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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, December 13, 2007

By Sammy Batten

RECRUITING THUMBNAILS:  2006  •  2007  •  2008

Future Bucs team up at Shrine Bowl

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.


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Fleet Gryphon running route to ECU
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Future Bucs team up at Shrine Bowl

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SPARTANBURG, SC — Observers at this week’s practice for the 71st Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas got a close-up look at what could be one half of East Carolina’s secondary in the near future.

Two players who have given verbal commitments for 2008 to ECU head coach Skip Holtz and his staff are expected to be the starting safeties for the North Carolina squad that will meet South Carolina on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College.

Justin Venable, from Southeast Guilford High School, and Joseph Womack of Jacksonville’s Northside High were paired together from the very start of the pre-game preparations, which began Monday at Dorman High School.

Players from both squads participated in twice-a-day workouts under unusually warm conditions.

“These two-a-days are killing me,’’ Venable joked after the fourth workout on Tuesday afternoon. “This seems like pre-season practice all over again.’’

Essentially, it has been, especially for Venable.

The 6-foot-21/2, 190-pounder ended his senior season nearly a month ago when Southeast Guilford lost in the opening round of the state 3-AA playoffs against Triton, 20-10.

Venable also sat out two of Southeast Guilford’s regular-season games after sustaining injuries in a car accident in October. He suffered a concussion in the wreck that occurred the Thursday prior to his team’s game against Rockingham.

But despite the setback, Venable still managed to star as a running back and safety for the Falcons, who finished 7-5 overall. His performance on defense earned Venable defensive player of the year honors in the Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference.

Despite his own impressive achievements, Venable expressed admiration at the talent on the field at the Shrine Bowl.

“This has definitely been awesome,’’ he said. “All these players are good, and there’s a lot of competition for your position. There are so many players out here you know are going to go to the NFL. They picked the best of the best, and I’m just honored to be out there on the same field with those guys.’’

Venable has especially enjoyed his new friendship with Womack, whom he hadn’t met before reporting for Shrine Bowl practice on Sunday.

“It’s pretty neat,’’ he said. “We’ll probably be hanging out together next year. We’ve been hanging out together in the hotel and all that stuff. He’s a pretty cool kid. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him. He’s a real good athlete. It’ll be fun having him at ECU with me.’’

Unlike Venable, Womack is working at a position this week where he didn’t see much action as a senior at Northside.

The 6-2, 185-pounder played mostly at quarterback where he helped direct Northside to the state 2-A semifinals before falling 8-3 against South Columbus. Northside completed its season with a 14-1 record with Womack rushing for 1,292 yards and 20 touchdowns. He did see some action at safety and cornerback late in the season, but never started on defense.

Womack said the transition to safety, however, came easy.

“It’s actually a little easier knowing I don’t have to go out there and remember all the plays and then go on defense and remember all the plays,’’ he said. “So playing one side of the ball is a little easier, but the competition is still stiff. So it’s a little bit harder there.’’

Getting the opportunity to compete against the best players in North Carolina and South Carolina is a challenge Womack is relishing.

“Everybody seems to be on top of their game already,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to stay up with them. But that’s the fun part of being here. You can test yourself against the best, and you get to form some bonds that you hope will last a long time.’’

One of those bonds has been formed with Venable, whom Womack gained an immediate respect for in the early workouts.

“He likes to hit people and make big plays,’’ Womack said. “I think we clicked pretty well when we met, and we make a great team out there at safety.’’

Despite Womack’s promise as a safety, he expects to play wide receiver when he arrives in Greenville next fall.

“I believe I’m going to be playing wide receiver at East Carolina,’’ he said. “But I think I bring athleticism to the safety spot. I’m capable of coming up and making the tackle on the run or covering up a receiver.

“I think if I work hard enough there is an opportunity for me to play next year (at ECU), but I know I’m still young. So if I have to wait, I’ll wait.’’

Both players have closely followed ECU’s success this season. Womack said he’s attended just about every home game to watch the Pirates this season.

Although neither was ready to give up his spot in the Shrine Bowl, Venable and Womack wouldn’t mind being on the plane to Hawaii with ECU when it heads to Honolulu to play Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 23.

“I actually asked Coach (Junior) Smith for a ticket,’’ Venable laughed. “That’s a great trip and I hope they bring back a win.’’

Womack hopes he and Venable can deliver the same for the North Carolina squad on Saturday.

“We’re here to win,’’ Womack said. “If we do, hopefully that will be the first of many for Justin and me together on the same team.’’

[View thumbnail sketches of all players verbally committed to join ECU's recruiting class of 2008.]

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01/05/2008 03:23:23 PM


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