East Carolina football coach
Ruffin McNeill hit the road to recruit shortly after the Pirates
finished the 2011 season. McNeill and staff have been traveling
as much as anyone this side of the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
The ECU coach and his assistants have made their list and have
been in the process of checking it twice.
"Right now we're on schedule to sign 20 young men," McNeill said
Thursday. "We want 10 (signees) offensively and 10 defensively.
We're going to try to add at least four offensive linemen, one
quarterback, three receivers and one, possibly two, running
backs. On defense, we're trying to upload our linebacking
position at five and defensive backs at five there, too."
The Pirates have been scouring junior colleges in their talent
"We're probably going to try to add a couple of JC young men
there at the offensive line position, maybe one at wide receiver
and at the DB (defensive back) position," McNeill said. "I've
been all over. You name it and I've been there."
McNeill can't address potential recruits by name at this point
but various recruiting services indicate that ECU has recently
received a commitment from Lance Ray, a receiver at Northwest
Mississippi Community College, who initially signed at Arkansas.
Ray, who is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, had received offers from
Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern
Miss, Marshall, Troy and Middle Tennessee State. [View
thumbnails of ECU's known recruiting commitments.]
Ray appears to be on the athletic level of Lance Lewis, who
became ECU's career scoring receptions leader in 2011, and NFL
rookie Dwayne Harris, who was activated this week by the Dallas
McNeill's primary focus has been on Georgia, Florida and North
Carolina to this point.
"We haven't hit the northern part yet but that will come after
the (holiday) break," said the Pirates coach.
McNeill has had a minimum of staff transition in his two years
at ECU. That changed to a degree when former Texas Tech coach
Mike Leach accepted the coaching job at Washington State. Clay
McGuire, who served as ECU's running backs coach and special
teams coordinator, and Dennis Simmons, the Pirates' outside wide
receivers coach, both accepted opportunities to rejoin Leach's
staff at WSU. McGuire will be offensive line coach and Simmons
will continue working with receivers.
Also, Antonio Huffman, who played for Leach at Texas Tech, has
resigned as director of football operations at ECU and is
expected to emerge in a similar capacity at Washington State.
"When I hired them, I knew they were going to be attractive to
people," McNeill said. "Some people may have questioned age and
those types of things but having worked with them, I knew they
were good teachers on the field. They would get after it and
work hard in the office. The third part was recruiting. I
thought they would do a great job with that and they did.
"I knew people would come after them. It happened to be that
Coach Leach got a job. The money was at an astronomical
difference and those kinds of things. They had to do what they
had to do. I'm looking right now and moving slow. I'm going to
bring a special teams/running backs guy in and a wide receiver
guy and a director of ops guy in."
Ruff's thoughts on LSU-Alabama
The rematch between
No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will decide the
BCS national champion in New Orleans on Jan.9. McNeill
encountered some of his coaching colleagues from LSU — Brick
Haley (Tigers defensive line coach), Ron Cooper (secondary),
John "Chief" Chavis (defensive coordinator) — on the recruiting
trail this week.
"I've known those guys for a while," McNeill said. "They're good
guys and good football coaches."
It's probably a good sign for the Pirates that McNeill would be
at the same place at the same time in pursuit of players as
representatives of the nation's No. 1 program.
McNeill noted that 'Bama has a shot at the BCS title
although a 9-6 loss to LSU knocked the Crimson Tide out of even
winning the Southeastern Conference's West Division, much less
the SEC championship.
"I think that's why they say a plus one (a four-team playoff) is
needed," said the ECU coach.
The LSU trio of coaches didn't appear to be stressing over the
"They've got the talent and personnel," McNeill said. "They're
not really worried about them. Their personnel is similar — NFL
draft choices. They're excited just about getting back to the
McNeill said the Pirates will start spring practice on March 19.
The spring football game is scheduled for April 14.
ECU will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense
from a 5-7 team in 2011 that came within a whisker of becoming
bowl eligible in
a 34-27 overtime loss at Marshall in the
regular season finale on Nov. 26.
The loss of senior quarterback Dominique Davis creates a major
void in terms of leadership on the offensive side of the ball.
"The guys we have competing — Rio Johnson, Shane Carden and
Brad Wornick — have a chance to be pretty good leaders,"
McNeill said. " ... Cody (Keith) is a guy who could come in
there but I think Cody is still rehabbing from ankle surgery,
which puts him behind the rest of the guys right now. Cody is a
guy who is going to be a fine quarterback here, too, but those
guys are probably ahead of Cody, just because they're older and
they've been around and those kinds of things."
Non-conference matchups set
ECU essentially will trade Appalachian State for Virginia Tech
on its nonconference schedule for 2012, as compared to the
competition the Pirates faced outside of Conference USA in 2011.
The Pirates will play South Carolina in Columbia next season on
a date to be announced. ECU will host ASU, where McNeill spent
seven years as an assistant, on Sept. 8. Pirates associate head
coach and inside linebackers coach John Wiley was on the
Mountaineers staff from 1993 to 2009.
ECU will play North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sept.22. Navy
will come to Greenville on Oct. 27.