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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Saturday, January 24, 2007

By Sammy Batten

Offensive Analysis  •  Defensive Analysis  •  Thumbnails

QB's & Receivers  •  O-Linemen & RB's  •  Thumbnails

ECU's recruiting effort on fast track

Greensboro Dudley's Derek Blacknall and West Craven's DeAndre Jones join fleet corps of defensive back recruits

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

East Carolina’s football recruiting Class of 2007 is starting to resemble a track and field team as Coach Skip Holtz and his staff hit the home stretch before national signing day.

Defensive line prospect Steven Baker placed third in last year’s 3-A state shot put competition, safety Emanuel Davis won the 1-A triple jump and safety Julian Carter was a finalist in the 300-meter hurdles at the 4-A meet.

Still, more athleticism is on the way.

Derek Blacknall

Another highly ranked hurdler — and a state sprint qualifier — has been secured by Holtz to play cornerback for the Pirates.

Derek Blacknall, from Greensboro, ran a leg of both the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays for Dudley High School in last year’s state 3-A track meet. He also competes in the 100- and 200-meter dashes for the Panthers.

But Blacknall’s raw speed — he’s been clocked at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash — is best utilized on the football field, where he’s been a three-year starter for Dudley.

The Triad 3-A Conference selected Blacknall as its defensive player of the year in 2006 after the 6-foot, 170-pounder made 61 tackles, two sacks and intercepted seven passes as a senior.

Blacknall’s best performance of the season came against Burlington Cummings when he was matched up against highly rated wide receiver Dwight Jones.

“He played primarily at safety for us, but anytime we were matched up against a team with a big-time receiver we’d lock him down on that guy,’’ Dudley coach Steven Davis said. “He did a great job on Jones. He was on him all night and held him to six catches for 53 yards.’’

Blacknall spent his freshman year on the Dudley junior varsity before landing a starting job at free safety as a sophomore. He also started on offense at wide receiver as a senior and was a big-play maker on kick returns.

College recruiters began to contact Blacknall after a junior year in which he made 62 tackles, three interceptions and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Marshall and Ohio University came through with early offers, but it was East Carolina that made the most lasting impression.

“Toward the end of his junior year (ECU running backs) Coach (Junior) Smith saw him on tape and they’ve stayed after him ever since,’’ Davis said. “They did a good job recruiting him. He felt real good about the direction of the program and he felt real comfortable with Coach Holtz.’’

Although Blacknall spent much of his prep career playing safety, Davis said the Pirates plan to use him at cornerback.

“I think Coach Smith really talked to him about playing corner,’’ Davis said. “He’s really capable of playing both. He reads the offense really well. If it’s a pass, he’s able to read it right away. If it’s a run, the same thing. He just has this instinct about what’s coming up.

“I’ll be honest. If they don’t have some good ones (cornerbacks) down there, there’s a possibility he could start.’’

DeAndre Jones

Blacknall could have some competition from DeAndre Jones of West Craven High in Vanceboro.

Jones is one of the state’s top performers in the high hurdles in track. But like Blacknall, his best efforts have come on the football field.

The 6-1, 185-pounder was an all-around star at West Craven as a senior, playing safety, running back, wide receiver and serving as the Eagles punter at times.

Jones was named to the New Bern Sun Journal’s All-Area team after rushing for a team-best 649 yards on 91 carries, catching 22 passes for 390 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. He also made four interceptions on defense.

“He came to us as a sophomore,’’ West Craven coach Clay Jordan said. “He went to New Bern his freshman year. When he got here it wasn’t hard to see he was a good athlete. He was a trackster and that first glimpse of him going over the hurdles was all you needed to see.

“You have to have a certain amount of explosiveness to clear the high hurdles. You have to explode off the ground and then have speed in between the hurdles. I think that relates directly to football.’’

Jones started at cornerback as a sophomore before branching out to other positions his final two years. He even played quarterback for a time during his junior season after West Craven’s starter went down with an injury.

“He can do a little of everything,’’ Jordan said. “He runs and jumps so well. It’s hard to get anything over him when he’s playing corner. He reacts to the ball real well.’’

East Carolina began recruiting Jones during his junior season. The Pirates already had some built-in connections to Jones. His cousin is ECU safety Pierre Bell and he’s good friends with former New Bern cornerback Darryl Reynolds, who signed with the Pirates last year.

North Carolina and South Carolina also offered scholarships, according to Jones, but ECU was his favorite from the start.

“He camped over there for a couple of years,’’ Jordan said. “I think that’s just where he felt comfortable.’’

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02/23/2007 02:38:35 PM


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