It will be some time before most members
of the 2008 football signing class are expected to have an opportunity
to contribute on the playing field for the East Carolina program.
An exception may be wide receiver Dayon
Arrington, who has been developing his skills at Hargrave Military
Academy. His assets include a 31-inch vertical jump and a 300-pound
bench press. At 6-foot-2 with his leaping ability, he has the potential
to win jump balls with defensive backs — a much-desired commodity.
Offensive lineman T.J. Harper enrolled
at ECU in January after transferring from Pearl River Community College
There was more news on signing day
regarding players who could make immediate impacts. Terence Campbell, an
offensive lineman who started every game as a redshirt freshman in 2006
before being stricken with a serious heart ailment that required surgery
before spring practice in 2007, has been cleared to return to the
It also appears that Rodney Cox, a
multi-talented quarterback who enrolled at ECU after an outstanding
career at Harnett Central, has made sufficient academic progress this
year to join the program as a freshman this fall. The 6-foot-6 Cox will
likely be a tight end for the Pirates.
Speaking of position moves, Pirates
coach Skip Holtz said that D.J. McFadden had expressed a desire to get
out of the logjam for playing time at quarterback and join the receiving
corps. McFadden played in the outstanding program at Charlotte
Independence that also produced ECU running back Dominique Lindsay.
Coaches' takes have varied
East Carolina football coaches have had
varying reactions on signing day that have ranged from Steve Logan's low
key approach to the hype generated by John Thompson.
Coach Holtz is about equal distance
between his two predecessors in terms of his treatment of the official
announcement of signees.
Logan wisely wanted to reserve judgment
on signing classes.
"I can tell you in five years how good
this class is," was Logan's standard quote. He used former South
Carolina coach Brad Scott as an example when it came to illustrating the
dangers of portraying a recruiting class in terms that were too glowing.
Scott had highly-rated recruiting classes but that didn't translate into
success on the field.
Logan was lower than low key when it
came to talking about incoming players. One year he held his signing day
news conference in his office — a far cry from the tailgating event that
took place Wednesday at the Murphy Center.
Logan used to track his signing
classes. A class that eventually produced a graduation rate over 50
percent and six to seven starters was a productive one in his
Logan was wary of generating unfair
expectations for his young players as they made the transition from high
school to college, which often included a journey into virtual obscurity
in the form of a redshirt year.
Thompson's personality was 180 degrees
from Logan's. Thompson's approach to signing day may have been
influenced by Logan's reluctance to connect with fans and media. If a
coach's excitement and enthusiasm could have been translated into wins,
Thompson's record at ECU would have been much better than 3-20.
Thompson brought promotion to signing
day with fan gatherings at the Murphy Center. The events included food,
comments from the coach and video highlights of the incoming players. He
did get the fans excited about the future at a time when morale around
the program had ebbed.
Signing day celebrations have remained
long after Thompson's departure. ECU fans don't need much of an excuse
to get together where football is concerned and it has become a popular
date on the Pirate sports calendar. ECU is closer to the football
orientation of the Southeastern Conference, where signing day is
something like an old-fashioned Fourth of July in terms of fervor, than
the Pirates' hoops-conscious ACC brethren.
The new crew on the Pirate ship
One of the Internet sites that focuses
on recruiting, SuperPreps.com, rated ECU's incoming class No. 92 among
120 Bowl Subdivision teams. Forty-four percent of the new class will
perform on the trenches.
"It's hard to make a national splash
with a lot of offensive and defensive linemen," said Holtz who signed
five offensive linemen and three defensive linemen.
The Pirates were rated ninth among
Conference USA teams, which ranged from Southern Miss at No. 50
nationally, to UAB at No. 104.
"We're at a point where the emphasis
has turned to increasing the bulk on our offensive and defensive lines,"
Holtz said. "We need beef in the program with program-type players who
develop and are here for the duration. It's a smaller class, but when
you have the opportunity to redshirt 19 players last year who were
predominantly skill performers, our needs shift in this direction."
After three seasons that have produced
a 22-17 record, Holtz said his staff wasn't trying to plug leaks in its
recruiting efforts for the first time since arriving in Greenville.
"I just felt like where our team is
right now we needed a class of glue," Holtz said. "They come in with the
character and the attitude and the work habits and those type of things.
I feel like we filled those voids.
"This is probably the first year in
recruiting where we went out and we weren't trying to fill an immediate
need this upcoming season. I've said time and time again when you're
playing with true freshmen, you're asking for trouble."
Over half of the incoming class is from
"This is where it starts," Holtz said.
"Eleven of the 18 are from North Carolina. That's been our battle cry.
We were going to recruit the state of North Carolina first. We do have
the name on our jersey. When you look at East Carolina, this is where we
"We're going to recruit this as home
and I think that has so many positives that go into your program with
players playing in front of their home state — their family, their
friends from home, from high school and everything else. There's a pride
that goes along with it."
There is a sprinkling of skill position
personnel that may emerge in the future. Receiver Jacobi Jenkins of
Rocky Mount impressed the ECU coaches in summer camp. Even though his
team didn't throw a lot, he was the go-to receiver.
Versatile Adrian Jones from Scotland
County has sprinter's speed and is regarded by Rivals.com as one of the
top 150 receivers nationwide.
Josh Jordan, a quarterback from
Louisiana, became a recruiting target after initially committing to Iowa
State. Joe Womack from Jacksonville Northside was a Shrine Bowl
selection with a versatility that will allow him to make the transition
from quarterback on the prep level to receiver at ECU.
Revising the sales pitch
When Thompson and staff were at ECU,
they enticed recruits with the possibility of immediate playing time
because the team was struggling to such a degree competitively. Holtz
and staff have not used that ploy.
"The No. 1 thing that every recruit
told me when I asked what he liked most about his visit was the attitude
of the team, the togetherness of these players ... and they want to be
part of that type of program," Holtz said. "That's more important than
the guy who says, "I've got to be a four-year starter.' That's why I
talk about this class being a program class.
"The offensive and defensive linemen
are going to come in, redshirt, develop, get with Coach (Mike) Golden
(strength coach) for a year. You look at a guy like Josh Clark who is
(265) pounds now. He's going to be 280 pounds a couple of years from
now. Will Towery, a tight end who signed last year and redshirted. came
in seven months ago at 255 pounds and he's 282 pounds right now."
There are not openings for immediate
playing time for incoming freshmen unless players already in the program
become injured, fail to perform according to their skills and experience
or, because of some other factor, forfeit their position on the depth
Holtz said creating the expectation of
the possibility of playing time for younger players is unethical and
potentially damaging to the program.
"They become disgruntled and become
distractions on the field because you lied to them in recruiting," he
said. "We've been very open, very honest with them. We've told them we'd
like to bring them in and redshirt them. It's not about chasing a bunch
of stars. It's about bringing in the players who best fit your needs.
"If we had a lot of holes to fill —
don't get me wrong — I'd be out there telling somebody, "We need
somebody to come in here and play right away."
The fact that Holtz and staff didn't
have to resort to that approach speaks volumes about the players who are
coming in in terms of the commitment they have to develop and wait their
turn to contribute.
It's also a statement about the
progress of the program under Holtz's leadership.