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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 8, 2007

By Al Myatt

Holtz, on solid footing, lures solid class

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Skip Holtz stepped to the podium in the Pat Draughon Room of the Ward Sports Medicine Building with the assurance of a man who has a $4.35-million restructured contract and the respect of the Pirate Nation.

Holtz, who helped himself to both during a 2006 run to the Bowl, manifested the enthusiasm of former coach John Thompson as he addressed media regarding his incoming class on signing day. Perhaps, too, he had some of the vintage wisdom of ex-East Carolina mentor Steve Logan. Time will tell about that.

The fax machine in the football office was busy on Wednesday, delivering the letters of intent from 26 new additions to the Pirate program. There were not a lot of last minute surprises as ECU locked down with official documentation many of the commitments obtained over a span of months.

Holtz seemed to have mixed emotions — relief, happiness and excitement — as he surveyed the haul.

"I've been waiting for 3 o'clock for about the last eight months it seems like, especially with the way recruiting is changing," Holtz said. "Verbal commitments are getting earlier and earlier with everything. You really kind of look forward to getting to this day, which makes it probably a little more anticlimactic than it used to be. At the same time, it's a sense of relief."

There are others who are no doubt relieved that Holtz has rediscovered the recruiting base on which the Pirates have prospered in the past. In contrast to Thompson's emphasis on Florida, there is only one incoming player from the Sunshine state — massive defensive lineman Linval Joseph, who initially committed to national champion Florida.

"I made the comment three years ago that we were going to recruit the state of North Carolina," Holtz said. "This is where we were going to start. We have East Carolina on our shirts and that's what we were going to try and make this — home for a lot of the players in the Carolina areas.

"We were going to recruit the Carolina areas first. I think it's been a bumper crop year in the state of North Carolina this year as far as athletes are concerned, which has really worked out well for us, especially with us being able to have a little bit of success on the football field. Being able to go to a bowl, and, all of a sudden, I think it's been a very visible program for a lot of the players that are in the state."

Holtz said it had been a three-year process to get to the point that produced Wednesday's results. He credited diligence by the ECU coaching staff as well as the job the players did in hosting prospective players on recruiting visits. Pirate fans did their part, too. The atmosphere at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during 2006 home games was a plus as many recruits were favorably impressed by the passion and support which surrounds football at East Carolina.

Unlike a few years ago when Greenville Rose star running back Andre Brown ultimately sidestepped the Pirates for a grant to N.C. State, ECU landed some of the top talent in its own backyard. Running backs Jonathan Williams of Greenville Rose and Tyrell Worthington of hometown South Central didn't find the grass greener elsewhere, although Worthington may still opt for pro baseball.

ECU has become a magnet for in-state talent once again as 21 of 26 signees played on the high school level in North Carolina. You can bet that athletic director Terry Holland will greatly appreciate that fact when it comes to totaling up scholarship costs for in-state versus out-of-state tuitions.

"It's been a total team effort to put this class together," Holtz said. "I think it's the strongest class we've put together since I've been here as far as guys making a difference on the field with us. I couldn't be more excited about it."

The Pirates didn't sign an offensive lineman. Holtz said his previous signing classes had addressed the objective of "building the foundation" with personnel up front. There are some gargantuan defensive linemen who may make the transition to the other side of the ball as Guy Whimper, now with the New York Giants, did in Holtz's first season at ECU.

It's difficult to project what four years of growth and development will do for many players. Holtz noted that safeties can mature into linebackers and tight ends can grow into offensive linemen, as Josh Coffman has done in his ECU career. rated ECU's class No. 73 among 119 Division I-A teams. The site rated four incoming Pirates as three-star players — Joseph, Harnett Central's Rodney Cox, Worthington and Daronte McNeil, a 6-1, 233-pound fullback who recruiting analyst Sammy Batten said "can run around you or run over you."

Holtz's previous personnel packages at ECU have lacked that power back dimension. The Pirates also signed Ben Herlocker of Charlotte Catholic, who is that type of player. A shortage at tight end also was addressed with strong blocking Will Towery of Asheville Reynolds and Michael Byrd of Thomasville, who is more gifted as a route runner and receiver.

Cox, who is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, played quarterback on the prep level but is already listed as a wide receiver by Scout. Holtz said Cox could potentially play quarterback, receiver, tight end or defensive end.

The only other incoming quarterback is D.J. McFadden of the highly-successful program at Charlotte Independence, which has won a current national-best 108 straight games.

"East Carolina already had (running back) Dominique Lindsay from Independence," Batten noted. "It's good to maintain that pipeline. McFadden could be a very efficient quarterback in ECU's spread offense."

ECU's personnel acquisitions on signing day may allow greater flexibility in the future. Holtz wouldn't mind being able to line up with two tight ends and two backs and simply knock the opposition off the line of scrimmage in certain situations.

The Pirates were rated fifth among Conference USA signing classes. Houston was first in the league at No. 61 overall in Division I-A, according to Scout. Central Florida was No. 62, Southern Miss was No. 66 and Marshall was rated No. 71.

Memphis was No. 85, Southern Methodist was No. 88 and Texas-El Paso came in at No. 89. Programs undergoing coaching transitions rounded out C-USA with Tulsa at No. 93, Tulane at No. 101, UAB at No. 103 and Rice at No. 108., another recruiting-oriented site, had ECU rated with the No. 69 class in Division I-A. It gave three-star ratings to Joseph, Cox, Williams and Worthington.

Holtz attended a signing day fan fest later Wednesday at the Murphy Center, an event that began in the Thompson era. Logan was much more low key, realizing that only about half of the incoming players would eventually complete their careers at ECU.

Logan would summarize signing day by saying, " I can tell you what kind of class it is in five years."

Holtz also expressed caution to a degree.

"I think too many people recruit to win in February," he said. "Too many people recruit to win on this day. They don't recruit to win in the fall. They try to recruit names instead of people who are going to fit into their program or fit into their system.

"I said at the beginning, 'I've never chased stars.' Scotty Robinson (freshman defensive end in 2006) was a two-star athlete. A lot of these guys who have had huge impacts for us were not well-known, high publicity type of players.

"You have to stay grounded and you have to keep your sights set on what do we need in our program and how do they fit into our program — more so than just saying we're going to chase this guy or that guy because he's going to make a large splash for us this time of year."

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02/23/2007 12:29:07 AM


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