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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

By Sammy Batten

Shrine Bowlers get a taste of the regimen


By Sammy Batten
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SPARTANBURG, SC — They aren't returning home with a victory, but four future East Carolina Pirates left here Saturday better acquainted and anxious to become college teammates next fall.

Lake City, SC, linebacker Devaris Brunson, Havelock cornerback A.J. Coplon, Charlotte Vance defensive end Kirk Donaldson and Statesville linebacker Tristan Mumford are senior high school prospects who have verbally committed to East Carolina and will hopefully sign with the Pirates in February. The quartet represented their states Saturday at Gibbs Stadium in the 76th annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game against South Carolina.

A fifth ECU commit, New Bern offensive lineman Christian Matau, was also picked to play in the game but withdrew because of injury.

The Sandlappers scored two late touchdowns to pull out a 26-19 victory over the Tar Heel squad. But the week-long experience, which included an inspirational visit to the Spartanburg Shriners Hospital for Children, allowed the future Pirates to start forging a bond. That was especially true for Coplon, Donaldson and Mumford, who were teammates for the first time on the North Carolina team.

"It's been nice to meet those guys this week,'' Donaldson said. "We're getting to know each other here, so when we get to Greenville we should already have a good relationship.''

"I've been getting to know all of them pretty well,'' Mumford said. "We've been talking a lot about ECU and about the work it's going to take when we get there.''

The players got a taste of the college football lifestyle during preparations for the Shrine Bowl. They had to learn new offensive and defensive schemes during four rounds of two-a-day practices, some of which took place under cool temperatures and drizzling conditions at Spartanburg High School. After meals and activities, players sat through position meetings in the evenings.

The competition on the practice field was intense at times as the players, who were all stars on their high school teams, tested themselves against the best in their respective states.

"This is definitely a higher level than high school,'' said Coplon, who two weeks prior helped Havelock win the state 3-A championship. "All these guys are talented. You have to give your best on every drill and every practice to keep up.''

Donaldson and Mumford both earned starting positions for the North Carolina squad, although Donaldson's opportunity came on offense. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder held down the tight end position despite not playing there at all during his senior season at Vance.

Working at defensive end and outside linebacker, Donaldson made 60 tackles and eight quarterback sacks in helping Vance to a 9-4 finish this season. The Pirates have recruited Donaldson to play outside linebacker.

"I didn't play tight end this whole year,'' Donaldson said. "When I got here, it (playing tight end) was kind of a surprise. But we're playing for a higher cause here (proceeds from game go to Shriners Hospitals for Children). So I was happy to jump over to offense to help our team.''

Mumford may have made the biggest impression among the ECU recruits during Shrine Bowl week.

The 6-1, 225-pounder played fast and physical at inside linebacker for the North Carolina squad after spending the 2012 season at Statesville splitting time between quarterback and linebacker. Mumford threw for 1,904 yards, rushed for 677 and accounted for 34 touchdowns on offense, while still managing 70 tackles and five sacks on defense for the 13-2 Greyhounds.

Davie County's Doug Illing served as linebacker coach for the North Carolina squad. Illing said Mumford was one of the easier choices he made in picking linebackers for the Shrine Bowl squad.

"He's just good from day one,'' Illing said. "Physically, he's fast and he's a physical linebacker who plays downhill, and he's a great athlete. So you get a linebacker who is 235 playing inside, he can take the pounding of offensive linemen, plus he can run to the edge on the running backs, too. He's a good fit for that spot.

"That's what is going to make him a special player because he's played just about every spot on the field in high school. You're going to put him in one spot and practicing him every day on fundamentals and stuff, he's going to be a superstar at that spot in college.''

Brunson also drew accolades on the South Carolina side for his speed and ability to make plays from an inside linebacker spot. The 6-foot, 206-pounder is expected to play outside linebacker at ECU, if he makes it to Greenville.

Although Brunson says he's still committed to the Pirates, he remains open to other options. N.C. State, which recently hired Dave Doeren from Northern Illinois to replace Tom O'Brien, could be one of those options.

"I'm still open to any school that's still talking to me,'' Brunson said. "I still talk to N.C. State.

"But I'm still committed to East Carolina. I've been talking to their coaches and they've told me about the different recruits they're getting out of North and South Carolina, so I think it's going to be a good class.''

Coplon, too, said he's committed to ECU, but was hoping more offers would come his way after a strong week at the Shrine Bowl where he rotated at cornerback.

"I hope to perform well and get more offers, and see what I can do,'' he said. "I guess you can say I'm kind of looking around.

"But I have been impressed with East Carolina this season. I have a good feeling about the program there, and about where these guys I've been playing with this week could take the program.''

One player in the game who isn't committed to East Carolina, but is entertaining an offer from the Pirates was South Carolina running back Harold Atkinson. A 6-1, 210-pounder from Carolina Forest High in Myrtle Beach, Atkinson also has scholarship offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota and N.C. State.

Atkinson said during the Shrine Bowl week that he won't likely come to a final decision before national signing day in February.

"I'm aware of my options,'' he said. "I'm looking to make my decision closer to national signing day. I've been on one official visit to ECU and I'm looking forward to going to a couple of official visits in January.

"It (ECU) was great. I really like that school. They are a team that's really high on my list. They made me feel at home. With the coaches, I never felt out of place, and that's what I'm looking for.''

Atkinson added that seeing Vintavious Cooper rush for more than 1,000 yards this season for the Pirates was also a drawing card.

"When you make your decision you definitely look for ways you are going to be played,'' Atkinson said. "ECU running the ball is definitely what I'm looking for. Any school that's willing to give me the ball, that's what I'm looking at.''

Atkinson and all the other recruits will get another chance to watch Cooper and the Pirates on December 22 in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"I'm going to be excited to watch that on TV,'' Donaldson said. "They've had a great season and winning a bowl would be a great way to finish it off.''

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12/18/2012 01:55:30 AM


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