Gastonia, NC. Nash was a four-star prospect coming out of Hunter Huss High School and signed with North Carolina. He spent two seasons with the Tar Heels, playing in 10 games. But after the 2022 season ended, he entered the transfer portal and headed to Greenville.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates solidified their depth at the safety spots and added at least two players who are game-ready to the roster.
Rogers and Nash should, at the very least, become part of the safety rotation next fall. Rogers is a big-time playmaker while Nash, who has three years of eligibility left, still has the potential to become a star at the college level. Both are enrolled at ECU already and will participate in spring practice.
McKinley is a free safety with the ability to diagnose plays as they are happening, while Turner is a physical defender who has a nose for the football. Clark is both excellent in coverage and aggressive against the run.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: A pair of three-star safeties made their original verbal commitments to East Carolina. Ayden Duncanson from Mableton, GA, became one of the first prospects to join the recruiting Class of 2023 back on August 1. He remained part of the class until October when he backed out to give a pledge to North Carolina.
The Pirates turned their attention to Independence Community College star Tyrik McDaniel who came in for an official visit on Nov. 18 and committed six days later. But McDaniel had a change of heart in early December and signed with Big Ten Conference member Indiana during the early period.
WHO’S BACK: Five players who saw action in eight or more games return at the safety spots, including two starters.
Senior Julius Wood (6-2, 197) and junior Teagan Wilk (5-11, 190) manned the strong and free safety positions for most of the 2022 season. Wood opened 12 of 13 games at strong safety and led the Pirates with 88 tackles. His 47-yard interception return for a touchdown forced a tie in regulation in what would turn out to be a four-overtime win against Memphis. Wilk made 55 tackles while starting seven of 13 games at free safety. He’s now played in 31 games in three seasons at ECU.
Junior Devon King (6-0, 183) and sophomore Ty Moss (6-1, 193) finished 2022 as the backups at safety. King made 13 tackles in 12 games playing behind Wilk at free safety, while Moss had a single tackle in 12 games. He finished the season at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Wood.
Brandon Higgs (6-1, 199) made two tackles in eight games after transferring in from the junior college ranks and former Georgia Tech signee Jordan Huff (6-2, 185) is back after missing most of 2022 with an injury.
WHO’S GONE: Jireh Wilson, who was mentioned above at outside linebacker, made seven of his starts at safety and Shawn Dourseau started once in 11 games last season. Both entered the transfer portal after the season with Wilson landing at Central Florida. Dourseau is still looking for a new team.
Former running back Demetrius Mauney also entered the transfer portal after appearing in just one game on defense last season. He, too, is still looking for a new place to play.
NEEDS FOR 2023: There is plenty of safety depth now in the program and only Wood is scheduled to leave the program after the 2023 season. So there shouldn’t be a major emphasis at these positions in the next recruiting cycle.
Still, four-star Kelvin Hunter (5-11, 181) from Florence, SC, received an offer from ECU in January and Xavier McIntyre (5-11, 185) from Hough High in Huntersville, NC, was extended one of the Pirates’ most recent offers on Feb. 8.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Teagan Wilk, Berwick, PA (5-11, 190) Junior
Devon King, Belmont, NC (6-0, 183) Junior
Dontavius Nash, Gastonia, NC (6-2, 180) Sophomore
Kamaurri McKinley, Lakeland, FL (6-0, 174) Freshman
Jordan Huff, Madison, GA (6-2, 185) Sophomore
Julius Wood, Columbus, OH (6-2, 187) Senior
Ty Moss, Whiteville, NC (6-1, 193) Sophomore
Omar Rogers, Burlington, NJ (6-0, 200) Junior
Brandon Higgs, Simpsonville, SC (6-1, 199) Junior
Javion Clark, Macon, GA (6-2, 175) Freshman
Greg Turner, Ellenwood, GA (6-2, 195) Freshman
Josh Benton, Jacksonville, NC. (6-1, 196) Freshman
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Cornerback loomed as a major need for ECU even before the 2022 season began after Nolan Johnson entered the transfer portal and Ja’Quan McMillian exited early for the NFL. Both had two years of eligibility left. Throw in the fact that Damel Hickman and Malik Fleming were juniors who could also wind up leaving early, and signing at least three corners in the 2023 class was a must.
