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No. 37

With Ron Cherubini

Cedric Van Buren

The Model of Consistency

Cedric Van Buren’s understated style belied
the talent he was on the field for ECU

By Ron Cherubini

East Carolina's Cedric Van Buren (33) sprints away from a pursuing Illinois player during a 1991 game at Memorial Stadium in Urbana-Champaign. The game, which resulted in ECU's only defeat that season, ended amid controversy over a call by a Big Ten official that aborted the final drive of a furious rally that would have given the Pirates the victory. The Big Ten office subsequently issued an apology for the call.

(Photo: ECU Media Relations)

With all of the flashiness displayed by the likes of Jeff Blake, Dion Johnson, Luke Fisher, and Hunter Gallimore in East Carolina's thrilling 1991 Peach Bowl Championship victory, it might have been easy to forget the consistent, workman-like contributions of Cedric Van Buren. In contrast to his more famous colleagues, Van Buren’s football style was understated, quiet, and subtle, yet his game was no less exceptional.

Van Buren still is understated as a man. He works hard at what he wants to do in his life and he doesn’t worry about a whole lot of things otherwise. Living in Charleston, SC, with wife NaPrell and son Malcolm, Van Buren works at Nucor Steel and owns a pair of side businesses — a photography studio and a modeling agency. And, as ever, he is still the avid football fan and student of the game.

[Story continues below this special Van Buren audio feature.]


Cedric Van Buren, East Carolina's nuts 'n bolts & bread 'n butter running back during the program's memorable 1991 season, spoke at length with's Ron Cherubini about topics past and present. Click the 'Play' control ( > ) on the Windows Media Mini-Player below to cue up a play list of 6 clips in which Van Buren comments on:

  • The Pirates' magic 1991 season
  • The Peach Bowl & former ECU coach Steve Logan
  • Former ECU coach Bill Lewis
  • The decision to end his career early
  • ECU's hiring of Skip Holtz as football coach
  • The importance of being prepared

INSTRUCTIONS: Click the 'Play' control (>) to cue up the 6-part play list. Click the 'Next' ( >| ) and 'Back' ( |< ) controls to skip from clip to clip.

Get Windows Media Player

Meticulous in his preparation, Van Buren’s commitment to playing every down as it should be played from whistle to whistle was on display in that Peach Bowl game. Van Buren scored the Pirates’ first touchdown and then late in the game, came up with one of the biggest fumble recoveries in ECU history when he pounced on a Dion Johnson gaff to preserve a drive and keep the comeback going.

Despite having to end his career just a few games into his senior season, Van Buren’s mark was indelibly left on ECU. He could be the prototype player for success at ECU… a talented kid willing to outwork, out-prepare, and outthink the opponent.

Van Buren was always that type of football player… from a very young age.

Football in the blood

“I started playing football when I was about six years old,” Van Buren recalled. “That’s been what I love to do ever since. I started watching it a six and I am a honestly a football fanatic. My favorite pro team? To be honest, I’m a Chargers’ fan and I am loving it right now. Shoot! Ever since I can remember… as soon as I saw the lightening bolts, I became a Chargers’ fan. Who do I watch in College? Nebraska. I love Nebraska because they always have good running backs. Most of them have done pretty well in the pros. Back when, from Mike Rozier, Ahman Green now, and Lawrence Phillips would have done something if he could of kept his head straight. I always watched that team… back when Keith “Endzone” Jones and Roger Craig were playing there… I keep up with all of them.”

Growing up an only child of parents Alba and Melvin in Charleston, SC, Van Buren socialized through sports and quickly realized he had a knack for games.

“My dad played football for Vorhees College,” he said. “I learned playing outside. It was my neighborhood. In my neighborhood, if you didn’t play sports, you didn’t do anything. When the sun came up, I was up. Been that way always… my whole family is like that.

“I started out my first two years playing football in Pop Warner as a wide receiver,” he said. “To be honest, I was better at baseball than anything else. I pitched and played shortstop and third base. I started in T-ball at three years old so if I had gone on and played baseball I would have been better at that than football.”

