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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Thursday, October 4, 2012

By Sammy Batten

Vance coach touts ECU recruit Donaldson


By Sammy Batten
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Keith Wilkes has seen more than his share of college football prospects in a high school coaching career that's taken him from Winston-Salem to Snellsville, GA, and now to Charlotte.

"I've gotten about 400 kids into college (football) since I've been coaching,'' Wilkes will tell you as a fact, but not in a boastful way. "So, I can tell a (college) athlete when I see one.''

Wilkes recognized that kind of potential immediately last winter when he visited Charlotte's Vance High School while pursing the job as head football coach. He attended a boys' basketball game at Vance, where he first saw Kirk Donaldson.

Donaldson, at the time, was enrolled at Davidson Day School where he'd gone after his sophomore year at Vance to improve his academics.

"Some people told me about some of the (football) kids who were here (at Vance),'' Wilkes said. "I came to visit and I saw him at a basketball game. You could tell he had good size and he had this demeanor about him. Everything about him was very impressive.

"We talked about some of the things I had accomplished and about the number of players I'd sent to college, so he decided to come back (to Vance).''

Wilkes wasn't the only one who noticed the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder's football talents. East Carolina's coaching staff had already extended a scholarship offer following Donaldson's injury-shortened junior season at Davidson Day. Donaldson also had offers from Football Championship Subdivision programs Appalachian State and Gardner-Webb.

Donaldson accepted the ECU offer in July after deciding to transfer back to Vance for his final prep season.

The Pirates discovered Donaldson as a sophomore when he played a prominent role on a Vance team that went 11-4 and reached the semifinals of the state 4-AA playoffs.

Realizing he had major college potential, Donaldson left Vance for Davidson Day. He played in three games there, collecting 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks, before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Wilkes’ experience developing college football talent convinced Donaldson to return to Vance for his senior season. He’s been one of the leaders on a defensive unit that also includes South Carolina commit Larenz Bryant at linebacker. Donaldson had 26 tackles and five quarterback sacks through the Cougars first seven games.

“Our last game he had two or three sacks,’’ Wilkes said. “He’s really started to come on. He was really green when he came back here because he didn’t play much last year.

“Once he really learns his technique at the position he’s going to play, he will really be a great player.’’

Wilkes is using Donaldson as a defensive tackle in Vance’s 3-4 alignment. But he anticipates that the Pirates may convert Donaldson to an outside linebacker in their 3-4 set.

Donaldson certainly has the speed to make that transition. He’s been timed at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

“He has real good speed for his size,’’ Wilkes said. “I could see him becoming a good outside linebacker because of how well he moves.’’

Wilkes compares Donaldson favorably to another defensive lineman he coached during his tenure at Carver High School in his hometown of Winston-Salem. Wilkes directed Carver to 139 victories, 11 conference titles and two state championships between 1992 and 2007 as head coach.

Prior to becoming head coach, Wilkes worked as an assistant at Carver and coached a defensive lineman named Antonio Stevenson. Stevenson was an East-West All-Star as a senior in 1988 and went on to become an NCAA Division II All-American at Winston-Salem State.

“Kirk kind of reminds me of Antonio athletically,’’ Wilkes said. “He’s just a bigger version of Antonio. Antonio kind of blossomed in college, and I think Kirk’s best football is ahead of him, too.’’

Donaldson would be the fourth linebacker prospect in East Carolina’s recruiting class, if he winds up playing that position in college. Two linebackers — Chris Baker and Daniel Drake — on ECU’s current depth chart will complete their eligibility after this season. Four others are scheduled to finish up after the 2013 season (Derrell Johnson, Kyle Tudor, Ty Holmes and Gabriel Woullard).

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10/04/2012 01:05:49 AM


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