WHO SIGNED: The Pirates landed two Florida prep cornerbacks as late additions to the recruiting class on the traditional signing day on Feb. 1. Both Daylyn Diston (6-0, 175) from Lake Butler and Rico Watkins (5-11, 160) from Tallahassee had a quick courtship with ECU, receiving their offers in January and taking official visits on Jan. 27 before choosing the Pirates.
Diston was a two-way star at Union County High where he was a first-team all-area small school selection as a senior and all-area honors by the Florida Times-Union. Over three seasons on defense he made 62 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack.
Watkins was a track and football standout at James Rickards High. In football, he earned first-team All-Big Bend honors on offense and defense as a senior. Defensively, he logged 32 tackles, a sack, intercepted seven passes and recorded 10 pass breakups.
The biggest pickup for ECU at cornerback comes by the way of in-state rival North Carolina. TyMir Bown was one of the top-rated recruits in the state as a senior at Jacksonville High. He signed with UNC, but after two years in Chapel Hill he decided to enter the transfer portal and come back East to play football. It didn’t hurt that Brown’s cousin is former ECU defensive back Dakota Marshall.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Even though he played in just three games on special teams at UNC in two seasons, Brown is a college seasoned athlete who will provide immediate support at cornerback. He has excellent speed and should benefit from participating in spring practice with the Pirates.
Diston and Watkins both add speed and versatility to the cornerback corps, although they may need some time to develop physically before seeing game action.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: East Carolina was one of the first to recognize the talents of Ty Adams from Swainsboro, GA. Adams was among the first 2023 prospects to take an official visit to Greenville in June of 2022 and almost immediately offered his verbal commitment to the Pirates. But as more offers came his way the speedy three-star prospect began to look at other options. Adams finally decommitted from ECU in September and signed with North Carolina in December.
WHO’S BACK: Only three players who saw limited action at cornerback return for ECU. Junior Shavon Revel (6-2, 187) made eight tackles in nine games during his debut after transferring from Louisburg College, while junior walk-on G’Mone Wilson (6-0, 184) had two tackles in eight games. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Brown-Murray (5-9, 186) played in only three games, but was listed at No. 3 on the depth chart at one corner spot for the Birmingham Bowl.
JUCO transfer Fletcher Marshall Jr. (6-2, 192) didn’t play last season after arriving from Hutchinson Community College.
WHO’S GONE: No one position was impacted by the transfer portal as much as cornerback for ECU. The Pirates lost three veteran performers to the portal, including both starters.
Second-team All-American Athletic Conference pick Malik Fleming started all 13 games for ECU in 2022, making 41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. Fleming departed having made 31 career starts in 46 games, and with 105 tackles and six interceptions. He had yet to decide where he’ll play his final year of eligibility at press time.
Juan Powell shared the corner spot opposite Fleming with Damel Hickman. Powell started eight of 13 games last season (39 tackles, one interception) and departed ECU with 32 career games of experience and 15 overall starts. Powell has yet to find a new school, but Hickman is headed to Georgia Southern for his final year of eligibility. Hickman played in 38 games during his ECU career and made 28 tackles.
The Pirates also lost Aapri Washington, who spent his final year of eligibility in Greenville after transferring in from Buffalo. Washington made 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks while appearing in all 13 games last season.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Cornerback will again loom as a major objective for East Carolina in the Class of 2024. For depth purposes alone, the Pirates need to sign at least two corners in the class.
At least 12 prep cornerback prospects have already reported scholarship offers from East Carolina. The most recent of those were extended to Amare Sanders, a 6-1, 162-pounder from Miami, FL, Jacob Boyce (6-0, 175) from Douglasville, GA, Rondell Carter (6-0, 178) from Charlotte, NC, and Samuel Neely (6-0, 165) from Matthews, NC.