But as fate would have it, baseball would not last as long as football because Van Buren soured on the national pastime.

“Long story short, I stopped playing baseball when I was young,” he tells. “I must have been 12 years old and I was hitting home runs so easily. All summer, we used to play three-man baseball where you had to switch hit and hit the ball to the opposite field. All the guys were older than me and I got to the point that summer where it was like night and day with the ball… it looked so big to me. I was hitting home runs so easy, the coach stopped letting me do batting practice. We’d get 20 pitches and he threw about 72 mph and I’d knock 17 of them over the fence. It got to the point where I was knocking them into the trees. He stopped letting me do batting practice so I’d go sit out in the field and catch balls in the hot sun so I got tired of setting out there and him not letting me hit. So, I quit playing baseball.”

So it would be football.

“It’s the contact… the contact,” he said of his love for football. “Contact and a lot of my interest had to do with the trickery in the game. The possibility to trick some one. But mostly, I loved the contact.”

As he matured, he broadened his horizons in sports, running track in the eighth grade and starring on the junior varsity basketball team at Middleton High School. He was the hoops MVP that year. But football always reigned king for Van Buren.

“In the 10th grade, I was the starting tailback on the varsity,” he said. “We had a good program at Middleton. We didn’t have the big kids, but we all went to school together (from a young age) and we all started playing at an early age. We’d play all the big 4-A schools with the bigger guys and we would whip up on them. Just like me, most of our guys liked to hit. That is just how we were.”

Van Buren’s home life was such that he felt comfortable exploring all his dreams when he was a kid and that made it easier for him to push himself in football.

“My folks never pushed me,” he said. “One time I quit football when I was six and mom was like, ‘Go ahead and quit.’ Of course, I was back two weeks later but they never pushed me to do anything. I played guitar from 7th grade on, though I’m not good now, but I was then. I was spoiled as far as attention was concerned. My family always laughs and talks… we were very close growing up. My influence was from my grandfather.”

Van Buren's competitiveness came from his friends and his desire to be great on the field came from inside.

“All the guys I grew up with were always out playing some kind of sport whether it be football, baseball, basketball, ping-pong, soccer, we played it all. When I was six years old, I was watching a college football game on television and I heard a player talking about a college scholarship. I remember I went in and told my mom that I was going to get a college scholarship even though I didn’t know what it was. I just knew that the guys in college had one and I was going to get one.”

And though it would be another 12 years before he fulfilled his declaration, Van Buren found success came pretty easy for him on the field en route to his collegiate career.

“My first year (on the varsity), there were three of us in the backfield (all sophomores). But, I kind of evolved as the one feature back,” he explained. “ My 11th grade year was when I got the most attention. Even now, I can go around here and people who were around back then will stop me and talk to me for hours about some of the moves I put on some people back them.

“My senior year held me a back a little. I twisted my ankle with four games to go. To be honest my ankle didn’t heal up right not until my third year in college. I’d make a move in college and go right down because my ankle twisted so easily. The doctor said I would have been better off breaking it. I could never get it to heal. Finally, Sports Medicine brought this ankle machine in that went different ways, and that is how I healed up.”

That injury was probably the reason East Carolina University showed up on Van Buren’s radar screen during his senior year in high school.

“I heard about East Carolina, I guess, it was my senior year,” he said. “Steve Shankweiler, who I am glad is back home (at ECU), came down recruiting me. Before I twisted my ankle, there was Clemson — who rescinded my offer after I twisted my ankle — South Carolina, of course ECU, Western Carolina, The Citadel — which I knew I wasn’t going there — and before I twisted the ankle, Georgia Tech was coming and then they dropped off. It was a pretty bad injury. I was on crutches for two months. A lot of teams laid off me after that. But, I never have been the type of person to worry about things. The way I looked at it was that God had a plan for me so I saw no reason to worry.”

Campus aura wins over another player

While it was true that Van Buren had not really put much stock into ECU until the injury shook up his recruitment, the running back found things at his future school that quickly put the Pirates atop his wish list.

