Good football coaches have an eye for special talent, even when it’s still developing.
Rodney Mooney, the head coach at Wilson High in Florence, SC, witnessed a play three years ago in a state playoff game that convinced him Jyron Waiters had the skill that would someday earn him a chance to play major-college football.
Waiters, a sophomore who rotated between quarterback and receiver during the regular season, took a kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter against South Aiken, which was a No. 1 seed in the Class AAAA playoffs. Wilson would lose the first-round game, 28-14, but Waiters’ play was a silver lining for Mooney.
“He absolutely just motors past everybody (on kickoff return),” Mooney said. “His vision was just unbelievable. I remember saying, ‘Yeah, this kid is going to be a college football player. He’s going to be big time.’ ”
While it’s too soon to tell what kind of college player Waiters will be, Mooney was correct about him playing at college football’s highest level.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound wide receiver announced his intention June 26 to become part of East Carolina’s football recruiting Class of 2024, choosing the Pirates over Central Michigan. Waiters also entertained scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Howard, James Madison, Liberty, Navy, N.C. A&T, N.C. Central, Old Dominion and The Citadel before opting for ECU.
Mooney had just been hired as Wilson’s head coach in April after serving as offensive coordinator at Woodland High. He had heard good things upon his arrival about Waiters’ athletic abilities. As a freshman, he posted times of 11.51 and 11.56 seconds in the 100-meter dash during track season and produced a long jump of 18 feet, 9 inches.
But Waiters had yet to distinguish himself on the football field after playing just three varsity games at receiver as a freshman.
“What is funny is when I first worked with him, we were working in the quarterback zone,” Mooney said. “He told me, ‘Coach, I don’t mind quarterback, but receiver is my thing.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll make sure that we get you there and let you do your thing.’ He was so upbeat.”
Waiters would split time between quarterback and receiver as a sophomore. He completed nine of 23 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, rushed 106 yards and three scores and caught 27 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. The all-around effort earned Waiters a spot on the All-Region VI 4A second team.
After the football season, Waiters was also a member of Wilson High’s basketball team that won the state AAAA championship.
Back on the gridiron as a junior, Waiters claimed first-team all-region honors. Working primarily at his preferred position of wide receiver, he caught 40 passes for 652 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
It was during that junior campaign that East Carolina’s coaching staff began courting Waiters.
“They would call and contact him and ask him about coming to (summer) camp,” Mooney said. Waiters obliged by attending ECU’s camp in mid-June. A week later he was offered a scholarship by the Pirates. Just days after taking an official recruiting visit to Greenville on June 22, Waiters announced his intentions to become a Pirate.
“I think the coaching staff is amazing up there,” Mooney said. “They run a first-class program. Every time the coaches came by our school, or he’s been on campus, they’ve always been loving and caring about seeing him become a better player. So, I think when he went up there (for official visit), he was like ‘Hey, this is a really good fit.’ ”
Waiters was asked to perform multiple roles as a senior for the Tigers. Rotating between quarterback (6-for-18 passing for 159 yards, TD), receiver (7 catches, 90 yards) and safety (13 tackles), he still earned all-region honors and was selected to participate in the 76th Touchstone Energy Cooperatives North-South All-Star game on Dec. 9.
“His stats may not have been as good as they were the previous two seasons,” Mooney said. “But a lot of that was because we had to use him in so many different areas.
“I go back about five weeks and he comes in after our starting and backup quarterbacks got knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. He played exceptionally well. So as far as production, he still produced for us like the athlete he is.”
Waiters is on schedule to graduate from Wilson in December and is expected to join the Pirates for spring practice. Mooney said ECU isn’t only getting a dynamic athlete, but a quality individual as well.
“He is a high character, hardworking, team player who shows up every day without excuses,” Mooney said. “He’s made tremendous grades. He’s well spoken. He has great leadership skills. He constantly does his job to the best of his abilities. That’s why I’m excited for him to go to ECU. I think that’s a great fit for him. I know when he gets on campus in January, he’s going to turn heads and do great things.”