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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

By Sammy Batten

Report Card: ECU's 2011 Crop of Newcomers

Recruiting class passes the test

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Ruffin McNeill's first season as head coach at East Carolina was all about an offense that propelled the Pirates to six wins and a bowl bid.

But after watching ECU give up more points (572) and more yard (6,224) than anybody in the Football Bowl Subdivision during the 2010 season, McNeill's recruiting focus was clearly on upgrading the defense. Improving the talent and depth of the defensive front seven was an even more specific priority.

So it came as no surprise last week when McNeill unveiled ECU's Recruiting Class of 2011 that 15 of the prospects signed will play defense for the Pirates, or that 12 of those are linemen or linebackers.

“In this league, the two best front sevens play for the Conference USA championship,'' McNeill noted on signing day, referring to Central Florida and Southern Methodist. “I think about the East Carolina Pirates. They won back-to-back championships with the best front sevens in C-USA.''

Three junior college transfers and one prep school signee should make an immediate impact at those critical positions in 2011. But how did the Pirates do recruiting in other areas?

Well, even we recruiting geniuses don't know for sure. But here's my best position-by-position analysis of the class and an early look at ECU's focus as it turns its attention to recruiting the Class of 2012.

Please note that all references to a player's class are in line with their 2011 status.



WHAT THEY NEEDED: Dominique Davis is back for an encore and people around the ECU program think redshirt freshman Shane Carden has a promising future. Behind those two are a pair of quick, athletic, young signal callers in sophomore Rio Johnson and redshirt freshman Desi Brown. And don't forget junior Brad Wornick, a junior who worked his way from walk-on status to the No. 2 position behind Davis last season. The need here was minimal, as in one.

WHO SIGNED: Cody Keith (6-3, 195) Cheshire (MA) Academy, Charlotte, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Keith generated a lot of publicity throughout his prep career and was well hyped by some big-name people in the recruiting world, like guru Tom Lemming. But there was relatively little major-college interest in the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder when Keith committed to the Pirates last summer before enrolling at Cheshire Academy for a post-graduate season. He put up impressive numbers at Cheshire — 3,840 yards passing and 39 touchdowns. Those included a record-setting 637-yard, eight-touchdown performance in one game. So there is something here, but most are still wondering if Keith is the real deal or a future back-up. In coach speak, I'm cautiously optimistic he's the real deal.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: At one point last summer it looked like the Pirates might have a shot at landing two-sport star Brian Taylor from Angier, NC. Taylor led Harnett Central High to the state 4-A football finals as a junior quarterback and hit over .400 in baseball. But close family connections to the N.C. State program led Taylor to Raleigh instead of Greenville.

WHO'S BACK: Davis will be back for what could be a record-shattering senior season. Wornick and Carden will battle for backup honors. Johnson and Brown need experience, but it's going to be hard to find opportunity behind that first trio.

WHO'S GONE: Nobody, unless you count quarterback-turned-wide receiver Josh Jordan, who decided to transfer to McNeese State so he could return to the position he'd been recruited to play at ECU.

NEEDS FOR 2012: With four players in the program that are either sophomores or freshmen, quarterback doesn't look like it would be a major priority. But with several impressive passers among the in-state prospects for 2012, the Pirates may take one anyway.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: Only one running back who has logged a carry in a college game and just three scholarship backs overall are scheduled to return. Signing at least three backs was essential and at least one needed to be ready to play next fall.

WHO SIGNED: Chevelle Buie (5-9, 170) Cocoa, FL; Reggie Bullock (5-9, 175) Las Vegas, NV (Arizona Western CC); Chris Hairston (6-0, 200) Greensboro, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates landed their impact back in junior college sensation Reggie Bullock. Bullock led the JUCO ranks in rushing as a sophomore with 1,830 yards and 20 touchdowns. Many of the big-name schools out West didn't recruit Bullock because they thought he was too short. But he'll fit nicely into ECU's backfield where his speed, shiftiness and ability to make big plays catching the ball should pay big dividends. Buie is a younger all-purpose back of similar size and skills to Bullock, while Hairston brings power and size along with more speed (4.49 40) to the group.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Romar Morris from Salisbury, NC, is one of the fastest athletes in the state. He's the two-time defending state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and would have been a perfect fit for ECU's offensive backfield. The Pirates made an offer early, but Morris was sold on UNC-Chapel Hill from the start and committed to the Tar Heels in July.

