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Familiar duo looking to open doors for prepsters

Former ECU stars Kevin Monroe (left) and Troy Smith (right) are nurturing a Web site to shine a spotlight on Eastern North Carolina's best prep athletes.

Below: Partial screenshot from
Click the screenshot to visit the Web site.

By Ron Cherubini

Like other East Carolina football stars before them, Troy Smith and Kevin Monroe opted to return home to Greenville after their professional football careers wrapped up. And, like others before them, they both have chosen to invest a great deal of their personal time and money into giving something back to the community in which they live.

The pair, who have been best friends since they met each other as schoolmates at Rose High, seem to be long lost twins separated at birth. If one is involved in something, it isn't long before the other is pouring his heart into it.

As both made their way at Rose High, they took note of how difficult it was to gain the attention of college coaches. True, for Smith particularly, there was no shortage of suitors as he was widely regarded as one of the elite wide receivers in the country coming out of the prep ranks. And Monroe had options as well.

Both, however, particularly in the years following the ends of their respective careers (Smith with the Philadelphia Eagles and Monroe with the Carolina Panthers), started to zero in on how good the athletes in eastern North Carolina are relative to the scant attention they receive.

Sensing something needed to be done and having only precious time to give, Smith floated the idea of a website that focused primarily on eastern N.C. His vision was that the website would be a repository of information about the true talent that exists in the region of the state sometimes referred to as the 51st state.

“As with anything Troy and I do, he kind of dreams it up and I help get it off the ground,” Monroe said. “He is so creative but he comes to me for the business side. In the case of DownEast Sports, Troy came to me in October of ’04. He talked about how much he loves sports in eastern North Carolina. He wanted to find a way to give credit to athletes in our area… you know, to shine the spotlight on the talent right here at home. He came up with the dream.
The dream is a website purposely limited to coverage of a small group of schools in the geographic pocket essentially from Greenville east to New Bern and southeast to Jacksonville.

“We are purposely staying east of I-95,” Monroe explained. “Currently we are not in Wilmington and Fayetteville, though we certainly will at some point. Right now, the goal is to give the smaller towns the publicity right now.”

For the two former ECU stalwarts, it is a real chance to get back to their roots. Drawing on their own experiences and on their successes breaking out of the area, the two are drilling first into the two sports they feel they are qualified to truly assess: football and basketball.

“We feel like, myself and Troy experienced (the sparse attention) when we were recruited,” Monroe said. “We were recruited, but a lot of our teammates were not and we were on a team that had guys who were very talented. Our teammates simply did not get the recognition they deserved and needed to garner college recruiter attention. We are focused on shining a spotlight on these kids so that these athletes are not overlooked. We want to get the area recruiting coaches to focus more intensely on this area. Even if it is junior college coaches to start, it will be something that until now has been missing.”

Both Smith and Monroe are putting their money where their mouths are by underwriting the site themselves. In turn, though they are not making any money yet, they are getting to do something that they both have an affinity for — checking out the local games.

“Really, it is not that expensive,” Monroe said. “We get to go out and see ball games. In doing so, we’ve gotten to know a lot of local people and we get into the games for free and get to interview the coaches and players. We got CyberSharks to do it. We have a few advertisers, like Pirate Radio 1250, Nichol’s Electric, and Overton’s… we have some interest there. The money from advertisements brings in enough for us to get some T-shirts made and do a few little things like that.”

Eventually, Monroe sees a future model where there would be a portion of the site that would be subscriber based, but for now, the focus is to generate dynamic content for next football season. Monroe said that they have big plans for the football coverage this coming fall, which he thinks will really draw a virtual crowd.
So far, the traffic on the site has been up and down, but Monroe only sees hits in their future.

“Traffic did slow down during baseball season,” he said. “During basketball season, we got 4000-5000 hits the first few weeks. Traffic has been there and people have been going to the site. It has been more difficult getting out to see the baseball games and that may have something to do with it. We have been getting some help from Impact Baseball and local newspapers. Football and basketball, though, are definitely our money.”

Both Monroe and Smith know that is an on-the-job learning experience, but it has turned out to be a positive thing for a cluster of athletes who generally go ignored by the college world.

They are slowly getting the word out and trying to create a buzz. They are link swapping with various sites and trying to get some of their top-10 lists printed in local newspapers.

“We are new at this and taking it one day at a time,” Monroe said. “We are interested in the learning and excited about it. We absolutely want this to be a for-profit operation, but more than anything, we believe in the in concept. Any monies that we have brought in, we basically put in the bank and don’t spend it.

“If the subscriptions don’t work, well, we’ll go another direction. Mostly, we are excited about the athletes and the games. Using our press passes to get up close is good enough for us for now. Troy and I both have full time jobs and don’t have much time, but we feel like the content we have is strong.”

That energy is carrying them for now and that should go a long way toward fulfillment of their ultimate dream with

“We would like one day for this to be a place where college coaches come to learn about local athletes,” he said. “Every college has a coach responsible for this region and we want them to go to our site to see what type of players we have in this area. We want this site to be the Bible for this area.”

So far, the feedback has been exactly what they are looking for.

“Everybody loves it,” he said. “During basketball season, people would go on and send us e-mail. We had a big contest to have people pick our slogan and Charles Alston came up with the slogan "Uncovering Big Talent in Small Locations" and that was fun. Kids are starting to know who we are and we are having a basketball showcase where we invite the top 50 players in the area. Everyone is really excited about the site. Our biggest push is word of mouth.”

For now they are happy with the progress and Monroe believes the future looks bright.

“Eastern North Carolina is our focus,” he reiterated. “We are not going to turn down opportunities to make this bigger if interest (dictates a broader coverage area). It is a site for these local athletes so if they come out and check us out, we’re going to continue to put the content out there.”

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

Page updated: 02/23/07 02:05 PM

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