“I liked the offense and mostly I just enjoyed the people,” he said. “I remember I went up to take my recruiting visit to South Carolina. The first day they took me around and the second day I didn’t even go out. I stayed in the room the rest of the time because I knew I was coming to East Carolina after that. I hadn’t even gone to visit ECU yet, but just talking to Coach Shankweiler at ECU and the people I met (at South Carolina), I knew I wasn’t going to USC. I still don’t like Columbia too much to this day.

“Sometimes I look at (high school players) who go to places and don’t enjoy where they are. Sometimes it is the (high school) coaches pushing kids to certain places and then the kids get there and they don’t enjoy it. I enjoyed East Carolina. And it wasn’t easy because South Carolina was where my dad wanted me to go. I had to make a decision there. I was like, ‘That’s not where I want to go’”

Though his father was not so keen on the choice right away, he warmed to it and mom was fine with it all along.

“At first dad didn’t like it… he wanted me to go into engineering,” he said. “I went Industrial Technology at ECU, but I should have gone into something that stressed writing. Believe it or not, I’ve been writing a book — haven’t done anything on it in a year — but, I’ve been writing it for the last five years.”

Mom was happy because her son was ecstatic. On his recruiting visit, he knew for sure.

“You know, Al Whiting was my host and he took me around and it just wasn’t the same as other recruiting visits,” Van Buren recalled. “I went to North Carolina State and it wasn’t anything like ECU.  The players I met there… it was a whole different atmosphere.

“Most of my family is from Dillon, SC which is about three hours from Greenville. My family are country people and country people are good people. One thing about East Carolina that I liked, my first day of class as I was walking to class, I had white people, black people, everybody saying, ‘Good morning.’ Here (in Charleston), that’s unheard of. People walk right by you and they won’t speak at all. I called my mom from school and said, ‘Can you believe I was walking to class and people actually spoke as you walked pass them?’ That’s really unheard of here. Hey, you keep your mouth closed. I love Charleston but it is an old Southern town and there is a still good bit of racism down here. That is one thing I really miss about ECU.”

Once committed to the Pirates, Van Buren focused on coming in ready.

“My expectations were to come in and work hard and not have anyone have to tell me how to do things twice,” he said. “A lot of guys came in with different expectations. Willie Lewis was the starting running back at ECU, so that summer (before his frosh season) I cut out his picture and put it on my night stand for that whole summer. On mornings I felt like not getting up, I looked over at that picture and it gave me the push. I’d get up at 4 a.m. and eat something and then ride my bike down the highway and come back, run 2 1/4 miles, then hit the gym. After that, it was work by 8:30. That’s quite a lot to do before 8:30 in the morning.

 “I came in ready and in shape. My first year, we did body fat (measuring underwater) and I came in at .4 % body fat. They told me I needed to get up to 3%, but all I did was exercise. I had a hard time gaining weight until my senior year.”

Though physically ready, Van Buren knew that a whole lot of football education lay ahead for him, particularly considering the teacher-like approach of his position coach.

“Coach (Steve) Logan was my running backs coach my freshman year,” he said. “In college, you learned more about your assignment, not just individual technique. You had to learn how to block. Understanding your blitz pickups… there is a whole lot more to it. Understanding your hot routes once you see someone blitzing. Trying to understand what the quarterback is seeing and understanding. Knowing my assignments got me on the field a lot faster than the guys ahead of me.”

It was true. By the end of his freshmen year in 1989, Van Buren was the starter at tailback. Injuries to Lewis and backup Denell Harper opened the doorway of opportunity for Van Buren and he made the most of it.

“When Willie got hurt in the Miami game, I was thrown in there,” he recalled. “I’m glad no one (on Miami’s defensive front) broke free back there because when I got to ECU, I was 181 pounds, and by the time we got to Miami, I was down seven pounds to 174  pounds. I had never seen linemen that fast. Most teams blitzed with their linebackers, but Miami just looped with their linemen. Guys like Greg Mark, Shane Curry, Bernard Clark, Cortez Kennedy, Jesse Armstead… that team was loaded.”