WHO'S BACK: Sophomore Michael Dobson is the only back on the roster who's seen any college action. Dobson appeared in all 13 games last season, but only rushed three times for 25 yards. He'll compete with Bullock and one of the prizes of ECU's recruiting Class of 2010, Alex Owah, for starting duties. Owah is an explosive athlete with good hands who piled up more than 5,000 rushing yards in high school. Sophomore Damonte Terry is the biggest of all the Pirate backs at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds.

WHO'S GONE: The top two rushers from 2010 have exited in Jonathan Williams (847 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Giavanni Ruffin (384 yards, 2 touchdowns). A third senior is also gone in Norman Whitley, who saw limited action the last two seasons.

NEEDS FOR 2012: The Pirates appear to be well stocked at running back with five of the six scholarship players residing in the sophomore or freshman classes. JUCO transfer Bullock is the only junior. Barring injury or defection, there's no need to sign another running back with so many pressing needs elsewhere.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: The expanded role of receivers under offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, plus the graduation of of three seniors made signing two or three prospects the goal.

WHO SIGNED: Antonio Cannon (6-2, 175) Central, SC; Donte Sumpter (6-0, 175) Myrtle Beach, SC; Danny Webster (5-10, 170) Havelock, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Antonio Cannon and Donte Sumpter were two of the most productive receivers in South Carolina last season. Cannon originally committed to Kentucky, but had a late change-of-heart to the Pirates. He caught 40 passes for 730 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. Sumpter benefitted from being teammates with Notre Dame quarterback signee Everett Golson. He had 89 receptions for 1,373 yards and 20 touchdowns in helping Myrtle Beach to the state Class AAA championship. Both Cannon and Sumpter are big-play makers who are likely to redshirt a year before they break into a packed receiver rotation. The “sleeper'' signee is Danny Webster, who spent most of his prep career playing quarterback and safety. Webster enjoyed an incredible junior year in which threw for 2,722 yards, rushed for 1,426, accounted for 50 touchdowns, made 68 tackles and six interceptions. So we know the guy can make plays. But Webster mysteriously walked away from his Havelock team after one game as a senior and didn't play another down. We'll get a chance to evaluate him as a receiver during spring practice because he's already enrolled at ECU.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: East Carolina extended offers to the top four in-state receiver prospects — T.J. Thorpe and Sherman Ragland from Durham, Nigel King of Raleigh and K.J. Brent from Waxhaw. But none gave serious consideration to the Pirates and their pass-happy offense. Makes you wonder. Thorpe opted for North Carolina, Ragland is headed to Wake Forest, King is going to Maryland and Brent to South Carolina.

WHO'S BACK: Ten players who caught at least one pass in 2010 are back, led by all-star candidate Lance Lewis. The rising senior enjoyed a breakout '10 season when he caught 89 passes for 1,116 yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. “Breakout'' could also describe the performances by Michael Bowman (47-434-3), Andrew Bodenheimer (40-370-2) and Justin Jones (21-211-5). Also seeing significant action last season were Dayon Arrington, Mike Price, Jeremy Davis and Joe Womack. Ready to challenge those eight for playing time this spring will be promising underclassmen like Torrance Hunt, Torian Richardson, Reese Wiggins and former tight ends Zico Pasut and Michael Byrd.

WHO'S GONE: One of the greatest in East Carolina history is off to pursue NFL fame and fortune. Dwayne Harris was without a doubt one of the most exciting performers ever to wear the purple and gold. Harris departed in style, earning C-USA most valuable player honors after making 101 catches for 1,123 yards and 10 scores. Heading out the door with Harris were reserve receivers Javon Brumsey, T.J. Terrell and walk-on Justin Nunery.

NEEDS FOR 2011: Six members of the receiving corps will complete their eligibility over the next two seasons, including Lewis, Bowman and Womack after 2011. Signing at least three will be required to keep the numbers coordinator Lincoln Riley needs to be comfortable with his depth and rotation.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: The Pirates were shooting for four or five linemen just to replace graduation losses. The center position appeared especially thin on paper, but several blockers on the roster can play multiple positions.

