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Tracking the College Gridiron Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Monday, January 26, 2004

By Sammy Batten
Staff Writer for The Fayetteville Observer

Pirates figure winners breed winning

CyberEast of New Bern

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The coaching staff at East Carolina has not only been looking for talent, but attitude as well while pursuing the football recruiting Class of 2004.

Never was that more evident than during past three weeks as the Pirates reeled in what might be the highest number of verbal commitments by any school in the country during that span.

Seventeen players pledged their talents to ECU during that time and most did so after making an official recruiting visit to Greenville between Jan. 9-20. A total of 13 commitments came from prospects hailing from Florida or Georgia, 15 of 17 are expected to play defense in college, and together they pushed the total of ECU pledges to 28 with less than two weeks remaining before the national signing period begins on Feb. 4.

And even though the NCAA allows a program to sign just 25 players in one recruiting year, the Pirates' recruiting may not be done yet. That, however, is a topic I'll touch on later.

Looking a little deeper at the class that's been put together so far reveals some numbers that may be more important to the Pirates. They are the won-loss records of successful teams on which most of ECU's recruits played for in high school. Here's a sample:

  • Defensive back J.J. Milbrook and defensive lineman Durwin Lamb played for a Monsignor Pace High team in Miami, Fla., that finished with a 12-3 record and won the state 3-A championship. Milbrook was the star of the title game, making a 90-yard touchdown reception to seal the win for Monsignor Pace.
  • Quarterback Davon Drew directed New Bern, N.C., High to a 30-3 record as a starter and took the Bears to back-to-back state 4-A championship finals.
  • Offensive tackle Joel Renaud played in 2002 for a Reedley, Calif., College team that went 12-0 and that was recognized as the national champion in the final junior college poll that season.
  • Defensive back Stacy Walls and linebacker Tony Richardson were major factors in a 12-2 season that got Washington County High to the Georgia state 2-A semifinals where it was beaten by the eventual champion.
  • The list goes on and on. Player after player on ECU's commitment list hails from high school or junior college programs that have enjoyed championship-caliber success. Apparently, recruiting for a winning attitude is just as much a part of John Thompson's philosophy for rejuvenating the Pirates after a 1-11 season as is finding the best athletes.

    Rick Tomberlin coached Walls and Richardson at Washington County High located in Sandersville, Ga. Tomberlin believes the winning attitude evident in his program was one of the things that drew ECU to the Washington County players.

    "We're a program with overall more wins than any team in Georgia history,'' Tomberlin said. "We've won three state titles and we're 81-7 at home over the last four seasons. We're a great program and a traditional powerhouse. We'd had two first-round NFL draft picks who played here in Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins running back) and Takeo Spikes (Buffalo Bills linebacker).

    "So what they (ECU coaches) did say was that they know we have a year-round program in which we challenge the youngsters in the weight room and on the field. They know we expect to win and play for championships every year. I think the fact they know our kids have been challenged in all those ways makes them believe it'll make the transition to college easier. Being challenged doesn't shock our players.''

    Bill Caughell has been coaching at Lyman High School in Longwood, Fla., for about 15 years. For the last three of those, he has directed the development of ECU recruit Mark Robinson, a tight end-defensive end.

    Caughell had rarely seen East Carolina coaches recruiting his area during that time, but this year the Pirates have been a very prominent presence. Part of the reason, Lyman believes, is that Lyman was winning again after back-to-back 3-7 seasons. Lyman finished 8-3 this season and won the district title.

    "I think they were drawn to that a little bit,'' Caughell said. "They're trying to do kind of what we've done here, except on a different level. We've been trying to re-establish a tradition of winning that we had in the past. This is the third time in eight years we've won the district championship, but we really dropped off there for a couple of years.

    "Mark was really a big part of us turning things around. He made the commitment and did all the things we asked of the kids. His leadership on and the off the field was crucial. I think he was excited about the parallels between our program and East Carolina. And he's not afraid of the situation up there, even though they haven't been winning. I think they saw some of the same in Mark. Here's a kid who has seen it from both ends and knows what it takes to turn it around.''

    ECU's attraction to Milbrook and Lamb began long before Monsignor Pace won the Florida state 3-A crown. But Pace coach Joe Zaccheo thinks the Pirates will certainly benefit from the successes both enjoyed on the prep level.

    "Those two have achieved success at the highest level in our state,'' Zaccheo said. "They understand about the time and the sacrifice it takes to be a champion. I think East Carolina liked that about them. They (ECU) are committed to bringing their program back up to a very high level so they can compete for championships. Having players who have already experienced doing that is a valuable asset.''


    Now, just how can East Carolina get all 28 of these winning attitudes on campus with only 25 scholarships to give each year?

    Part of the answer has already been provided. Two of the four junior college transfers who signed with the Pirates during the early period in December have already enrolled in school — we know one of them is tight end Shawn Levesque — and their scholarships will be counted toward last year's recruiting class. ECU had two extra spots under the 25-player max from last year because it signed just 23 recruits.

    The other two factors in how, and if, all those players wind up at ECU have yet to be determined. Natural attrition, mainly due to injuries or academic problems, are almost certain to cause the exit of two to three players each year in any major program. There may also be players among the 28 commitments who don't qualify academically, which may prevent them from signing in February.

    So with two of the 28 counting back, and the real prospect of some recruits not qualifying, it seems reasonable that more names could appear on ECU's list before signing day.

    At least four players with scholarship offers are still considering East Carolina. They are: defensive tackle D.J. Johnson, a 6-2, 294-pounder from Garden City Community College in Kansas; linebacker Narada Williams, a 6-4, 210-pounder out of Douglas County, Ga.; 6-6, 288-pound offensive lineman Paul Walsh from Tallahassee, Fla.; and 6-2, 218-pound linebacker Gerald McRath from Powder Springs, Ga.

    Johnson made an official visit to Greenville on Jan. 16 and was scheduled to visit Kansas this weekend. He had not previously been offered a scholarship by the Jayhawks.

    Williams is expected to choose between ECU, where he visited this weekend, Louisville and Southern Miss. Walsh's decision will between ECU, Central Florida and Florida.

    McRath was expected to make his final visit to Auburn this weekend. He's also visited ECU and Brigham Young.

    Send an e-mail message to Sammy Batten.

    Click here to dig into Sammy Batten's Bonesville archives.

    02/23/2007 02:36:13 PM

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