Though it was a rude introduction into the lineup, Van Buren showed promise. Despite being just a freshman, it wasn’t lost on Van Buren that the team was lacking something.

“We had some games where we would look at it, we’d be right there,” he said. “It is different when we lose to a team that is better than we are but when we go in and beat a team up and down and still lose, that would get under my skin sometimes. If you lose because of your scheme, that is a whole different story. We’d have some games, like Miami, where we were in that game for a half — it was 14-10 at a halftime — and lost 30-10. That’s frustrating.”

Though he was the returning starter his sophomore season, the offensive scheme required him to be more flexible in the backfield. He found himself sharing the backfield a lot with Dion Johnson but still piled up 788 rushing yards that year, setting the stage for the famed 1991 season.

“Of course my junior year, Jeff Blake threw for more than 3,000 yards, so the running game was pretty much null and void,” he said. “I think I had the most yards that year with 350-something yards. You don’t run much during a season like that. But the thing is, I turned my corner as far as playing in college that week of the Peach Bowl. I feel like everything came together for me that week.”

For Van Buren, who constantly would find himself analyzing his own efforts and that of his team, the 1991 season gave great context to the failings of the 1990 season.

“To be honest, 1991 was one of those things that helped us look back at 1990 and say, 'Why are we losing to some of these teams that we are losing to?' ” he said. “Some teams like South Carolina. We had a USC jinx. The thing about it had to do with the simple fact, and I hate to say it like this, but a lot of times the coaches got a little scared when we blitzed them and they got a bomb and we didn’t blitz them again. The quarterback for USC — I think it was Todd Ellis — he would sit back there and he’d do his little signals that there is a blitz on and then he threw Robert Brooks a bomb and (we) wouldn’t blitz anymore. At the time, we had started out tearing them up — sacking the quarterback — and then we sit back an let him pick us apart. The next thing you know the score is 45-17 one year and 47-15 or something like that the next year… you know, ugly scores. But, like I say, when you look at the game, it could have been so much different. It only takes one or two things to change a game.”

Still, when he assesses the 1990 season, even in the losses Van Buren found things to be excited about.

“Oh boy, I remember that Georgia game (19-15 UGA win) there,” he said. “Boy I remember that. Georgia was one of those games where we were there. We had some of our main guys making plays. The thing that enabled Georgia to win that game was our second line guys — that is where Georgia had us. They had a fullback, Mike Strong, that guy there was doing some hitting out there. You didn’t hear much about him… you heard about Garrison Hearst. Hearst gets out in the open field and he is unmatched. But that fullback was out there destroying people. Good teams pull those type of games out because everyone gets up to play those teams. Good teams get done what they have to.

“But, I’ll tell this. Tom Scott manhandled Mo Lewis out there in that game. What he was doing to Mo was… mmmm… I ran behind Tom once … I think Mo Lewis may have had two tackles in that game. Tom had him upside down the whole game… it was incredible what Tom was doing to him. When you are running the ball and you are coming around the side and you know who you are cutting off of and you see that guy and his feet are going up in the air… you see him get slammed, you know what is going on. You go back to the huddle and you pat that lineman on the back.”

Lessons-learned from 1990 made the difference for the ’91 team and Van Buren zeroed in on the turning point in that glamorous season.

“That 1991 season just kind of happened,” he said. “We lost to Illinois to start the season off. We were like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ But then, you look at how close that game was and the small things we didn’t do in that game. We came back and started playing. After two games we started to get a swagger. The turning point for us was when we played South Carolina. We were so hyped up that week because they were coming to us. The year before, they beat the snot out of us and it wasn’t because they were better. I think mentally and I think scheme-wise we let up on them a little bit. It was one of those things where South Carolina, when they came in, we had so much planned for them.

“The first thing we did was a reverse on the kickoff. Myself and a linebacker named Eric Myles were to peel back after the fake. We both peeled back and I got this big ol’ fella — I think he was a tight end — I blindsided him and knocked him out of bounds and then I saw Eric’s guy roll past me — he totally waylaid him. That set the tone. You could see all the South Carolina guys laid out all over the field. After that, it kind of set the tone and it carried over to the University of Pittsburgh game.”

