College Sports in the Carolinas
from the 'ville
December 1, 2005
By Al Myatt
Devoted duo takes modest
path to big dreams
Belonging more important
than glamour to long snappers Johnson, Raynor
led junior Britt Johnson (left) and freshman Wilson Raynor (right)
to doggedly pursue and ultimately earn roles on the East Carolina
ECU Media Relations]
Britt Johnson and Wilson Raynor are true
Pirates, East Carolina's answers to Notre Dame's "Rudy."
For some players, college choices are based on
who is most influential in recruiting, what program presents the best
opportunity for early playing time or which school has the most impressive
Former coach Bill Dooley said he once lost a
recruit to a program that had an ice cream machine in its cafeteria line.
None of those factors applied to this pair of
deep snappers, who were born and bred on Pirate football as sons of ECU
alumni. Johnson's dad, Don, was a manager in the Pat Dye era. Raynor's dad,
Rhett, was a graduate assistant coach for the Pirates.
Johnson, a junior from Rocky Mount, has missed
just three home games since 1987. He went out twice unsuccessfully for the
team at ECU before circumstances allowed him to fulfill his dream.
"I tried out after the season was over my
freshman year and I was cut," said Johnson, who is 5-foot-8 and 223 pounds.
"I tried out again after that season was over and I was cut again."
But things changed for Johnson with ECU's
Tuesday night home game on ESPN against Houston on Sept. 30, 2003.
"Brandon Howard, our long snapper, was hurt
that night," Johnson recalled. "We saw him limp off the field and he didn't
come back. After the game, I went and waited at the locker room and he told
me he'd torn his ACL.
"About two days later, I walked up to the
special teams coach Jerry McManus's office. He was not there so I kind of
swallowed hard and I said, 'Well, I got to go to the big dog.' So I went to
John Thompson and when I walked in I started to introduce myself and he
said, 'Britt, I already know who you are. We were about to call you.'
"He told me to come out there the next day and
snap for him. I went out there and snapped and I traveled the rest of that
year. I've been on the team ever since."
The fact that he hasn't gotten on the field is
secondary to Johnson. He's a young man who has realized a childhood goal.
"I had two very good snappers in front of me
this year in Wilson Raynor and Mike Yartin," Johnson said. "Mike's a senior,
he'll be leaving us. Brandon came back last year after that (injury). You
know, I'm happy to be on the team. I'd love to be able to snap next year, my
senior year, if I can get that opportunity, but if not, it's just great to
be a Pirate."
It's even better being a part of the program
that has become more competitive under Skip Holtz's leadership.
"It's on the rise," Johnson said. "The senior
leadership that we had this year, the coaching staff that we have in place
here now — it's really unbelievable and it's really special. Finishing the
year with two wins is really going to help with recruiting.
"This staff here is as good as we've had at
East Carolina in a long time. ... Big things are going to start happening
here at East Carolina. We just hope that everybody will jump on board and
come on and get on the ship with us and get ready to ride."
Johnson's other passion is Rocky Mount
football. The fact that he hasn't traveled with ECU this season has allowed
him to follow the Gryphons' run to the Eastern 3-A title game this Friday
night against Western Alamance. The last Pirate home game he missed was in
2001 against William & Mary when he sustained a concussion the night before
in a Rocky Mount game.
"Rocky Mount on Friday night and the Pirates
on Saturday — there's nothing better," Johnson said.
Johnson, who wears No. 54, and Raynor, No. 59,
are brothers in spirit in their passion for the Pirates.
"Since I've been I guess three years old,
since I've been able to know what football is, my dream is not to be able to
play in the NFL — nothing like that — it's been to play for East Carolina
and just to be able to be a part of this team," Raynor said. "It's a dream
come true to me."
Raynor has performed on punts this year for
the Pirates and has been successful in maintaining a degree of anonymity at
a position where the easiest way to become known is to make a bad snap.
"I'd like to hear my name over the intercom if
I make a tackle — not before the play's over," said Raynor, a 6-2, 231-pound
freshman who spent a season refining his technique at Hargrave Military
after playing on the high school level at Triton High in Erwin.
"It was tough at Hargrave, but I wouldn't
trade it," Raynor said. "It developed me mentally and physically."
Deep snappers have to put the ball on the
money to the punter as quickly as possible, block rushes up the middle and
then get downfield in punt coverage. Raynor snaps a lot on the sideline to
stay in sync for those five or six times per game when he goes in to deliver
the ball to punter Ryan Dougherty.
"All the specialists joke with me that I snap
the most during the game that they've ever seen of any long snapper," Raynor
said. "I just want to be completely fluid and comfortable when I go into the
game. The best way to do that is repetition."
The Pirates averaged 40.1 yards on 59 punts in
2005 with one block. Operation time on punts was consistently about 2.0
seconds. Raynor said Dougherty's mobility takes some pressure off of him.
"Definitely," he said. "He's the most athletic
punter I've ever had. During practice if I let one get away and then just
watching it on film, it's just amazing what he can do back there. He really
gets it off fast."
In college football, it's sometimes said that
coaches and players are only as good as their last game. For ECU, that will
be a good thing following a 31-23 win over UAB to close 2005.
"Like Coach Holtz said (after the win over the
Blazers), 'The new season began 10 minutes ago,' when he was in the locker
room talking," Raynor said. "This right here and winning the last two puts
the seniors out winners. It puts us in good position to take off next year."
Raynor will work on bulking up and making his
snaps faster in the offseason.
"The best way to do that is just getting
stronger and repetitions," Raynor said. "I want to hear my name called a few
more times next year for making a tackle. That's my goal for next year."
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