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Thursday, August 11, 2011
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Features Writer & Bonesville The Magazine Editor

Ruff & Co. strike a chord
with prep, juco coaches

Recruits' mentors welcome ECU
staff's persistence, open-door policy

Note from the editor: The Tenth Anniversary Edition of Bonesville The Magazine has rolled off the presses. Both the traditional print version and the online Flash version of the magazine may be ordered through links elsewhere on this page. Among the wide-ranging features in its 100 pages are in-depth profiles of the members of East Carolina's newest class of recruits. In this article, Ron Cherubini, the magazine's editor, offers some candid excerpts from his conversations with the newcomers' high school and junior college coaches.

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.

Each year, as 20-25 prep and junior college football standouts officially pledge their allegiance to East Carolina football, it represents the culmination of, in some cases, two to three years of effort from the coaching staff. Recruiting is a tough endeavor, as seasoned coaches must find ways to connect to boys who many times have a whole different perspective on the world.

It is a humbling experience, for sure. For some coaches, it means compromising ethics by promising the world to kids, knowing that world cannot be delivered. For other coaches it means trying to learn a whole new lexicon just to talk to these kids.

For ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, it means sticking to some core principles that may not always win over the 5-star recruit, but will allow the coach to go to bed at night knowing he was nothing less than honest with a would-be Pirate.

As McNeill and his staff connected with a solid class for 2011 — his real first full recruiting class — the former Pirate star may be learning that his coaching staff is built with a rare combination of qualities in their approach to recruiting: adhering to principle and able to understand the very kids they are courting.

While McNeill is no young'un, his OC and DC and all but a few of his staff members are youngbloods, many who were playing at a high level not all that long ago. Not burdened with the need to learn what makes these kids tick, the staff already knows the lingo of today’s youngsters. Alternately, this young staff also has enough collective experience to know how to implement McNeill’s recruiting philosophies: 1) Recruit good people first; 2) be honest; 3) lock down the kids who want to be Pirates; and, 4) represent ECU’s family on the field model.

And, it is working, at least if some of the prep and JUCO coaches who saw the recruiting first hand in 2010 are to be believed.

In the 2011 edition of Bonesville The Magazine, you have the opportunity to hear from the players why they chose East Carolina. Now, read a sampling of what their coaches thought of the ECU coaches and the manner in which they handle themselves on the recruiting trail.

Coach Gene Murphy – Hinds Community College (MS)

Player: OLB Chris Baker

“I think that Chris’s major reason he chose East Carolina is that those coaches did a jam up job from beginning to end with him. The head coach was here several times and they really did their homework on Chris. And, they finished… they did that, meaning they stayed on it until Chris decided and then after that, too. Chris recognized and appreciated that

“I always tell our kids, when they are trying to decide on an offer, ‘Go where you feel the most wanted.’ ECU showed that to him consistently. Chris felt like ECU wanted him the most.

“What I appreciate the most is being kept informed and they did that. And, they established a relationship with our program… they have an open door for (coaches) which is appreciated as well.”

Coach Darnell Moore – Bayside High School (VA)

Player: DE Jeton Beavers

I thought the ECU coaches worked well with Jeton and they stayed in contact with him and with me. You could see the effort they put in to forge a relationship with him and that is so important more than anything in today’s recruiting world because — if you do that, if you forge that relationship, then when the player gets to the school, the coaches can bring them in and provide them both love and discipline and the player accepts both.

“I think that (ECU) made the experience a good one for Jeton and, really, for (our program) as well. We keep up with (the ECU coaches) and now have other D1 players that they are looking at. They are very accessible which is great because sometimes the access is only as long as they are trying to get a specific player, but at ECU, the coaches all make themselves available to us (prep coaches).”


Coach Greg Hill – Ashbrook High School (NC)


Player: LB Zeek Bigger


ECU did a fantastic job of recruiting Zeek, they really did. They were courteous and called a lot, they were persistent in a positive manner. I enjoyed working with ECU when Coach (Skip) Holtz was there and Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatrick was on his staff. It was good then, but I am really high on how this ECU staff handles themselves. They are respectful of the (prep) coaches and looped me in to what they were doing with Zeek and very much involved my staff in the process.

“They wanted to know our opinions on our player and it seems they took our opinions into account as they proceeded to recruit Zeek. You know, one of the things that really, really impressed me was that football really was the last thing that they seemed interested in and mentioned. They really focused first and foremost on Zeek’s grades, what type of person he was, what kind of family values he had, what kind of citizen he was… it really was impressive.

“As for access to them beyond recruiting, they have accommodated everything we have asked of them, so much so that my staff and I are scheduled to go over and spend a day watching them at work.”


