Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Friday, December 13, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Pirates pluck Virginia gem

Kempsville star Speller bypasses Annapolis and West Point for Greenville

By Sammy Batten
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James Paddyfoot believes the major college football programs in the state of Virginia are going to regret ignoring Kyron Speller during recruiting.

"I think some schools that probably passed on him will look back and remember this time and think, 'Man, I wish we would have gotten him,'' Paddyfoot said. "I think he's going to turn out to be a diamond in the rough.''

That's good news for East Carolina, which landed a verbal commitment earlier this week from Speller, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound multi-purpose athlete from Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, VA.

Speller chose ECU over offers from Army and Navy, and the only in-state school pursuing him, James Madison. He did so on the heels of a senior season in which he made 68 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks shuffling between defensive end, outside linebacker and middle linebacker on defense, while earning first-team All-Beach District honors at tight end as chosen by the Virginia Beach area head coaches.

Paddyfoot has been head coach at Kempsville since Speller arrived in the spring of his freshman year after transferring from rival Bayside High School. Speller's size as a ninth grader caught Paddyfoot's attention.

"He struck me immediately,'' he said. "When I saw him, he had this big, thick neck, big head, big frame ... It made me think, 'Man, he looks like he could play.' ''

"Spazz,'' as Speller is known to teammates, made an immediate impact on the Kempsville varsity squad as sophomore, playing strictly as a defensive end. He played a key role in helping the defense overcome the graduation loss of two Football Bowl Subdivision signees in linebacker Travis Hughes (North Carolina) and safety Mason Thomas (Virginia).

With a year of experience under his belt, Speller's role was expanded significantly as a junior when Paddyfoot him at played defensive end and tight end. Second-team All-Beach District honors went to Speller on defense after he made 85 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and blocked two kicks.

Paddyfoot essentially built his defense around Speller this season.

"Our goal was to get him around the action,'' Paddyfoot said. "We'd put him at defensive end on the wide side of the field if that's where the other team wanted to run. If they wanted to attack up the middle, we'd move him into the interior at defensive tackle. But eventually we stood him up at linebacker and that's when we were really able to see how special and how athletic he is. He was able to make tremendous plays and cause some vicious collisions.''

But Speller's contributions weren't limited to defense as a senior. Although he earned his All-District honors at tight end due to his blocking abilities, Speller also made some big plays on offense, including one that propelled Kempsville to one of its two victories.

Rotating between fullback and tight end, Speller produced three touchdowns in a 25-20 win that spoiled homecoming for Tallwood in a non-conference game. He rushed nine times for 31 yards and had two scoring runs, but it was an 18-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Ruben Martinez with 15 seconds to play that provided the winning points for Kempsville.

"He does it all,'' Paddyfoot said. "We were down around the 20-yard line (against Tallwood) and he ran about a five-yard route. He caught the ball, then ran through three defenders to get to the end zone.''

That kind of versatility is what attracted ECU's associate head and inside linebackers coach John Wiley last spring. Wiley almost immediately extended a scholarship offer a few days later last May and Speller consequently visited campus for several ECU games this fall.

But it was during an in-home visit on December 6 with Wiley and ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill that Speller decided to join the Pirates.

"He's been listening and doing his research on the schools during this recruiting process,'' Paddyfoot said. "He had a good relationship with all the people recruiting him. Coach Wiley has been great, but when he (Speller) got to campus and saw the games and the atmosphere there, I think he started feeling comfortable. By the time Coach Wiley and Coach McNeill came up here, I think he knew that's where he wanted to be.

"East Carolina has a family structure down there similar to what we have here with our team. I think it just felt like home to Kyron.''

Speller, who has been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, is expected to begin his career at ECU playing linebacker. Paddyfoot believes he's capable of getting on the field very early in his career at one of those positions.

"They have tons of options where they can play him,'' Paddyfoot said. "They can start him off as an edge guy who can rush from outside linebacker, but then they've talked to him about his potential playing middle linebacker. I think once he's padded up and playing at full sped for them that will work itself out.

"I definitely feel like he can make an immediate impact. Where ever they put him, no matter which side of the ball, they are going to see a tremendous athlete and competitor who really has a knack for being around the ball. He is always around the action and he usually wins every battle at the point of the attack. That's something you can't coach.''

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12/13/2013 04:50 AM