While the Pirates were rolling, Van Buren saw his touches reduced in the backfield, which was fine with him.

“I wasn’t really disappointed in my role in the offense,” he said. “Of course you want to run the ball more, but when we went to the single back set, I was having to learn how to run in that thing. I was an I-back… a tailback in high school. Just like the Denver Broncos, they run a lot of that zone off tackle stuff. The little zone plays where the runner has a choice of three different places he can go. It is hard to take a tailback and teach him that. It took me until the week of the Peach Bowl before I understood that. In ’91, I was just another piece of the puzzle. I was a receiver coming out of the backfield, really. I understood my blitz pickups. That is one thing about me, I could dissect a defense. I don’t care what game plan they put down for the week, I took it back to the room, looked at it and I had it down, quickly. That helped me a lot."

For Van Buren, it certainly looked like his game had come together in the Peach Bowl and it didn’t take long for him to make a quick impact. Van Buren was on the receiving end of the first of Jeff Blake’s record four TD passes in that game and it was on a play in which the play action fooled just about everyone in the stadium.

“We had a Triple-I back there and I was squatting behind Jeff,” he recounts the play. “And actually Dewayne Washington who is now a defensive back for the Jacksonville Jaguars — was the corner. We used to run some plays that season where we ran isolation on the cornerback and kicked him out (on a block). You could tell State had studied our film well because when I came through he squatted on me like he was ready to take on a block, but then I slipped past him and you could hear him say, ‘Oh no!” when I slipped past him. It was a perfect call because they had studied us on the kickout block. He was so ready to put his shoulder in to take on the block. I just swaggered past him and he tried to get back, but it was too late.

“That was a great feeling. The Peach Bowl was the biggest arena I’ve ever scored a touchdown in.”

While he was aware of the fans at the Peach Bowl, it was not until after the game that he understood the crowd's magnitude.

“I don’t know if we ever looked into the stands until after the game because North Carolina State… we wanted to beat them more than anything else,” he said. “And when we got behind that game, it bothered us quite a bit because they were the most arrogant players we had ever been around. Them and Duke. When we lost to Duke (in a previous season), that was horrible because they didn’t even really have any players. Those two schools — maybe its an ACC thing I guess — but I have never seen a team that arrogant. Not Miami, Florida State, nothing like the ACC schools we played. They were talking junk, but it was more like, ‘Hey we expected this… little East Carolina.’

“All the week, Dick Sheridan — he was arrogant — and that linebacker, Billy Ray (Haynes), Billy Joe, whatever his name was… he was arrogant, too. Even in the interviews before the game, they were arrogant.”

Afterwards, when the State arrogance was silenced through a dealt defeat, Van Buren took note of the crowd and the accomplishment. But more than the touchdown he scored, Van Buren may have been remembered most for recovering a Dion Johnson fumble during the ferocious comeback in the second half of the game.

“If I didn’t jump on that ball, we definitely would have lost,” he said. “You know, it was part of doing what you need to do. Even now, you watch guys, even the pros, they will go after a fumble and just lay on the ball, but you are supposed roll over on the ball. It’s all about technique and doing what you are supposed to do. The way we were, after Luke scored, we were like, ‘OK, we have to keep doing what we are doing.’ I don’t think any of us ever relaxed, but we kept our cool as well.

Though he was thrilled to be part of the championship team, Van Buren knew his year still lay ahead, his senior season. So, it was of particular note to Van Buren when head coach Bill Lewis, following the Peach Bowl victory, announced he was going to be leaving to Georgia Tech.

“Lewis leaving kind of surprised us because he told us he wasn’t going to go anywhere,” he said. “But, I was glad when Logan took over because Bill Lewis used to beat us up. We practiced so hard that during the season, the defensive and offensive guys didn’t like each other. We won the Peach Bowl, but we didn’t like each other. We were glad to get to games because we were so beat up during the week it was a relief. He used to have Bloody Tuesday and that was exactly what it was. During the season, you’re all swollen and black and blue from the hitting… you were literally beat up for a year.

