Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Saturday, June 29, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Baggett aims to fill Jones' shoes

Palmetto State tight end destined for new role at ECU

By Sammy Batten
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Stephen Baggett had just hauled in one of his four touchdown receptions for the 2012 season last November late in the fourth period to give his Beaufort (SC) High Schools squad a lead against Colleton County. Beaufort coach Mark Clifford didn't think the margin was enough, so he looked to the 6-foot-5, 221-pound Baggett again for help.

"I felt we had to go for two points,'' Clifford recalled of the scenario earlier this week. "We ran a trick play first and made it, but got called for offsides or something. We tried again and ran Stephen out there on a flag route. He had about three guys on him, but he went up and caught the ball. He does such a good job at that, going up and getting the ball. Because of his size, he can do that a lot.''

The East Carolina Pirates are hoping Baggett can deliver those kind of plays in Greenville in the near future.

Baggett, who'll be a senior this fall at Beaufort High, became the fourth prospect to make a verbal commitment to join ECU's recruiting Class of 2014 last week after also entertaining scholarship offers from future Football Bowl Subdivision members Appalachian State and Charlotte. Although he's played primarily tight end during his career at Beaufort, Baggett is expected to be used as an inside receiver by the Pirates in much the same way they've utilized Justin Jones in recent seasons.

The opportunity to line up as a receiver in ECU's pass-oriented offense was a definite drawing card for Baggett, who has been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. During a visit to ECU for a one-day football camp, Baggett was able to see video of the Pirate offense in action, including the 6-8 Jones.

"When I went up there they showed me highlight film of him (Jones) and said that was the position they had in mind for me,'' Baggett said. "They said I might split out even more than (Jones) and be in motion more because of my speed.

"That was absolutely appealing to me. I didn't want to go somewhere they just run the ball all the time. I like catching the ball. I don't think I'd be trying to reach my potential if I was on a team that ran the ball all the time. East Carolina was perfect for me. They do a bunch of different things and I'm just glad they're giving me this opportunity.''

Baggett hails from Beaufort, a Southeastern coastal community of about 13,000 residents that is the second-oldest town in South Carolina. There's a heavy military presence the Marines do their training at nearby Paris Island and the area enjoys a lively tourist industry thanks to the town's antebellum architecture and abundant fishing industry.

"I've lived on the water my whole life,'' Baggett said. "We learned to fish very early.''

Football is also a big part of the local scene. Immersed in that culture and growing tall at an early age made it natural for Baggett to gravitate to the sport as a quarterback. He played the position through the Beaufort youth leagues, into middle school and as a ninth grader.

But when Baggett reached the Beaufort varsity as a sophomore, the presence of another solid quarterback and the need for help in the pass catching department led Clifford to shift him to tight end. He also saw action in pass-rushing situations at defensive end.

"We saw him as a big tight end who could block and catch,'' Clifford said. "He's been a horse since and we ride him, man. He's played a little defense, too, and he's a good punter for us. He comes from a great family his mom is a teacher.

"We're going to do the same thing next year and get the ball in his hands as much as possible.''

Baggett is expected to significantly improve on the 18 receptions for 372 yards and four scores he compiled last season in 2013.

Statistics didn't matter, however, this spring when ECU special teams coordinator and running backs coach Kirk Doll visited Beaufort during South Carolina's spring practice period. It didn't take long for Doll to extend an invitation to the Pirates one-day summer camp in June.

Baggett admits he knew little about ECU or its football program until Doll made contact.

"I didn't know anything about East Carolina,'' he said. "I'm deep down here in South Carolina. We hear about Clemson and South Carolina, and that's about it.

"But when I went up there it was actually so much more than I thought it would be. I didn't realize it would be so big. It looked like a great place for college in a great town.''

ECU's coaching staff also made him feel like a priority, which influenced Baggett's decision.

"They weren't looking at me as a backup,'' Baggett said. "I liked that about them. They made me feel welcome and seemed very interested in me.''

"It's a great place for him,'' added Clifford, who knows from experience. He received his Master's degree in Education from ECU in 1989.

Baggett spent a good portion of the spring starring for the Beaufort baseball squad. He earned all-area honors in that sport after batting .329 with four homers and 33 RBIs as the team's starting center fielder. Two of his home runs were grand slams.

Since baseball season ended, Baggett has been working on his skills as a receiver with his team at seven-on-seven camps and drills. Clifford is allowing Baggett to line up as a receiver instead of a tight end in many of those situations to help prepare him for ECU.

"We're working on him doing three wides and splitting him out,'' Clifford said. "He's pretty awesome out there. Heck, he's a solid 4.6 or 4.5 guy in the 40. He's got pretty impressive speed, size and is impressive catching the ball cutting across the middle.''

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06/28/2013 10:53 PM