Coach Dennis Orlando – ASA College (NY)

: LB Joseph Blanks

“The ECU staff was great. They were bluntly honest with us about JoJo’s situation and where he fit into their recruiting needs board, if you will. They explained to him what he needed to do to make it happen. That honesty was greatly appreciated by JoJo and really by us as a staff. They did a great job with JoJo building a real trust with him and with us as a staff. They kept us informed and part of the process and they made sure to let us know that they were only a phone call away if I ever needed anything or wanted to talk football.”

Coach John Wilkinson – Cocoa High School (FL)

Player: RB Chevelle Buie

“Chevelle had 24 offers. But Coaches (Lincoln) Riley and (Clay) McGuire, they are young coaches who could relate well to Chevelle. They were close enough to their own playing days to be in real touch with an 18-year getting all of the attention he was getting.  When Coach McNeill came down here, we talked and learned that we both run similar programs (philosophically). And Coach McNeill knew how to talk to Chevelle’s mom in a way that instilled confidence in her about the school. And Coach Riley… I liked that Riley was honest to me from the beginning and kept me in the loop the whole time. He contacted me when Chevelle was on his visit just like he told me he would. He is a very good communicator so there were no surprises and everyone was on the same page. Coach Riley… I text him… we keep in touch. Coach Ruff, I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but I will. I definitely felt like I bonded with Lincoln.”

Coach Randy Robinson – D.W. Daniel High School (SC)

Player: WR Antonio Cannon

“The ECU coaching staff was great. Donnie (Kirkpatrick) came in and quickly evaluated Antonio and then then went back to the (ECU) staff and presented what he saw. And, it wasn’t long before Lincoln (Riley) was down here, really visiting with Antonio. You know, ECU has a great coach there (in Coach Ruffin McNeill) and his young coaches are definitely good. They invited to their camp and we were very appreciative of the offer. We have worked with Donnie before and there is trust there.”

Coach Dee Bell – Parkland High School (NC)

Player: RB Chris Hairston

The ECU guys did a real good job recruiting Chris and our whole program really. The coaches were here often and made sure that his commitment was strong. They really showed well to all of us. They kept me in the loop and always took the time to come by when they were in town. They definitely have an open door for us. They have a good group of guys and have a good reputation in our area.”

Coach Tom Knotts – Dutch Fork High School (SC)

Player: OT Ike Harris

“Honestly, I didn’t know much about Ike’s recruiting. He was offered early, at a combine. But, I know that Donnie Kirkpatrick coached Ike’s father at South Carolina and went (the route of contacting his father). I knew Ike would get an offer or two. I don’t really like recruiting that way, but being new here, I am glad that it worked out. I didn’t have a problem with how it happened for Ike and when I found out about the (ECU) offer, I urged him to commit because I believe ECU is a really good fit for him.”

Coach Kenya Fouch – T.L. Hanna High School (SC)

Player: DB Glen Hilliard

“ECU does a great job around here. They really had Glen believing in what they are building up there at East Carolina. Their recent success — the championships — really helped. Glen really believed in the coaches and they made him feel he was important to them and the program. I will tell you… my entire offensive staff has been to ECU to meet the coaches and see how they do things. Blake Williamson is my offensive coordinator and he played for Coach Donnie Kirkpatrick at South Carolina so that connection is a very good one between our programs. And, when ECU coaches tell you to call them, they mean it. You know, every coach that comes in here says that, but very few really mean it. ECU’s guys mean that and they get back to you. That is appreciated around here.”

Coach Frank Ambrose – Piedmont High School (NC)

Player: OL Stewart Hinson

I like the young staff there at ECU. Coach (Brandon) Jones was very easy going and honest. When a coach is honest with me and the kid, it shows. They have a very wholesome, great staff and we are looking forward to not only seeing how Stewart does, but how this (ECU) staff builds that program there.”

Coach Ken Avent Jr. – James Kenan High School (NC)

Player: DL Dontrill Hyman

“Dontrill really liked Coach (Ruffin) McNiell and Coach (Lincoln) Riley right from the start. ... Dontrill really wanted to be close to home so his momma can get to the games so it was a big relief that he and the coaches connected so well.”.

Coach Daniel O’Dea – Cheshire Academy (CT)

Player: QB Cody Keith

“I have not had a chance to speak with Coach (Ruffin) McNeill yet. Now when that happens, I will be really glad to tell him with how great Lincoln Riley is. My experience was exclusively with Lincoln and we talked right after Cody (Keith) was offered. And we talked in detail, not just coach talk. We talked about the intangibles. Lincoln asked me to come down to Greenville and I plan to take him up on that offer. We have a play in the Playbook called ECU now which used to be called Texas Tech from when Mike (Leach) was there. But now, it’s called ECU. Meeting Lincoln was a great introduction to ECU’s program. We really appreciated when Lincoln came up at the end of the season and spent the day with us… he has a great football mind.”