“I knew this guy from Georgia Tech and they hated it, too. Ryan Stewart who is a sports DJ in Atlanta now with a really hot show down here. We knew each other pretty well. I spoke to him and he was like, ‘How did you guys put up with Lewis? Bobby Ross never had us hitting like that.’ Of course, you recall, Georgia Tech went from being 11-1 down there and came apart under Lewis.”

Since Logan was an internally promoted coach, continuity remained within the program and Van Buren focused on his senior without the worries most players have during a change in staff. Though he was happy with Logan at the helm, he admits it wasn’t easy.

“In practice, Logan would throw out a play,” he described. “For each play, he’d call a letter and that was the route you had to run. Whoever was next, you just broke it off. He would make a play up and you knew who had to be where no matter what was called. When you had a blitz, you knew where everyone had to be. We were glad when teams blitzed us because the ball was going to go wherever the blitz came from. I would never have blitzed us back then.

“As far as the passing game, Coach Logan was a lot like (Steve) Spurrier. They didn’t give him his just due and let him go a couple of years ago. But, you know, one thing that maybe hurt Logan was that he was overly confident in his passing game. It came to a point where he thought the passing game was the ultimate. I liked the way Logan did things. Some guys didn’t like it, but I did because I learned a lot from him about offense. Logan had his way of doing things… he raised his voice when he had to. A lot of times… how do I say it… Logan probably needed a little bit more of a run game and he would still be there. He always had a 1,000-yard rusher, but he ran that one back set. I think in that offense, you don’t have a fullback in your game plan, I think your missing something. At the same time, Logan had an easy way of doing things… he taught a lot… he talked to his players like men. Some guys didn’t get along with Logan, but there weren’t many of them. Some didn’t like how he ran that offense, but I thought it was effective, I really did.”

Van Buren’s senior season brought more change. In came the highly talented back Junior Smith out of Fayetteville and Van Buren saw his role change.

“My last year I was fullback because we had Junior Smith and when we went two backs, I’d move to fullback and he would be at tailback,” he said. “Oh yeah, I was excited about my senior year.”

He was excited because he knew that he would be the go-to guy whether it be running the ball or receiving. However, his senior season would be over too soon, as it was learned that Van Buren had a neck injury that he had been playing with for years. Once discovered, the risk was too much and Van Buren hung up the cleats.

“I’m going to tell you something now that will probably surprise you,” he said. “I had the neck injury when I came to ECU and didn’t know it. My sophomore year in high school, I broke my neck in two places playing football. They tried to tell me it was Spina Bifida, but it wasn’t. I had a specialist (while at ECU) look at it and he said, ‘That’s a crack.’ I actually remember when it happened. We were playing a (high school) game up in North Carolina and I was playing free safety and I went up to hit their running back and one of my linebackers hit me from the side. I remember that my whole body went numb. My whole sophomore year I wore a neck brace. Even now, I sleep better on one side than the other. I never went in and got it checked. I didn’t miss a practice. I just wore the neck brace.

“We were playing the University of Pittsburgh and I hit this guy and my left arm went numb — just a stinger — and they took me in for precautionary action. They cleared me to play, but I asked the doctor, ‘What is the chance of something (spinal) happening?’ The doc said, ‘Well we don’t know.’ So, I asked, ‘Well would you play?’ And he said he couldn’t answer that. I was like, ‘How can you clear me to play if you don’t know?’ So I walked away from it. My last game was Pittsburgh (an ECU victory).”

Van Buren made the right decision, but it wasn’t easy… even with his health on the line.

“It was really hard because I had been playing since I was six years old,” he said. “It was all I knew. Cleveland had been looking at my films the week that it all happened. I have no doubt I could have played in the NFL. I couldn’t even go watch practice the following weeks so I didn’t go to the games. I just couldn’t do it. It was rough. But Logan never questioned my decision at all. He was like, ‘That is a decision you have to make for yourself.’ He never questioned it and none of the guys did either.”