WHO SIGNED: Isaac Harris (6-7, 270) Irmo, SC; Stewart Hinson (6-7, 270) Monroe, NC; Chaz Lowery (6-5, 268) Virginia Beach, VA.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: All three signees have long arms and frames, which are two of the characteristics coaches look for in their blockers, especially those needed in a pass-heavy offense. But the trio will require some significant time to mature physically before they're ready to make an impact. Fortunately, ECU has the depth to get through without their help for at least a season. Hinson, who didn't allow a sack as a senior, can double as a long snapper. Harris comes from a football family — his father, Isaac, Sr., played football at South Carolina and was taken in the 1991 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: East Carolina was one of the first three schools to get involved with Dylan Intemann from Wake Forest, NC, along with N.C. State and Wake Forest. But by March 2010, Intemann indicated the Pirates had cooled on him while the Deacons and Wolfpack had stepped up their efforts. Wake Forest won his commitment a month later, and by the time the season ended it was pretty clear the Deacs had landed the second-best blocking prospect in the state behind Pikeville's Jarrod James.

WHO'S BACK: Just three players who made starts in 2010. Junior Dalton Faulds logged 10 starts at center, sophomore Grant Harner made 12 starts at tackle and senior Doug Polochak appeared in seven games at guard, making three starts. The often-injured Polochak was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA so he could return for 2011. Plenty of others saw extensive playing time in reserve roles like sophomore guard-tackle Jordan Davis (13 games), senior tackle Steven Baker (13) and sophomore guard Will Simmons (4). Juniors Josh Clark (tackle) and Anthony Garrett (guard), plus redshirt freshmen Drew Gentry (guard), Taylor Hudson (guard) and Mack Helms (center) round out the returnees.

WHO'S GONE: The Pirates lost a heavy dose of experience to graduation. D.J. Scott started at either guard or tackle all four seasons, while Cory Dowless was a three-year regular at guard. Willie Smith protected the blindside of ECU quarterbacks for two straight years at left tackle.

NEEDS FOR 2012: ECU loses only tackle Steven Baker and guard Doug Polochak after 2011, but it will need to make up for missing the mark from a numbers standpoint this year. Expect the Pirates to be looking for three to five more linemen in 2012.



WHAT THEY NEEDED: H-E-L-P! First graduation, then injuries forced the Pirates into a maddening shuffle to fill the end positions all season. They shifted linebackers Marke Powell and Justin Dixon to bolster the depth, only to see them go down with injuries. So bringing two or three newcomers into the program was essential, but it was also crucial that one or two them be ready to play immediately.

WHO SIGNED: Chris Baker (6-3, 230) Greenville, MS; Jeton Beavers (6-5, 260) Virginia Beach, VA; Dontrill Hyman (6-6, 250) Warsaw, NC; John Lattimore (6-4, 265) Lexington, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Baker and Lattimore are JUCO transfers who should immediately upgrade ECU's pass rush. Lattimore recorded 10 sacks and Baker 8.5 last season at the JUCO level. In Beavers, the Pirates have a superb, big athlete whom they can groom into something special in time. The same could be true of Hyman, a virtual unknown in in-state recruiting circles despite making 151 tackles as a senior.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: There weren't really any that ECU had a real shot at that went elsewhere. About the closest was 6-5, 215-pound Charlotte end Kyler Brown. The Pirates were one of the first two to offer, but Brown kept things in the family by signing with Duke, where his brother plays linebacker.

WHO'S BACK: Because of the constant shuffling at end, plenty of players got on-the-job training in 2010. So now there's a stable of returning candidates to contend for playing time at positions where only one person was lost to graduation. The two starters at the end of last season were sophomores Derrell Johnson (11 starts; 40 tackles) and Matt Milner (11 starts; 47 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss). But the year began with converted linebacker Marke Powell at one end and another ex-linebacker, Justin Dixon, seeing lots of action. Dixon, in particular, was off to a great start with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in the first four games. But both Dixon and Powell suffered injuries that sent them to the sidelines. Sophomore Dixon and junior Powell should be ready to go in 2011 along with other veterans in sophomore Lee Pegues (5 games in 2010) and senior Maurice Mercer (4). Of course, this mixture could change if Dixon or Powell, or both, are moved back to linebacker.

