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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Sammy Batten

ECU football family getting Bigger

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

As a child, Zeek Bigger had the kind of energy that often got him into trouble.

“I used to stay in trouble in school when I was little. I was always acting up because I had so much energy,'' Bigger said.

Bigger's stepfather, Dennis Barrino, believed football would be the perfect outlet for the rambunctious 7-year-old. But first they had to convince Bigger's mother, Cathy, to let him play.

Cathy had been a basketball player at Gastonia's Ashbrook High School, so she would have been supportive of most any athletic endeavor her son attempted, except football.

“At first, she said no,'' Bigger said. “But my late stepfather talked her into it. When I came home after that first practice, took a shower and fell right asleep, I think they both were happy. I've been playing the game of football ever since.''

Bigger has played football with such skill over the last two seasons at his mother's prep alma mater that major college programs like Arkansas, Duke, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia offered scholarships. But it's in the confines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium where the 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker has decided to spend the next four or five years. He'll attach his name to a letter-of-intent next Wednesday that'll bind him to play for the East Carolina Pirates as college football's national signing period begins.

ECU plans to use Bigger at outside linebacker, according to first-year Ashbrook coach Greg Hill.

“He's such a good athlete and he's got size, but he's only going to get bigger,'' Hill said. “I can see him being able to carry 240 or 250 pounds, and still run well.

“We played him at MIKE (middle linebacker) this season. He just went from sideline to sideline making plays. He has a great ability to run people down.''

Bigger has been a mainstay on the Ashbrook defense since transferring there from Forestview High School during the second semester of his sophomore year. He had been part of the Forestview varsity for two years, although a knee injury sidelined him for much of his freshman season.

A desire to play major college football prompted Bigger to move from Forestview to Ashbrook, where he felt the exposure to recruiters was higher.

“We moved back to the Ashbrook district where almost everybody in my family went to school,'' Bigger said. “That's when the recruiting process started for me.''

East Carolina was the first school to step up with an offer after a junior season in which Bigger made 101 tackles, five tackles for loss, five sacks, forced two fumbles and an interception. He followed that up with a senior year in which he produced 93 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack and intercepted a pass on offense, while also rushing for 498 yards and five touchdowns as a backup running back.

But it looked like the Pirates had lost out on Bigger back in June when he made a verbal commitment to Duke.

Hill said as the weeks passed after that commitment, Bigger began having second thoughts. Bigger decided to take an official recruiting visit to Greenville, where he was impressed by the closeness of the ECU football family.

“There were so many things I saw that I really loved about their team,'' Bigger said. “They are like a family unit. And Coach Ruffin McNeill is the type of guy you can talk about anything. He told me he was daddy No. 2, and I liked that.''

Hill believes the environment at ECU is a perfect fit for Bigger to develop into the best player he can be, and Hill should know. He helped coach former Pirate linebacker Nick Johnson at East Mecklenburg High School. Johnson wound up being a two-year starter at inside linebacker for ECU and earned second-team All-Conference USA honors as a senior in 2009.

“Nick could really play,'' Hill said. “Zeke plays with similar savvy and he is very cerebral. Zeke probably has more athleticism. I know the coaches at East Carolina will get the best out of him.''

Bigger was part of a stellar linebacker corps at Ashbrook this season that also included North Carolina commitment Norkeithus Otis. The two are close friends and will share their signing day experience at Ashbrook.

“That's my brother,'' Bigger said. “I love him to death. We've been played together almost every year since the eighth grade, except the two years I was at Forestview. He was happy about my decision and was very supportive of me doing what was best for me.''

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01/26/2011 03:31:26 AM


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