Carter, who had 77 stops as a junior at Chambers High, was in Greenville for a Junior Day event on Jan. 28. He also has offers from Georgia State, James Madison, Liberty, Marshall, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion and Rhode Island.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Isaiah Brown-Murray, Charlotte, NC (5-9, 186) Redshirt freshman
Tymir Brown, Jacksonville, NC (6-0, 180) Sophomore
Daylyn Diston, Lake Butler, FL (6-0, 175) Freshman
Rico Watkins, Tallahassee, FL (5-11, 160) Freshman
Shavon Revel, Winston-Salem, NC (6-2, 181) Junior
G’Mone Wilson, Clemmons, NC (6-0, 184) Junior
Fletcher Marshall Jr., Stuart, FL (6-2, 192) Sophomore
WHAT THEY NEEDED: This probably wasn’t an area of concern for ECU in recruiting since Luke Larsen technically has three years of eligibility remaining and David Chapeau could be around two or three more seasons.
WHO SIGNED: As we noted in the offensive report card, the Pirates are bringing in another kicker-punter in preferred walk-on Ryan Capriotti. The 5-11, 163-pounder from Our Lady of Good Counsel High in Olney, MD, averaged 41 yards per punt as a senior.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Capriotti is an excellent athlete with solid leg strength who’ll provide depth at all three aspects of the kicking game.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Doesn’t apply here since Capriotti is the only known punter-kicker ECU pursued.
WHO’S BACK: Junior Luke Larsen (6-3, 225) produced a solid season in his first year as the starter at ECU. Larsen punted 44 times for a 40.4 average and landed 14 inside the 20-yard line. Set to back up Larsen in 2023 is junior David Chapeau (6-1, 247), who joined the program from the Air Force Academy.
WHO’S GONE: No one.
NEEDS FOR 2023: Larsen and Chapeau, although both juniors, still have plenty of eligibility left, so securing a punter in the 2023 class won’t be a priority.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Luke Larsen, Keilor Park, Victoria, Australia (6-3, 225) Junior
David Chapeau, Athens, GA, (6-1, 247) Junior
Ryan Capriotti, Olney, MD (5-11, 163) Freshman
LONG SNAPPER B
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Both of ECU’s top snappers in 2022 were sophomores so there was no need in this area.
WHO SIGNED: The Pirates did pick up a quality long snapper in Brock Winstead (6-2, 260) from Raleigh, NC. Winstead is the younger brother of former ECU offensive lineman Peyton Winstead, who had to give up his football career early due to injuries. Brock has been assigned No. 57, the same number his brother wore at ECU.
HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Winstead adds more size to the long snapper position and is extremely consistent with his snaps.
BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Doesn’t apply here.
WHO’S BACK: Both Alex Harper and Colby Garfield, who finished one and two on the depth chart last season, are back. Harper (6-2, 228), a sophomore transfer from N.C. Central, played in all 13 games in 2022 and should be the starter again next fall. Garfield (6-1, 220), also a sophomore, saw action in six games last season.
WHO’S GONE: No one.
NEEDS FOR 2023: With three players in the sophomore class or below, there’s no immediate need for a long snapper in this class.
PROJECTED ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
Alex Harper, Goldsboro, NC (6-2, 228) Sophomore
Colby Garfield, Clemmons, NC (6-1, 220) Sophomore
Brock Winstead, Raleigh, NC (6-2, 260) Freshman
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE A-
The Pirates not only filled some major holes in the secondary, but they filled them with quality talent. The only area they may have missed the boat was at nose tackle. Overall, one of the most impressive defensive classes landed by ECU in some time in large part due to the transfer portal additions.
OVERALL RECRUITING CLASS GRADE B+
Again, aided by the transfer portal, this class was solid from top to bottom. It filled many of East Carolina’s immediate needs, while also building depth for the future. Best class yet for Mike Houston and his staff.