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 Papajohns.com
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.
Scout.com 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.
Rivals.com, 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
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
"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."