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Football Recruiting Report
Monday, September 2, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Hoops a springboard to gridiron for James

After one year of football, Va. Beach tackle on track to play defensive end at ECU

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Jeff McGowan knows better than most what attributes and abilities East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill desires in a defensive lineman. That's because McGowan played the defensive line at Appalachian State between 1993 and 1996 when McNeill coached the position as an assistant for the Mountaineers.

So when McGowan returned to coaching at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, VA, after four-year absence, he immediately saw someone he thought McNeill would like in Shaun James. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound James was a basketball player at Green Run, who had only played football at the school as a junior.

"I had heard about Shaun and wanted to meet him, so I went to a basketball game,'' McGowan said. "He immediately reminded me a lot of a kid I had when I was at Green Run previously (as defensive coordinator from 2007-2009) named Joe Jones (defensive tackle), who received a full ride to Virginia Tech. They had the same athleticism and build.

"I got on the phone to Coach (John) Wiley (ECU associate head coach and linebackers coach), who had been at Appalachian with me as well. I told him, 'I've got a kid you've got to see.' They knew I wasn't going to tell them about someone who wasn't worth looking at.''

James consequently attended ECU's summer camp where he impressed McNeill and his staff enough to receive a scholarship offer. The defensive end finally accepted August 13 over offers from Hampton, James Madison and Marshall.

Before the Pirates could make a play for James, McGowan had to make an important pitch, too. James fancied himself a basketball player and is the starting center for the Green Run varsity. He's already given football a try once before when he came out as a freshman, but after about a week decided to give it up. So James had his sights on playing basketball in college before McGowan provided a practical perspective on that plan.

"He had basketball dreams, but I told him, 'Look, you've got to realize there are plenty of 6-4, 6-6 guys playing basketball, and not many of them are centers. But there aren't many 6-4 guys who can move like you in football,''' McGowan said. "I told him that he could get his weight up to around 280 or 285, and he'd do well (in football).

"He immediately bought in. He was in the weight room the day after basketball season was over. He hasn't missed a day since. He's put on about 15 pounds since basketball ended.''

James already had one impressive season to build on before McGowan was named head coach. He produced 70 tackles, six sacks and recovered three fumbles in his first season of varsity play in 2012.

"He really was just an athlete out there and didn't understand too much about what he was doing,'' McGowan said.

Marshall stepped up to make the first scholarship offer to James in May. ECU came into the picture in June when, after watching James turn a time of 4.97 seconds in the 40-yard dash in their summer camp, the Pirates came through with an offer.

But it would take James more than a month before reaching the decision to become a Pirate.

"He thought about it a little bit,'' McGowan said. "He's sort and quiet and laid back. He's not a kid who needs attention, so I think he made up his mind and he really didn't publicize it. He just went ahead and did it.'''

James, who also plays left tackle on offense for Green Run, has been recruited to play defensive end by the Pirates.

"They're going to put weight on him and he'll be able to carry it, no problem,'' McGowan said. "Right now he's a skinny 245. But the thing that he has already is he's so quick off the ball. He still needs to work with his hands to get off blocks. But he's so quick he just blows by people.

"He's also a great student. He's definitely going to be a plus for East Carolina.''

The Pirates haven't finished their recruiting efforts at Green Run yet. McGowan said ECU has also offered his senior running back, 5-8, 178-pound Anthony Scott. Scott, who also plays cornerback, ran for 937 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season to earn first-team All-Virginia Beach honors.

Scott impressed ECU during summer camp when he was timed at 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. Hampton, James Madison, Old Dominion and West Virginia have also offered scholarships to Scott.

"A lot of schools have offered him as a cornerback, but he wants to play running back,'' McGowan said of Scott.

And finally, just exactly what kind of position coach was Ruffin McNeill back in his Appalachian State days?

"He chewed me out every day,'' McGowan said. "It was tough love. Being around him as a younger player, he could wear you out. But when you get older and realize he was just doing what was best for you, and you respect him for it.

"Ruffin is such a class act. I called to congratulate him when he was hired by East Carolina, and I'm sure he received about 1,000 calls. But he sent me a text and called me back. That's just the type of guy he is.''

E-mail Sammy Batten

PAGE UPDATED 09/01/13 08:36 PM.

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