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Bonesville Magazine, Vol. III, Teaser No. 2
Monday, August 9, 2004
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Florida contingent looking to spark new era of success

By Ron Cherubini

Pat Dye reflects on all things East Carolina
Florida contingent looking to spark era of success
Lessons learned from a young football Pirate

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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate



Their names are Slate, Lamb, Millbrook, Johnson, and Hicks. They are Walsh, Santos, and Vogelbach... Hodges and Riley. And there is Robinson, Davis, Belford, Grier, and the Williamses — Mike and Travis, no relation. Count ‘em, 16 of the 31 incoming East Carolina recruits are from Florida.

They are aware that they are among an unusually large same-state contingent. They don’t necessarily all know each other, though many have played against one another. Some met randomly in the airport, on the plane, en route to their official visit. All, generally, were taken in by the hometown feel of East Carolina and the football first attitude they saw in Greenville.

But more than Sharing a destination for their collegiate careers, they all do sense the urgency at ECU that turned John Thompson and his coaches to Florida, a state renowned for its annual crop of top talent and a place where J.T. and his coaches are familiar faces — particularly Jerry Odom, whose father is a prep coaching legend in Florida.

Who could blame them? Consider that among the prep players from Florida, they represent a collective 97-50 record, four state champions, and a host of post-season accolades. In short, Thompson and his coaches went primarily for winners, and this class, in large part, is full of them.

And, collectively, these new Pirates share — to varying degrees — a feeling of brotherhood and pride. For some, there are Florida connections from last year’s class and for others, the connections go back farther... and for others the natural kinship of their home state has forged new bonds.

“My host for my official visit was one of a kind,” Melbourne High product Zach Slate said. “Josh Coffman (another Florida product from the 2002 class) was a great, great guy and we became good friends. And my roommate Mike Williams (Orlando Boone 2003) got to be friends and (we) will room together this season.”

For Mike Williams, he was lured to ECU by his old teammate at Boone, all-everything punter Ryan Dougherty (2001).

“I was looking forward to ECU because of Ryan,” Williams said. “With Ryan, Josh Coffman and Zach (Slate), I feel real comfortable.”

For incoming quarterback Josh Vogelbach of Bishop Verot High, the bonds went futher back when he reunited with former youth football teammate Bobby Good.

“It feels so good to have an old friend back,” Vogelbach said. “I have a connection with Bobby from when we played together in Florida before he moved.”

For many of the Florida players, the large group really serves to provide a sense of home, a group of guys who can understand “how they feel” when things aren’t going so well.

“There are a lot of guys from Florida and it will make it feel a little more like home up there,” Trinity Christian lineman Zach Davis said.

Lyman defensive lineman Mark Robinson echoed Davis’ thoughts.

“I feel a lot more comfortable having other guys from home around me,” Robinson said.

Josh Grier and Travis Williams, both from Atlantic High, come at it from different angles.

“It’s really weird up there,” defensive back Williams said. “Half the football team is from Florida. There is definitely a bond there and that should help us make the (transition to college).”

Grier is more direct.

“I think a lot of us guys from Florida might being able to help right off the bat,” he said.

Running back Chris Johnson, of Olympia High, just knows that he has a sense of support from his fellow Floridians.

“With a lot of us coming from the same place, we’ve played against each other and know each other,” Johnson said. “And even if we don’t know each other, it’s good that we come from the same place.”

For Monsignor Pace defensive back J.J. Millbrook, the fact that a large group of Floridians is coming in isn’t as big a deal. There is something more important to him.

“I don’t care where (we) come from as long as (we) are good,” Millbrook said. “They have to be good and I believe we all better contribute at East Carolina.”

Teammate and incoming frosh Durwin Lamb senses something among his comrades.

“Hey, it’s Florida pride on the line here,” the linebacker said. “We need to uphold the reputation (of the state).”

Lake Worth product Steve Belford, like Johnson, senses the natural ties.

“There really is a bond between us Florida guys,” he said. “I helps me to know that I am not the only one going so far from home. We all know we are not alone up there. It makes me feel like everything will be alright. We all want to come up and change things at East Carolina.”

Defensive lineman Fred Hicks, from state champion Seffner Armwood, shares that desire.

“We are coming ready to play and win at ECU,” Hicks said. “The Florida guys are coming.”

Ted Riley, of American Heritage High, takes comfort in his Florida teammates.

“It gives me a feeling of being back home and that will make it easier for me to concentrate on football and school. It gives me a little bit of home up there.”

For Richie Santos, a lineman from Deltona High, the Florida-dominated class not only makes for a comfort zone, but it also gives him the backup he needs to come in confident.

“It makes it perfect, for me,” Santos said of the concentration of Floridians. “I saw a lot of the guys in the Central Florida All-Star game on my visit and a bunch signed. I feel like, together, we can help a lot in turning East Carolina around.”

Fellow lineman Paul Walsh of North Florida Christian is banking on the talent in the Florida ranks as well.

“Florida is always regarded as the top high school football state in the country,” he said. “After we beat California, I feel like that Florida does have the best. It is a respect thing that we all carry with us. But, we now have to prove that we are the best up there at East Carolina.”

It should not be taken from their comments that they don’t want to or will not assimilate into their new team. Instead, take from it that this is a very confident, very vocal set of young new Pirates who see last season’s 1-11 as nothing more than a new challenge to be dealt with. Nearly to the player, this group of Floridians signed to play with East Carolina because of the opportunity to come in and play early, if not right away, as Pirates.

Now, it is just up to them to see if they can deliver on the promise that Florida prep football seemingly makes each year.

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02/23/2007 02:06:59 PM

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