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View from the East
Friday, December 16, 2011

By Al Myatt

Ruff making his recruiting list and checking it twice

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina football coach Ruffin McNeill hit the road to recruit shortly after the Pirates finished the 2011 season. McNeill and staff have been traveling as much as anyone this side of the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The ECU coach and his assistants have made their list and have been in the process of checking it twice.

"Right now we're on schedule to sign 20 young men," McNeill said Thursday. "We want 10 (signees) offensively and 10 defensively. We're going to try to add at least four offensive linemen, one quarterback, three receivers and one, possibly two, running backs. On defense, we're trying to upload our linebacking position at five and defensive backs at five there, too."

The Pirates have been scouring junior colleges in their talent quest.

"We're probably going to try to add a couple of JC young men there at the offensive line position, maybe one at wide receiver and at the DB (defensive back) position," McNeill said. "I've been all over. You name it and I've been there."

McNeill can't address potential recruits by name at this point but various recruiting services indicate that ECU has recently received a commitment from Lance Ray, a receiver at Northwest Mississippi Community College, who initially signed at Arkansas. Ray, who is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, had received offers from Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern Miss, Marshall, Troy and Middle Tennessee State.

Ray appears to be on the athletic level of Lance Lewis, who became ECU's career scoring receptions leader in 2011, and NFL rookie Dwayne Harris, who was activated this week by the Dallas Cowboys.

McNeill's primary focus has been on Georgia, Florida and North Carolina to this point.

"We haven't hit the northern part yet but that will come after the (holiday) break," said the Pirates coach.

Staff exits

McNeill has had a minimum of staff transition in his two years at ECU. That changed to a degree when former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach accepted the coaching job at Washington State. Clay McGuire, who served as ECU's running backs coach and special teams coordinator, and Dennis Simmons, the Pirates' outside wide receivers coach, both accepted opportunities to rejoin Leach's staff at WSU. McGuire will be offensive line coach and Simmons will continue working with receivers.

Also, Antonio Huffman, who played for Leach at Texas Tech, has resigned as director of football operations at ECU and is expected to emerge in a similar capacity at Washington State.

"When I hired them, I knew they were going to be attractive to people," McNeill said. "Some people may have questioned age and those types of things but having worked with them, I knew they were good teachers on the field. They would get after it and work hard in the office. The third part was recruiting. I thought they would do a great job with that and they did.

"I knew people would come after them. It happened to be that Coach Leach got a job. The money was at an astronomical difference and those kinds of things. They had to do what they had to do. I'm looking right now and moving slow. I'm going to bring a special teams/running backs guy in and a wide receiver guy and a director of ops guy in."

Ruff's thoughts on LSU-Alabama

The rematch between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will decide the BCS national champion in New Orleans on Jan.9. McNeill encountered some of his coaching colleagues from LSU Brick Haley (Tigers defensive line coach), Ron Cooper (secondary), John "Chief" Chavis (defensive coordinator) on the recruiting trail this week.

"I've known those guys for a while," McNeill said. "They're good guys and good football coaches."

It's probably a good sign for the Pirates that McNeill would be at the same place at the same time in pursuit of players as representatives of the nation's No. 1 program.

McNeill noted that 'Bama has a shot at the BCS title although a 9-6 loss to LSU knocked the Crimson Tide out of even winning the Southeastern Conference's West Division, much less the SEC championship.

"I think that's why they say a plus one (a four-team playoff) is needed," said the ECU coach.

The LSU trio of coaches didn't appear to be stressing over the pending rematch.

"They've got the talent and personnel," McNeill said. "They're not really worried about them. Their personnel is similar NFL draft choices. They're excited just about getting back to the championship game."

Spring ball

McNeill said the Pirates will start spring practice on March 19. The spring football game is scheduled for April 14.

ECU will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a 5-7 team in 2011 that came within a whisker of becoming bowl eligible in a 34-27 overtime loss at Marshall in the regular season finale on Nov. 26.

The loss of senior quarterback Dominique Davis creates a major void in terms of leadership on the offensive side of the ball.

"The guys we have competing Rio Johnson, Shane Carden and Brad Wornick have a chance to be pretty good leaders," McNeill said. " ... Cody (Keith) is a guy who could come in there but I think Cody is still rehabbing from ankle surgery, which puts him behind the rest of the guys right now. Cody is a guy who is going to be a fine quarterback here, too, but those guys are probably ahead of Cody, just because they're older and they've been around and those kinds of things."

Non-conference matchups set

ECU essentially will trade Appalachian State for Virginia Tech on its nonconference schedule for 2012, as compared to the competition the Pirates faced outside of Conference USA in 2011.

The Pirates will play South Carolina in Columbia next season on a date to be announced. ECU will host ASU, where McNeill spent seven years as an assistant, on Sept. 8. Pirates associate head coach and inside linebackers coach John Wiley was on the Mountaineers staff from 1993 to 2009.

ECU will play North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sept.22. Navy will come to Greenville on Oct. 27.

E-mail Al Myatt

PAGE UPDATED 01/03/12 02:39 AM.

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