WHO'S GONE: A.J. Johnson wound up working as a backup to Derrell Johnson at one end. Johnson made seven tackles in 11 games.

NEEDS FOR 2012: Outside of senior Mercer, the Pirates are fairly young at the end positions. But taking two at minimum will be the smart move, especially with three more ends on schedule to graduate after the 2012 season.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: Because ECU didn't sign any tackles in 2010, getting three or more was the target number this time around.

WHO SIGNED: Will Foxx (6-2, 280) Greensboro, NC; Terrell Stanley (6-2, 260) Southport, NC; Leroy Vick (6-6, 270) Wilson, NC; Jonathan White (6-4, 275) High Point, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates improved their depth, added size and length and got some immediate help with this class. Leroy Vick is a JUCO transfer already enrolled at ECU, so he'll get the chance to compete for a starting job right away. Foxx missed most of his senior season at Oak Ridge Military Academy with an injury and will likely spend the next year making up for lost time. The coaching staff is very high on White and believe he's been vastly underrated by the recruiting services. Stanley is a project who will need time to develop.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Four-star tackle Devonte Brown from Fayetteville, NC, took a serious look at East Carolina just before his senior year began because he wanted to play football close to home. But Clemson and North Carolina eventually emerged as his leaders and the Tar Heels won him over in the end.

WHO'S BACK: Junior Robert Jones ended 2010 as the starter at one tackle, and he's scheduled to return along with both No. 2 guys on the depth chart. Senior Antonio Allison made three starts and played in 12 games, while sophomore Jimmy Booth appeared in 11 games. Two potential key contributors coming back from injuries are junior Michael Brooks, who made six starts in 2010, and junior Diavalo Simpson. Simpson missed all of last season after transferring in from the JUCO ranks. Last, but not least, redshirt freshman Crishon Rose will join the competition this spring.

WHO'S GONE: Josh Smith is one of my all-time favorite Pirates. The guy came to ECU as a walk-on after transferring from Western Carolina. He spent two years as a key reserve, then became the Pirates main man up front last year with 69 tackles and a team-leading 11 tackles for loss.

NEEDS FOR 2012: Five tackles on the roster will be in the junior or senior class next fall. Replacing at least half of those in recruiting will be an essential focus for 2012.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: It wasn't a high priority at first because of the youth on ECU's roster. But it became more of one as recruiting for 2011 unfolded, so signing three or four became the target number.

WHO SIGNED: Zeek Bigger (6-2, 210) Gastonia, NC; Joseph Blanks (6-2, 230) Pembroke, NC; Trehsawn Council (6-1, 210) Durham, NC; Montese Overton (6-3, 200) Greenville, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Potentially this quartet is the best signed at any one position by the Pirates. All four have the talent to become starters some day. Blanks, a JUCO transfer, is a ferocious hitter with excellent football savvy who is almost a sure bet to start at middle linebacker next fall. Bigger, Council and Overton are fast and athletic with plenty of room to grow physically. Bigger originally committed to Duke before switching late to ECU. Council was the defensive star of an unbeaten state 4-A championship team at Durham Hillside as a senior, while Overton was named Greenville area defensive player of the year after making 200 tackles. Overton is also the son of former ECU cager Darrell Overton (1988-91).

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Brandon Pittman from Raleigh, NC, had the Pirates on his early list of favorites along with Wake Forest and N.C. State. Pittman had only played one season of varsity football at the time, so he was considered a raw, but excellent talent. The Wolfpack won out in the end and kept Pittman at home.

WHO'S BACK: One starter from 2010 will return in junior Lamar McLendon at an outside spot. Senior Cliff Perryman (10 games), senior Matt Thompson (7 games, 2 starts) and sophomore Kyle Tudor (4 games) also contributed on the outside. Sophomore Ty Holmes made one start inside and appeared in eight games. Senior Steve Spence, who held key roles in 2008 and 2009, played only one game last year and his future is uncertain. Redshirt freshmen Jacob Geary and Terry Williams will likely back up transfer Blanks and Holmes inside and play on special teams. Junior walk-ons James Craig and Daniel Drake also played in 13 games, but mostly on special teams.

