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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 4, 2010

By Al Myatt

ECU's recruiting class gets 'Ruff' love

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By Al Myatt
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GREENVILLE — The recruiting insiders may not have been overwhelmed by East Carolina's football signing class but new Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill, in his unique style, has expressed his love for them. ranks all 120 programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of the total talent they have procured and places the Pirates at an unflattering 101st. Only Rice, at 102, and UAB, at 111, are behind ECU among Conference USA teams.

One factor that is not evaluated is how effectively a program fills its needs. Nor do the recruiting services consider the extenuating circumstances that McNeill faced in terms of keeping a class together after Skip Holtz's departure to South Florida.

"I love the bunch we have," McNeill said at a media briefing in the defensive meeting room of the Ward Sports Medicine Building on Wednesday afternoon. " ... I like these guys we have to fit that offensive side."

McNeill has brought along former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to run the same sort of "Air Raid" attack that helped the Red Raiders upset Texas and shake up the BCS championship picture in 2008.

"Defensively, we'll need a lot of athleticism," McNeill said. "We want to do a lot of pressure things defensively and (on special teams). ... I'm very pleased with the athleticism and the balance of this group."

McNeill may not have the same degree of commitment to redshirting that Holtz possessed. He visited almost all of the signing class announced on Wednesday and urged them to set lofty personal goals.

"I challenged all of them to prepare to start," McNeill said. "There's no entitlement here. Nobody's entitled to anything here. ... We're not predetermining redshirts here at all. I told each family in each home that and I meant that."

McNeill conceded that offensive linemen generally do need a maturation period on the college level and that skill position players are more likely to emerge earlier in their college careers.

"I am anticipating some of those guys being able to do some things," McNeill said. "We'll make sure we're smart in choosing those guys in such a way that they are very productive."

The new coaching staff's Texas ties helped reel in quarterback Shane Carden from Episcopal High in Bellaire, TX, who led his team to a state title. Quarterback will obviously be an important position with the departure of Patrick Pinkney, who helped the Pirates to two straight Conference USA championships.

The future looked promising in terms of offensive leadership with Dominique Davis, a former Boston College quarterback, scheduled to transfer in from Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, but Davis did not enroll for the spring semester.

McNeill read a prepared statement when asked about Davis's status.

"As you know, we had a (junior college) quarterback sign a national letter of intent (NLI) in December," McNeill stated. "The NLI was for spring, 2010. The quarterback did not enroll at East Carolina for this spring semester. As a result, the NLI is now null and void. The quarterback is now considered a recruit.

"With that said, NCAA regulations prohibit any further discussions or comments about this young man."

Still, the ECU book on Davis may not be closed. Davis has indicated through other means of communication that he intends to join the Pirate program later. Seven new players are already enrolled.

Although Davis apparently won't be on hand to go through the learning process in spring practice, the quarterback cupboard is far from bare. Josh Jordan played sparingly behind Pinkney last season and rising redshirt freshman Rio Johnson figures to get a good look.

ECU also signed Desi Brown, a former South Stanly standout, who moved to Missouri for his senior year and led Webster Groves to a 13-0 record and a Class 5 state championship. The Pirates also added Eastern Alamance quarterback Lamar Ivey to the signing class, although he may be moved to wide receiver to take advantage of his outstanding speed.

McNeill said the coaching staff will be looking at film and making evaluations on the field in spring practice in the process of finding a quarterback.

As recruiting goes forward in the McNeill era, the spread passing game and attacking defense should attract recruits. Of the 18 signings announced on Wednesday, nine are listed as defensive players, seven are regarded as offensive players and two fall into the multi-purpose athlete category.

McNeill said he could see excitement, even in the offensive linemen, when he talked to the recruits during his home visits about the styles of play his program will utilize.

McNeill said ECU will typically play a 4-3 defense although he acknowledged the necessity for nickel and dime defensive back packages in Conference USA.

The new coach said he felt at home in making his whirlwind tour of visits to lock down the new class.

"I've been in coaching for 29 years and I've been in homes in probably every state in the nation, and this was probably the most comfortable I've been making a sales pitch," McNeill said.

The reason is that McNeill is an ECU graduate and he can tell potential players first hand about the benefits of the Pirate experience.

McNeill has continued his education since leaving his alma mater. One thing he said he had learned was to leave house buying decisions up to his wife, Erlene.

"I bought a house and I could reach here to the bedroom and here to the kitchen," McNeill said. "I thought it was a great house but that was 29 years ago and she's never let me forget it."

For the time being, McNeill is content with his hotel accommodations in Greenville.

"If you want a new coach, let me buy a house — because my wife will barbecue me," he said. "I will obey her commands (on purchasing a home)."

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02/04/2010 04:31 AM


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