Coach Steve Mooshagian – Ventura Community College (CA)

Player: DE John Lattimore

“First, Coach (Cary) Godette was very, very thorough on administrative matters so John had no questions about what he needed to do to go there and play for them. He was very helpful. And, for me, when I was at Fresno, I coached against Coach (Brian) Mitchell when he was at BYU. I have to say, Coach (Marc) Yellock was very, very good with John. He and John really connected and it was really the two of them just talking about techniques and how to play the position. John was very comfortable with Coach Yellock.

“My conversations with Coach (Ruffin) McNeill were very good. I had met Ruffin at Fresno State, my alma mater, so really I kind of already knew the staff there (at ECU), so we already had a trust level. The four coaches we worked with were all very professional and very good with John. They were honest and are giving John a fair and good opportunity. They are all very much welcome here any time.”

Coach Kevin Allen – Nansemond Suffolk Academy (VA)

Player: S Domonique Lennon

“I was very, very impressed with East Carolina and how they approach players and specifically Domonique. I tell all of my kids and there has been a lot of them, when I am part of their decision process for college, that you listen and you decide based on what is best for you all around. And, once you have decided, you go where you committed. One of the things I was very impressed with was the commitment to the person. When I finished talking with Coach (Brian) Mitchell and Coach (John) Wiley, I told Domonique that I thought that is where he should go. Domonique was already ahead of me because that was where he wanted to go. The coaches at ECU did a great job helping Domonique understand how East Carolina fit both his athletic and academic needs.”

Coach Chris Scott – Ocean Lakes High School (VA)

Player: OL Chaz Lowery

The ECU staff is first class all the way. They assessed (Lowery) and identified him as an offer guy. They were back up here within two weeks of assessing him with an offer in hand and they continued to recruit him — invited him to camps — throughout. And, they were very consistent on keeping me and his family informed each step of the way.

“You know, Chaz lost his father when he was a sophomore and the ECU coaches recognized that they needed to keep Chaz’s mom informed (more so than when a dad is around). They did a great job with his mother and she felt very comfortable with the ECU coaches. That paid off because Chaz really didn’t consider some of the schools that came after him at the end there.

“For our program, the ECU coaches extended invitations to our staff to see their process for building a program and have invited us to watch film any time we like. That is really appreciated and we plan to take advantage of it. They follow through on their promises and that is big for us here.”

Coach Lou Geary – Person High School (NC)

Player: OL Tre Robertson

“You know, obviously, with Jake playing there, I am very familiar with the coaching staff at ECU and they are very good at recruiting through an honest approach that works for a lot of these kids. They have a family atmosphere there that they sell and a lot of players are looking for that.”

Coach Johnny Roscoe – Northern Guilford High School (NC)

Player: DB Rocco Scarfone

“ECU did an excellent job recruiting Rocco. Skip (Holtz) was a friend of mine since I was in South Carolina so long and I know that Coach Ruffin McNeill is a similar type of person. The family atmosphere they have there at ECU really sets them apart from many other programs. Both the players and the parents pick up on that feeling and it makes a difference.

“I will visit ECU (in the summer). We (prep coaches) recognize that it is difficult for the head coach to speak to every one of us, but ECU’s coaches, as a group, do a very good job of it and that is going to help then in North Carolina. They are such an impressionable staff… you just can’t turn them down when they come in (to your school). Now that they are (entrenched), I think that they will get better and better and the results will show it.”

Coach Roman Kelly – South Brunswick High School (NC)

Player: DT Terrell Stanley

“ECU’s staff was great with us. They even opened up their position meetings to us to let us see how they manage them. They invited us to spring and made us feel like we were part of their program. I can’t say enough about how Coach (Clay) McGuire worked with Terrell (Stanley) …all the coaches really were just great with us.”

Coach John Lancaster – West Carteret High School (NC)

Player: C C.J. Struyk

“Even though C.J. (Struyk) really, really wanted to play for East Carolina and was committed to going there no matter what, the way that Coach (Ruffin) McNeill treated him was as if C.J. was a scholarship player. C.J.’s dad asked Coach Ruff if his son would have a chance to play, and (McNeill) he told him that C.J. is in the mix at center, not just at deep snapper. Ruff said that center was a key issue for his team. Coach McNeill was great with C.J. and his family.”

Coach Wayne Jones – High Point Central High School (NC)

Player: DL John White

“Once John talked to Coach Ruff, he was sold on ECU. There was such a good family atmosphere at ECU. John felt welcomed by Coach (Brian) Mitchell and Coach (Marc) Yellock… John took to those two men quickly. Really, John wanted to be in that family… in ECU’s program.

“As far as us, we definitely feel like we have an open door with the ECU coaches. I went to watch their first spring practice. They are a very open staff, they really are. They stayed with us late talking football. We watched films and asked questions. You get a sense  that they want to keep the best athletes in North Carolina, (they) want them to want to come to ECU. And they will succeed at that.”.

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08/11/2011 05:35 AM


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