With the time available now that he was not playing, Van Buren let nothing go to waste while finishing up his degree. He began pursuing another love of his, photography. He became the photo editor at The East Carolinian and did some photojournalism. He graduated and though Logan lobbied him to stay and coach, he couldn’t do it.

“Coach Logan wanted me to come up to ECU to coach and I was coaching at a high school down here,” he said. “Believe me, I have a whole offense up in my head, but high school coaching is really hard down here. For me, particularly, being an assistant was not easy because when the offense is… when you lose because of the scheme, it doesn’t set to well with me.”

Life after football

“My first two years (out of school), I ran my own photography studio,” he said. “I have been taking photos since I was in school. I took pictures all the time and became the photo editor for the school newspaper. There was a photographer named Harold Wise, who was one of my photographers that I hired. He taught me about formal photos. I started reading everything I  could find about photography and started buying camera equipment. Every penny I could save went into equipment.”

And his efforts paid off when a stunning model walked into his studio.

“I’ve known (wife) NaPrell since were nine or 10 years old,” he said. “I was about to close the studio down and I started managing a WalMart portrait studio. She ended up coming into the studio and I asked her to come model for me. Out of all of the models I’ve taken pictures of, she was the only one I ever dated. I guess we were destined to be together.”

They married and are partners in Van Buren Photography.

“In the business, she does all the talking,” he explained. “I closed the first studio down and then I (got a teaching certification) and taught Industrial Tech at a high school for four years and coached. They found out I was pretty good at math, so I also taught some Math and Computer courses once they found I could do a little damage with that. They wanted me to go into administration but, at the time, I had written my brother-in-law’s resume for Nucor Steel and he called me one day and told me that they had an opening and it was almost triple in pay, so I had to take that. I’ve been there about five years now.”

At Nucor Steel, Van Buren is a pulpit operator. He and his wife continue to grow the photography business and he has also started a modeling agency (Douvan Modeling). He is a busy man.

“I am four days on, four days off, and during the off days, I am working my photography business and that is to the point now where people are getting a chance to see my work,” he said. “I’ve been perfecting my craft for a long time and I don’t think there is anyone down here that can touch what I do. I brag on it because the work I do is beautiful. I study it and my wife and I went down to Mississippi for a week and went and studied with the millionaires and I looked at their work and I am like, ‘We are in the right place now.’ Things happen for a reason and I know its coming.

“I look back on the decisions that I’ve made or just the way I am. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, no matter what goes on, for the most part, I don’t worry about a whole lot. I think that comes from football. You have to best be prepared for what comes you way.”

And he still gets a football fix… from his son.

“Yeah, he’s taking to sports,” he said of his six year old. “I love giving Malcolm advice. First year of flag football he scored a touchdown and I really enjoyed that. Part of me is still on the field… living through him a little.”

It seems a shame that Van Buren isn’t in coaching. It's obvious from talking to him that he has the mind for it and he knows it.

“I’m going to be honest and I’m going tell you this right now and you can print this,” he said. “As far as coaching running backs, I don’t believe there is a coach in college right now that can coach running backs better than I can and you can print that. (College coaching) is one of those things where you gotta start off at the bottom almost and that money there… that will keep me out. Money-wise, it can’t match the money I make now.”

Maybe someday.

Though he admits that he has lost touch with his former teammates, his love for ECU is no more diminished.

“Do I miss ECU?” he pondered. “Oh yeah. I mean there is no place like that. I tell my wife about it… the friends I had, the fun I had there… it was just unmatched.”

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Cedric Van Buren Bio Box

Cedric Van Buren





Years at ECU:



Running Back/No. 33


Charleston, SC

Currently Resides:

Charleston, SC

  • Nucor Steel, Pulpit Operator

  • Owner, Van Buren Photography

  • Owner of Douvan (Small Modeling Agency)


B.S. Industrial Technology, East Carolina University

Marital Status:

Married - Wife, NaPrell

  • Malcolm, 6


“Willie Lewis was the starting running back at ECU, so that summer (before his frosh season), I cut out his picture and put it on my night stand for that whole summer. On mornings I felt like not getting up, I looked over at that picture and it gave me the push. I’d get up at 4 a.m. and eat something and then ride my bike down to the highway and come back, run 2¼ miles, then hit the gym. After that, it was work by 8:30. That’s quite a lot to do before 8:30 in the morning.”