WHO'S GONE: ECU lost its top two tacklers to graduation in Dustin Lineback (119 tackles) and Melvin Patterson (94 tackles). Special teams starter and reserve walk-on Wes Pittman also departed.

NEEDS FOR 2012: With five linebackers in either the junior or senior classes on next year's roster, including the three probable starters, ECU will need to bring two or three aboard next February to start filling those holes.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: Attracting two or three safeties was the goal with three players scheduled to exit after the 2011 season.

WHO SIGNED: Domonique Lennon (6-2, 190) Suffolk, VA; Rocco Scarfone (5-11, 165) Greensboro, NC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: Scarfone is a scrappy, do-it-all type who starred at quarterback and cornerback for a state championship high school program at Northern Guilford. ECU recruited him to play free safety, so some transitioning is in order. Lennon is a physical safety who could make a quick contribution on special teams.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: None really, which is surprising since this seemed to be an area of need. The Pirates did offer four-star Tennessee safety Pat Martin, but were never a factor as the Volunteers kept him at home.

WHO'S BACK: The tandem of seniors Bradley Jacobs and Derek Blacknall handled the starting safety spots against Maryland in the Military Bowl, but sophomore Damon Magazu also impressed during some significant playing time as a rookie. Magazu played all 13 games, including a start against N.C. State in which his interception in overtime sealed ECU's win. Two other safeties with game experience will be junior Justin Venable and senior Devon Wallace.

WHO'S GONE: The NCAA denied a request by Dekota Marshall for a sixth year of eligibility in late January, but he plans to appeal. Marshall missed nearly a season-and-a-half with a broken leg.

NEEDS FOR 2012: Blacknall, Jacobs and Wallace will complete their eligibility after the 2011 season and Venable is just one class behind. That will leave the promising Damon Magazu and this year's safety recruits to get the job done. It won't be enough. Two or three needed, with possibly a JUCO who can help immediately.


WHAT THEY NEEDED: One required, two needed to replace graduates and other departed.

WHO SIGNED: Glen Hilliard (5-10, 170) Anderson, SC.

HOW ECU HELPED ITSELF: The Pirates added a big-play corner in Glen Hilliard. He made 13 interceptions during his final two prep seasons and scored two defensive touchdowns.

BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: The Pirates had what would wind up being the nation’s No. 5 cornerback in their summer camp back in 2009. They would wind up being one of more than 20 schools to offer scholarships to Demetrious Nicholson from Virginia Beach, VA. But the talented cover man decided to stay home and attend Virginia.

WHO’S BACK: Four cornerbacks who played in 11 or more games last season are set to return, led by all-star candidate Emanuel Davis. The senior was a second-team All-Conference USA pick in 2010. Junior Jacobi Jenkins made three starts alongside Davis, while juniors Rahkeem Morgan and Leonard Paulk played in 11 and 13 games, respectively. Two of the more exciting athletes on ECU’s roster will also make their debut in 2011 when redshirt freshmen Detric Allen and Lamar Ivey join the mix.

WHO’S GONE: Travis Simmons departs after starting three straight seasons and lettering for four.

NEEDS FOR 2012: This may be the biggest area of need in 2012 with Davis departing after the 2011 season and three others heading off the following year. Signing two to four players here will be a priority.

KICKER (No grade)

WHAT THEY NEEDED: Nothing really with both placekicker and punter returning.



BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY: None. No offers were extended to kickers.

WHO’S BACK: Placekicker Michael Barbour and punter Ben Ryan, both seniors, will return. Backup punter Trent Tignor and placekicker/punter Matt Millisor are also back.

WHO’S GONE: Nobody.

NEEDS FOR 2012: Millisor, a recruited walk on, looks like the heir apparent to Barbour. But the Pirates may need to sign a punter in the next class.


When it’s all said and done, the Pirates deserve high marks for filling pressing needs with this class. I’d say a B- minus would be a fair grade for a class that will ultimately be much better than most experts expect.

E-mail Sammy Batten

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02/09/2011 04:48:19 AM


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