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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Friday, January 20, 2006

By Sammy Batten

2006 Thumbnails   •   2005 Thumbnails   •   2005 Report Card

2005 LISTS:   East Carolina   •   C-USA   •   Carolinas

North Johnston star blazes trail to I-A

Several targets still in ECU's crosshairs as decision time looms


Willie Smith has always been tall, so he naturally gravitated to the sport of basketball as a child. But the older Smith got, the more he realized his skills were better suited for another sport — football.

Ken Avent, Jr., had just become head football coach at North Johnston High near Kenly, NC, when Smith began the transition.

“He was one of those 6-foot-6 boys who wanted to be a basketball player, and didn’t really realize he could get a scholarship playing football,’’ Avent said. “He kind of figured that out.’’

Smith’s change of heart paid off during North Johnston’s regular season when East Carolina offered a football scholarship. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound defensive end responded with a verbal commitment to the Pirates in mid-December after also being courted by North Carolina, Elon, Gardner-Webb and The Citadel.

The offer makes Smith the first football player in North Johnston’s 40-year history to receive a scholarship from an NCAA Division I-A program.

Smith’s performance as a senior impressed ECU defensive line coach Donnie Thompson, who handled his recruitment. Playing for a team that went 14-1 and reached the 1-AA Eastern finals, Smith registered 76 solo tackles and had 14 quarterback sacks.

“Really, about halfway through the season is when East Carolina started recruiting him hard, other than writing letters,’’ Avent said. “Coach Thompson came to watch him play, and a week or two later called back and, said they really wanted him and made him an offer. He (Smith) really likes Coach Thompson and (head) Coach (Skip) Holtz.

“I think what they saw was that Willie has good quickness and they think he’s going to get a lot bigger. They were talking about putting 25 or 30 more pounds on him. They think he has a lot of potential to help them there.’’

Avent recognized that potential from the first few encounters with Smith, who was then a sophomore.

“When I got here he had not played (football) and I really didn’t know him,’’ Avent said. “He didn’t even come out until after school started. But I had him in class and saw how big he was, so I coaxed him into coming out.

“He didn’t play until about the fifth or sixth game of that sophomore year. But he had good size, and for somebody as tall and lanky as he was, he was fairly strong. He probably weighed about 200 at the time.

“It took him some time to get used to what we wanted him to do because he was playing defensive end and he hadn’t ever played before. So it took him about a year to figure out he could play. Especially at the end of last year and into this year he had gotten stronger and was really a force in every game.’’

Smith is still playing basketball at North Johnston, but doesn’t expect to continue in that sport at East Carolina.

“He’ll be focusing on football,’’ Avent said. “He knows that’s his future.’’

Ongoing courtships

With national signing day quickly approaching on Feb. 1, the Pirates are still in the hunt for some talented recruits who will be making their decisions in the next two weeks.

Among the prospects still considering ECU are:

  • Lemarcus Bond, a 5-8, 174-pound athlete from Ahoskie, NC, took an official visit to ECU on Jan. 6. He’d already seen N.C. State and has his final trip set for Jan. 27 at Virginia.
  • Erroll Wynn, a 5-10, 200-pound running back from Jonesboro, GA. Wynn has an official visit to ECU scheduled for Jan. 27, at which time it’s expected he’ll receive an offer from the Pirates. He already has an offer from Ball State.
  • Devven Sutton, the bullish 6-0, 239-pound fullback-linebacker from Elizabeth City, NC, has narrowed his list to ECU and Virginia Tech. He made an official visit to Greenville on Jan. 6 and is headed to Blacksburg, Va., on Jan. 20.
  • Billy Cuffee, a 6-5, 330-pound offensive tackle from Chesapeake, VA, has ECU in his final list of five schools that also includes Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. He’ll make a decision after his final official visit to Virginia Tech on Jan. 20.
  • Travis Timmons, a 6-4, 284-pound defensive tackle from Gainesville, FL, scheduled his official visit to ECU last weekend, followed by trips to Central Florida (1/20) and Georgia (1/27).

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02/23/2007 02:37:25 PM


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