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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, August 4, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Pirates' ties to 'Big East' unsinkable


East Carolina is in the Big East.

As good as that may sound, let me explain. What I mean is that East Carolina has a strong presence in the Big East 4-A Conference in high school football. Sorry if you spewed your coffee thinking that opening statement was in reference to something else.

Henceforth in today's column, Big East means the prep league that includes New Bern, Greenville Rose, Northern Nash, Rocky Mount, Havelock and Pitt County Conley. In fact, that's the order that the league coaches picked this year's race in football with the Bears favored to successfully defend their conference title.

Three of the league's coaches — New Bern's Chip Williams, Rose's Greg Thomas and Havelock's Wilbur Sasser — are ECU graduates. A fourth, Conley's Ben Moore, got his master's degree there. Williams, Thomas and Sasser played football for the Pirates and Williams' son, Bubba, was a long snapper for ECU just a couple of years ago.

Bubba, incidentally, will student teach this fall at Eastern Wayne and hopes to go into coaching.

Moore might have had the best line at the preseason news conference on Sunday at Rose. Asked how things were in Hollywood, which is the crossroads community where Conley is located, Moore replied, "Not enough stars."

Maybe that's why the Vikings are picked for the cellar.

Rose senior center Nick Grimes (6 feet, 270 pounds) is the son of ECU offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. Conley junior quarterback Ryan McManus (6-1, 175) is the son of Pirates running back coach Jerry McManus. That should be an interesting week in the ECU football office when Conley hosts the Rampants on Oct. 17. The Vikings will also get a hand from former Pirate wide receiver Mike Myrick, who will be a volunteer assistant coach.

The younger Grimes has already received scholarship offers from ECU, Tulsa and James Madison, according to Thomas, the Rampants' fifth-year coach.

"Nick is great on fundamentals and his work ethic is strong," said Thomas, the son of former Pirates player and ECU hall of famer Dave Thomas. "If he stays healthy, I have no doubt he can play Division I. The only question mark might be his height but I think he'll get a chance to play."

Greg Thomas played center and guard for the Pirates, mostly guard he said. He was an offensive captain his junior and senior seasons in a career that spanned the transition between head coaches Ed Emory and Art Baker. Thomas was on Emory's 1983 team that played competitive games on the road at Miami, Florida and Florida State. ECU lost to those three powers by a total of 13 points in an 8-3 season and was ranked No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll.

"Something I'll always remember is playing that tough competition," Thomas said. "It was a chance to travel and play in some great stadiums against teams with a lot of tradition."

Rose senior running back Andre Brown is expected to have the opportunity to play in some great stadiums for some great teams. Nebraska and Tennessee are among the programs showing interest in Brown, who moved to Greenville from Baltimore before his sophomore season and ran for 2,400 yards last season as a junior. Every Division I-A school in the state also is pursuing Brown (6-1, 215).

"He's a north and south runner with great speed," Thomas said. "He's matured. If he needs to lower his shoulder to get a yard, he's going to do that. He's got excellent hands as a receiver although we haven't used him to much like that. He could also play linebacker, which we actually did one game last year but he was almost exhausted before halftime."

Brown's custodial guardian is a cousin, Wesley Sturdivant, who was in the ECU program in the late 1990s under former coach Steve Logan. Thomas said Brown will need to make an NCAA qualifying score on his SAT but plans to take all five of his official visits. New Bern senior quarterback Davon Drew (6-4, 215) is also a highly regarded college prospect.

Rose will likely start Lemeric Muldrow, a transfer from Texas, at quarterback. He's short, 5-8, and a converted running back, but the Rampants won the passing competition at ECU's team camp this summer.

The Big East coaches who have become acquainted with new ECU football coach John Thompson commented favorably about his leadership style.

"He's a very personable-type person," Thomas said. "I think he's still trying to settle in and learn the community but I feel he and his staff are going to do a great job."

The sentiments of the high school coaching community toward college coaches can indicate how successful a staff will be in terms of recruiting. I recall that former North Carolina coach Dick Crum was not generally liked by the state's high school coaches. He didn't seem to relate well to prep coaches. It was like Crum could walk into a room and create an atmosphere of awkwardness.

Crum's replacement, Mack Brown, seldom missed an opportunity to show his appreciation of the high school coaching fraternity and it soon was reflected in the improved talent level of the Tar Heels' program.

Havelock's Sasser played at ECU at the end of the Clarence Stasavich coaching era and played for the Pirates in Mike McGee's only year as head coach in 1970. This is Sasser's 32nd year overall in coaching, his 29th as a head coach and his 25th with the Rams. ECU receiver Will Bland, linebacker Chris Moore and defensive end Guy Whimper are all products of the Havelock program.

"Coach Thompson and coach McManus came over and spent some time at Havelock after he became coach and it was very enjoyable," said Sasser, an offensive lineman in Stasavich's single wing in his playing days. "Coach Thompson is tremendously different in his personality from Coach (Steve) Logan. The way he's being perceived by the public, I think he's the type of guy who has the type of personality that everybody is going to like him until he gives people a reason not to.

"Unfortunately for many people it's wins and losses but at this point, people like him (Thompson) very much."

The Big East had some big wins last season, producing two state finalists. Northern Nash reached the 4-A championship game and New Bern matched up with Charlotte Independence in the 4-AA title game.

"I think this conference will be every bit as competitive this year," said New Bern's Williams, who was also a letterman during the foundation-laying reign of Stasavich.

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02/22/2007 11:53:50 PM

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