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Football Recruiting Report
Friday, April 4, 2014

By Sammy Batten

Texas Tech ties still fruitful for ECU

Juco transfer Kemp plugs Pirates' quarterback recruiting gap

Recruiting Class of 2014 Thumbnail Sketches...

By Sammy Batten
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Despite a senior season in which he directed Hamilton High School in Chandler, AZ, to a 13-1 record and passed for 2,580 yards, quarterback Blake Kemp received only one offer to continue his football career in college and that was from nearby Mesa Community College.

"It was either that or go get a job,'' Kemp said. "It's only 25 minutes from my home, so I figured it was worth a shot.''

The decision has turned out to be a solid one for both Kemp and Mesa. He contributed to a dramatic turnaround that's seen the Thunderbirds post two straight winning seasons. Along the way Kemp set numerous school passing records that ultimately caught the attention of the coaches at East Carolina.

The Pirates had two high school quarterback prospects back out of verbal commitments while recruiting the signing class of 2014 in February. When the coaching staff learned Kemp was available through mutual Texas Tech connections, they jumped on the chance to sign the 6-foot-2, 205-pound left-hander in early March after a whirlwind courtship.

Kemp will have three years to play two seasons at ECU, which means he could work in right away as a backup to senior Shane Carden or he could red-shirt in 2014 and compete to become the Pirate starter in 2015 with Kurt Benkert or Cody Keith.

Either way, Kemp is happy to be a Pirate.

"Everyone I talked to spoke highly of (head coach) Ruffin McNeill,'' Kemp said. "The atmosphere in Greenville is awesome because it's all centered around the university. The offense that (coordinator) Coach (Lincoln) Riley runs is close to the one we run here at Mesa, so it was just a good fit all around.''

Kemp did have another offer from Football Championship Subdivision Southeast Missouri State, but was also receiving interest from Georgia State, New Mexico, New Mexico State and UNLV.

The recruiting interest was a little higher than what Kemp experienced as a senior at Hamilton High School in 2011. He played tight end as a junior for a Hamilton squad that won a third straight Division I state title while waiting for a veteran quarterback to graduate. Kemp took over as the quarterback starter the following season and directed the Huskies to the 13 consecutive victories before dropping a 45-19 decision to Desert Vista in the state finals that ended a 53-game winning streak for Hamilton.

Kemp completed 175 of 268 passes for 2,580 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior for the Huskies, while also rushing 83 times for 374 yards and nine more scores.

While Kemp was leading Hamilton to the state championship game, Mesa's program was finishing off a 1-10 season. The Thunderbirds had fallen on hard times in recent years and in September 2012 brought Ryan Felker in to rejuvenate the program.

Felker became immediately aware of Kemp and sought to bring him to help rebuild Mesa.

"He was under-recruited,'' Felker said. "He played on a really talented team that's probably one of the best in the entire nation on a year basis. I think his success was attributed too much to the talent around him.

“But you spend 10 minutes with this kid and you understand. He has the confidence. He has the work ethic and the leadership. When you have a conversation with the guy you know you can trust him. So I had to take a kid no one believed in and bring him into a program no one believed in to turn this thing around.''

Kemp entered the 2012 preseason at Mesa as the backup quarterback, but when the starter went down in the first preseason scrimmage with an injury he moved up to the first team.

"Blake went lights out,'' Felker said.

In just his third collegiate game against New Mexico Military, Kemp set Mesa single-game records by completing 44 of 66 passes for 432 yards. When sophomore Jaymason Lee returned from his injury, he shared the quarterback duties with Kemp. But Kemp led the Thunderbirds with 167 completions in 267 attempts for 1,611 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Mesa posted a 6-5 record that was its first above .500 in years.

As Mesa's full-time starter in 2013, Kemp helped the Thunderbirds produce an 8-3 overall record and earn a berth in the Heart of Texas Bowl. He completed 175 of 268 throws for 2,580 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, while also rushing 83 times for 374 yards and nine more scores. Kemp was unable to play in the Heart of Texas Bowl, however, due to an injury.

"He's a creator,'' Felker said in describing Kemp's attributes at quarterback. "He knows where everybody is supposed to be on every play. He gets himself out of trouble with his decisions. When you call the wrong play, he somehow makes it right.

"You watch his highlight film. He's a winner. He knows when to pull it down and go. He never puts you in a bad situation.''

East Carolina actually became aware of Kemp due to a connection Mesa and ECU both have with Texas Tech.

Of course, ECU's head coach Ruffin McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley both came to Greenville after working on the staff of Coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Mesa running backs coach Alex Jacobson knew Leach and Riley because of common camps they had attended or worked at together.

Jacobson made the initial contact with Riley at ECU regarding Kemp.

"Coach Jacobson is good friends with Coach Leach,'' Kemp said. "I was lucky he called (Riley) about me.''

"Blake is a people person,'' Felker added. "I think he and Coach McNeill hit it off really well because they're both so down to Earth.

"When he went there on his visit, one of the favorite parts of the trip was sitting down and talking offense with Coach Riley. Those are two guys who are excited about offense. Blake probably walked into that meeting room with the same book he's been taking notes in since his freshman year in high school. He walked away from that meeting pretty excited.''

Due to the late nature of Kemp's recruitment, he won't enroll at ECU until the first summer school session in mid-May. But he's already met academic qualifying standards and is continuing work in the honors program at Mesa this spring.

"I'm excited to get in there and start working,'' Kemp said. "My goal is to do everything I can to help their program be successful.''

E-mail Sammy Batten

PAGE UPDATED 04/04/14 10:17 AM.

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