— Cedric Van Buren on preparing himself to make an early impact as a Pirate


Van Buren gives a South Carolinian’s take on Skip Holtz

Former Pirates Star weighs in on ECU's new head coach

When you talk a few minutes with Cedric Van Buren, you quickly realize a few things. First, he is a pure football fan. Second, he is a detail-oriented, true student of the game of football. While many other players will talk about emotions or big games, Van Buren prefers to talk about breaking down film, technique, and strategy. The man should truly be coaching.

That said, the former Pirates running back who hails from and still lives in Charleston, SC, has kept a keen interest in ECU and, particularly, was candid about the latest firing (of coach John Thompson) and subsequent hiring of former University of South Carolina assistant Skip Holtz at East Carolina.

“I tried to follow the team this year, but the way they were losing games, it was difficult,” he said. “To be honest, I saw them last year play against Miami. They played good for the first half and then the second half they stunk it up. My mother follows sports too and she is heavy into football. She is 62 years old, but she loves football. She knows the game. I told her last year as soon as I saw that game, “East Carolina’s not going to keep that coach (Thompson) long…They’re not going to be able to keep him long.

“She said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘When your team comes out and plays halfway decent in the first half and it looks like you got a lot of good athletes at East Carolina, but then comes out in the second half and Miami tears them up, that’s conditioning and adjustments. If you’re not in shape and in condition you can’t win the second half…you cant do it. Your body shuts down. You can’t compete. And, that’s coaching.”

Putting on a coach’s cap, Van Buren said he would like to offer the current players a little advice, care of his former coach at Middleton High School in Charleston.

“You gotta keep your head up. A lot guys are probably thinking that they are going to lose what they had (under Thompson),” he said. “They are worried that they might lose their position and have to compete all over again. I would tell them to keep their heads up. It’s a business. My high school coach totally prepared me for college right out the bat. He said, ‘Cedric you are a star here and you are better than everyone else on the field.  But when you get to college, you’re going to be just another athlete. What is going to define you or make you different from anybody else is how you come out and prepare and know your assignments. That is what he told me. You have to be in shape and that is what he told me and that is what I did. He didn’t pull any strings with me he just told me.”

Van Buren believes the current roster needs to look in the mirror and take stock of themselves individually and be prepared to compete each season regardless of whether Thompson was still there or not. Holtz is going to demand that each player earn his respective position and each player should demand it of themselves.

On the new coach, Van Buren is taking a wait-and-see attitude though he admits he is skeptical that Holtz will have a whole lot of success based on what he saw at USC.

“Well…to be honest, I hope Skip doesn’t run the offense he ran at South Carolina,” Van Buren said. “If he runs that, we will be looking for another coach in two or three years. They ran a whole lot draws…a whole lot of single back stuff…a lot of that West coast offense stuff the people have caught up to.

“When I saw that (hire) I was like, ‘Oh man!’ because I thought they were going to hire Danny Ford. Cause you know, Danny Ford can recruit. I hope Skip Holtz can go down there and be successful but that offense runs a lot of draws and puts your quarterback in the shotgun quite a bit. Think about it, South Carolina’s passing game was not going to well – it did at the beginning of the season – by the middle of the season people started stopping the pass. If the passing game isn’t going good, how you gonna run a draw? A draw is dependent on people respecting your pass. He’s had two real good running backs in Corey Boyd and Demetrius Summers down here in South Carolina. Those guys are exceptional running backs right there. But they were not able to get them going because you got to get respect for you passing game first.”

While Van Buren is hopeful…his gut tells him ECU fans could be in for some disappointment.

“When I saw that I said ‘uh oh,’ he said. “I don’t know. I hope he does something different but if he runs what he did in South Carolina, then I think that maybe ECU jumped the gun there on that hire. That’s me personally.”

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02/23/2007 02:15:58 PM

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