I know that with the latest poaching of some of our recruits (e.g., QB John Wolford already to Wake and QB Shawn Stankavage and WR Markell Boston taking looks at other schools), there has been some murmuring amongst the Pirate diehards about our “inability” to recruit and bring in the big star prospects. Folks are worrying about the future of the program, not seeing a flood of higher-caliber players flowing in.
I started looking back at the years and a couple of things stood out to me. First, if you go back a decade or so ago, we as fans would spend a great deal of time talking about the battle for a 3-star guys. I remember when we landed WR Iverick Harris (never panned out) in 2002, RB Norman Whitley (never got a real chance) in 2006, and RB Jon Williams (pretty decent player) in 2007, it was as if we had brought in a 5-star guy. There was jubilation all over the web and some crowing about getting these guys. All 3-star guys at a time in history where we might land 3 maybe 4 of that ilk a season.
Now, along that same continuum, we managed to land 4-star WR Jamar Bryant from Hargrave (marginally successful) and 4-star DE Marcus Hands (injury plagued) – neither of whom really made a mark at ECU. Later, Justin Dixon, another 4-star guy came in through the backdoor and of course, he never really panned out either as injuries riddled his career.
Yet, if you look at the 2008 season…you remember…the year we knocked off ranked Virginia Tech and ranked West Virginia in back-to-back games en route to a C-USA Championship, we saw a change occur in the recruiting wars. That year the recruiting class, like most of the previous, had three, 3-star commits. But, on NSD 2009, we saw an uptick. We landed seven 3-star guys. In 2010, eleven more 3-star kids. In 2011, eight 3-star guys, followed by 11 more 3-star performers and then in 2013, six more 3-star guys. My point, is that the momentum from 2008 season, has elevated recruiting at ECU. Three-star guys have become the norm for the class and so of course, we as fans look at the next step…the 4-star guys.
But, time is needed for that next step. This year, we have 10 of the 3-star guys committed so far. To say that Ruff and crew are not recruiting well, flies in the face of history and our trend, at least from a “star system” ratings criteria. We are trending up and the 10 wins this past season combined with the high-profile players returning – particularly on offense – should position us for a lot of TV appearances in our inaugural AAC season, putting our program in the homes of some talent rich areas including, Maryland/DC, New Jersey, eastern New York, and southeastern Pennsylvania where there are a lot of players who might start to call ECU a destination of choice. And, we should have a highly competitive product to put on the field, increasing the bump from recent successes on the field.
What is the secret sauce in landing the 4-star guys for ECU? Not sure there is anything more we can do, except to keep pursuing them, looking for the kids who have that pioneer mindset…the ones who would rather take a risk to become a star leader at ECU, then to join a pack of stars at an Alabama or a Florida State. Many of those guys wouldn’t thrive at ECU anyways. They are all on the professional track – as we have seen over there in Cheater Hill – which wouldn’t fare well at ECU, IMO. No, what we need is to do what this staff has done since it got here…sniff out the hidden talent. Yes, it will uncover some gems that get stolen away by the bigger, brand name programs, but overall, it nets hungry, chip-on-the-shoulder talent that can come in and put together a 10-win season, or a bowl victory, or a conference championship…and these are the things that feed back into the recruiting cycle. Win and it all works out.
I thought it was an interesting point that the star system definitely indicates a few things in re: to ECU: 1) We are trending up and up since 2008, 2) This staff has increased our recruiting success, 3) 4-stars ain’t always the primary indicator for success that a lot of people think it is.
Looking forward to meeting and learning more about the guys who put pen to paper on NSD for the Pirates.
Go Pirates, Go!