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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 7, 2008

By Al Myatt

Holtz procures 'glue' for the ranks

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

It will be some time before most members of the 2008 football signing class are expected to have an opportunity to contribute on the playing field for the East Carolina program.

An exception may be wide receiver Dayon Arrington, who has been developing his skills at Hargrave Military Academy. His assets include a 31-inch vertical jump and a 300-pound bench press. At 6-foot-2 with his leaping ability, he has the potential to win jump balls with defensive backs — a much-desired commodity.

Offensive lineman T.J. Harper enrolled at ECU in January after transferring from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

There was more news on signing day regarding players who could make immediate impacts. Terence Campbell, an offensive lineman who started every game as a redshirt freshman in 2006 before being stricken with a serious heart ailment that required surgery before spring practice in 2007, has been cleared to return to the program.

It also appears that Rodney Cox, a multi-talented quarterback who enrolled at ECU after an outstanding career at Harnett Central, has made sufficient academic progress this year to join the program as a freshman this fall. The 6-foot-6 Cox will likely be a tight end for the Pirates.

Speaking of position moves, Pirates coach Skip Holtz said that D.J. McFadden had expressed a desire to get out of the logjam for playing time at quarterback and join the receiving corps. McFadden played in the outstanding program at Charlotte Independence that also produced ECU running back Dominique Lindsay.

Coaches' takes have varied

East Carolina football coaches have had varying reactions on signing day that have ranged from Steve Logan's low key approach to the hype generated by John Thompson.

Coach Holtz is about equal distance between his two predecessors in terms of his treatment of the official announcement of signees.

Logan wisely wanted to reserve judgment on signing classes.

"I can tell you in five years how good this class is," was Logan's standard quote. He used former South Carolina coach Brad Scott as an example when it came to illustrating the dangers of portraying a recruiting class in terms that were too glowing. Scott had highly-rated recruiting classes but that didn't translate into success on the field.

Logan was lower than low key when it came to talking about incoming players. One year he held his signing day news conference in his office — a far cry from the tailgating event that took place Wednesday at the Murphy Center.

Logan used to track his signing classes. A class that eventually produced a graduation rate over 50 percent and six to seven starters was a productive one in his evaluation.

Logan was wary of generating unfair expectations for his young players as they made the transition from high school to college, which often included a journey into virtual obscurity in the form of a redshirt year.

Thompson's personality was 180 degrees from Logan's. Thompson's approach to signing day may have been influenced by Logan's reluctance to connect with fans and media. If a coach's excitement and enthusiasm could have been translated into wins, Thompson's record at ECU would have been much better than 3-20.

Thompson brought promotion to signing day with fan gatherings at the Murphy Center. The events included food, comments from the coach and video highlights of the incoming players. He did get the fans excited about the future at a time when morale around the program had ebbed.

Signing day celebrations have remained long after Thompson's departure. ECU fans don't need much of an excuse to get together where football is concerned and it has become a popular date on the Pirate sports calendar. ECU is closer to the football orientation of the Southeastern Conference, where signing day is something like an old-fashioned Fourth of July in terms of fervor, than the Pirates' hoops-conscious ACC brethren.

The new crew on the Pirate ship

One of the Internet sites that focuses on recruiting,, rated ECU's incoming class No. 92 among 120 Bowl Subdivision teams. Forty-four percent of the new class will perform on the trenches.

"It's hard to make a national splash with a lot of offensive and defensive linemen," said Holtz who signed five offensive linemen and three defensive linemen.

The Pirates were rated ninth among Conference USA teams, which ranged from Southern Miss at No. 50 nationally, to UAB at No. 104.

"We're at a point where the emphasis has turned to increasing the bulk on our offensive and defensive lines," Holtz said. "We need beef in the program with program-type players who develop and are here for the duration. It's a smaller class, but when you have the opportunity to redshirt 19 players last year who were predominantly skill performers, our needs shift in this direction."

After three seasons that have produced a 22-17 record, Holtz said his staff wasn't trying to plug leaks in its recruiting efforts for the first time since arriving in Greenville.

"I just felt like where our team is right now we needed a class of glue," Holtz said. "They come in with the character and the attitude and the work habits and those type of things. I feel like we filled those voids.

"This is probably the first year in recruiting where we went out and we weren't trying to fill an immediate need this upcoming season. I've said time and time again when you're playing with true freshmen, you're asking for trouble."

Over half of the incoming class is from North Carolina.

"This is where it starts," Holtz said. "Eleven of the 18 are from North Carolina. That's been our battle cry. We were going to recruit the state of North Carolina first. We do have the name on our jersey. When you look at East Carolina, this is where we are.

"We're going to recruit this as home and I think that has so many positives that go into your program with players playing in front of their home state — their family, their friends from home, from high school and everything else. There's a pride that goes along with it."

There is a sprinkling of skill position personnel that may emerge in the future. Receiver Jacobi Jenkins of Rocky Mount impressed the ECU coaches in summer camp. Even though his team didn't throw a lot, he was the go-to receiver.

Versatile Adrian Jones from Scotland County has sprinter's speed and is regarded by as one of the top 150 receivers nationwide.

Josh Jordan, a quarterback from Louisiana, became a recruiting target after initially committing to Iowa State. Joe Womack from Jacksonville Northside was a Shrine Bowl selection with a versatility that will allow him to make the transition from quarterback on the prep level to receiver at ECU.

Revising the sales pitch

When Thompson and staff were at ECU, they enticed recruits with the possibility of immediate playing time because the team was struggling to such a degree competitively. Holtz and staff have not used that ploy.

"The No. 1 thing that every recruit told me when I asked what he liked most about his visit was the attitude of the team, the togetherness of these players ... and they want to be part of that type of program," Holtz said. "That's more important than the guy who says, "I've got to be a four-year starter.' That's why I talk about this class being a program class.

"The offensive and defensive linemen are going to come in, redshirt, develop, get with Coach (Mike) Golden (strength coach) for a year. You look at a guy like Josh Clark who is (265) pounds now. He's going to be 280 pounds a couple of years from now. Will Towery, a tight end who signed last year and redshirted. came in seven months ago at 255 pounds and he's 282 pounds right now."

There are not openings for immediate playing time for incoming freshmen unless players already in the program become injured, fail to perform according to their skills and experience or, because of some other factor, forfeit their position on the depth chart.

Holtz said creating the expectation of the possibility of playing time for younger players is unethical and potentially damaging to the program.

"They become disgruntled and become distractions on the field because you lied to them in recruiting," he said. "We've been very open, very honest with them. We've told them we'd like to bring them in and redshirt them. It's not about chasing a bunch of stars. It's about bringing in the players who best fit your needs.

"If we had a lot of holes to fill — don't get me wrong — I'd be out there telling somebody, "We need somebody to come in here and play right away."

The fact that Holtz and staff didn't have to resort to that approach speaks volumes about the players who are coming in in terms of the commitment they have to develop and wait their turn to contribute.

It's also a statement about the progress of the program under Holtz's leadership.

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02/28/2008 12:51:58 AM


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