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View from the East
Friday, July 9, 2004

By Al Myatt

ECU beefs up recruiting clout on home front


East Carolina signed 16 players from Florida in its 2004 recruiting class compared to just four from North Carolina, a disparity that Pirates football coach John Thompson appears to be in the process of addressing with a deft hiring decision.

An announcement is expected from ECU next week that successful former Williamston coach Harold Robinson will be working in high school relations for JT's program.

Not that there's anything wrong with players from Florida.

Miami, Florida State and Florida have all won national championships with considerable help from home state talent. In fact, Florida is fertile recruiting ground for many nationally-powerful programs. N.C. State has certainly enhanced its roster with Florida players since Chuck Amato returned to his alma mater from Florida State.

Thompson's initial signing classes have taken advantage of his own Sunshine state connections. A former defensive coordinator at Florida, Thompson and several members his staff have probably more comfortable finding players in areas of the country that they are more familiar with than North Carolina.

They've been doing what comes naturally, because finding players is the name of the game. For example, the father of ECU defensive coordinator Jerry Odom is one of the most highly respected high school coaches in Florida and it's to ECU's advantage to make use of such connections.

Remember where Jeff Blake, the quarterback who guided ECU to an 11-1 record in 1991, was from? He was from Sanford, Fla.

When it comes to sheer numbers of talented prospective athletes, Florida has North Carolina beat and it's really not even close. Florida's warmer climate, the absence of spring football in North Carolina's high schools and the ACC's influential identity for so long as a basketball league are all factors that have been cited in the lack of volume of football players developed in state.

And the quality players North Carolina does produce often prefer to go out of state. Those who stay home are subject to tugs of war between five Division I-A programs in the state.

But Thompson said at the outset of his regime at ECU that he was looking forward to recruiting in-state. Traditionally, North Carolina, particularly the area East of I-95, has been a great source of players for the Pirates. By adding Robinson to work in high school relations, ECU is saying it intends to heighten its in-state recruiting presence.

Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Jerry McManus has done an admirable job of bringing in quality and quantity of in-state recruits during his eight years on the ECU staff even though, ironically perhaps, McManus is from Florida, too.

With the addition of Robinson, McManus will operate less like the Lone Ranger that he has been the last two years in state. Bringing Robinson aboard is a sign to high school coaches in the region and across the state that Thompson is serious about going after their top players and not just saying the right things about his intentions in that regard.

Robinson has already sent some top talent to ECU from Williamston. Pernell Griffin led Robinson's 1995 team to the state 1-A championship as a junior before becoming a star linebacker for the Pirates. Ronald Pou, another Williamston product, was a solid contributor at noseguard at ECU after transferring from Georgia Military. Receiver Kevin Roach and defensive lineman Mike Horner are players Robinson coached on the high school level who are currently in the ECU program.

Robinson was at Williamston for 31 seasons, 26 as head coach. He guided the Tigers to a 1-A state title in 1999. For those unfamiliar with 1-A football in North Carolina, state titles by Eastern teams have been something akin to the Florida Marlins beating the New York Yankees in last year's World Series. Teams from the west and the Smoky Mountain Conference in particular have been dominant.

This will be Robinson's second stint working with the ECU football staff. A 1972 ECU graduate, Robinson was a graduate assistant for ex-Pirates coach Sonny Randle on a Southern Conference championship team in 1973 while he completed work on his Masters degree in physical education. Robinson also has a Masters in high school administration.

Although Williamston is a small town program in rural Martin County competing in a small classification, Robinson has been influential statewide. He is a past president of both the state high school football coaches association as well as the state coaches association. He was an assistant coach for the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team in 1996.

Robinson improved the process of selecting players for the Shrine Bowl when he was named head coach for the all-star game in 2001 as he instituted Shrine Bowl combines at several locations across the state. Prospective players came in to show their skills and be timed in the 40-yard dash with college coaches permitted access as well. It was a great step forward in the selection process for the game which had previously relied on nominations from coaches and reviewing tape of the players.

But Robinson didn't get to coach the 2001 Shrine Bowl team against the South Carolina stars because of a schedule conflict when Williamston reached the state championship game again that season. Robinson was named to coach the 2002 Shrine Bowl, a game North Carolina won, 28-0, as a current Pirate, Pierre Parker of Wilson Beddingfield, was named defensive player of the game for the winning team.

Robinson campaigned behind the scenes for years for ECU to be a host site in football in the state high school playoffs and that goal will soon become a reality.

Robinson also has long held the desire to return to his alma mater and help the football program. Thompson is providing a great opportunity for him to do just that.


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02/23/2007 12:45:59 AM

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