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A Pirate Recruiting Plight: Lots of Hard Work Rewarded Sometimes and Sometimes Not

It’s a question – a fair one IMO – that Pirate fans have been asking for a long time – well – forever in program. When are we going to start getting those 4-5 star guys coming our way? What does it take (besides a national ranking, a BCS conference affiliation, a ton of money, and a willingness to cheat…couldn’t resist that last one)? No, really?

How is that even after years when we won big bowl games, beat UNC or State, placed players in top-level NFL jobs, etc., we still do not see a bump in that the stature of our recruits?

Fair questions all. The answer, IMO, is a pretty simple one and really no different than the types of thought patterns that many of us have used to forge our own futures: Take the best possible path on paper that you can because your future depends on it. Perceptions are reality. For as many NFL players that played at ECU, there are more consistently more coming from the brand name schools. The prestige of playing for a BCS school. The digs at the school you go to. All of these things make a difference. The guy who bucks the system is a rare enough guy and one who bucks the system despite having the grades, no prior injuries, etc., is even rarer. Sure, they exist now and then, but not normally. That road is simply too hard for most guys to consider it. If a 4-star guy goes to Alabama and simply is middle-of-the-pack there, his likelihood of an NFL chance is exponentially higher than if he bucks the system, goes to ECU and does anything short of being an All-America. It’s a numbers game driven by a good dose of reality (those teams are good) and perception (all their players are better).

Even Cheaters U down the road, as lackluster as their teams have been, they place a ridiculous number of players in the pros. What would you do if you had to make that choice with your kid? Particularly if your kid were a high-profile athlete who wanted to stay near home? I don’t like it, but it is sort of how it is. It could change if our BOG gave a damn about educational opportunity equity for ALL of NC’s students…but they don’t.

I don’t fret over missing on the 4-5 star guys…they are professionals already and managing their careers as such coming out of high school. And when we get a nod from one, it is because they are high risk (read: Lucas Thompson…who will never arrive despite his verbal). Or Alfy Hill…more drama than a teen a pop star. We should be careful what we wish for, no?

Where I do feel the frustration – like many of you guys – is when we get a kid and he flips on the way to NSD. That frustrates me a lot because I know how hard this staff recruits.

Don’t think for a second that the uptick in this trend – particularly for the QBs and WRs – is by accident. The brand name schools have already figured out a few things: 1) ECU’s offense is lights out; 2) Our coaches know EXACTLY what they are looking for at those positions…without a doubt; and 3) Why spend time and effort looking for those diamonds in the rough when you can just go see who ECU is recruiting? Damn, so much easier…let the Pirates do all the stone turning and then swoop in and offer the world.

I know for sure that our coaches could care less who is rated what out there…they know what they are looking for and zero in on. The problem is that the brand name schools know this too. If Lincoln Riley zeros in on a QB, these other schools take note. If our receivers coaches zero in on a receiver, you better believe others are noticing. Those schools spend money and time on the top 100 players cause they will get their share…and now they have figured out how to find QBs and Receivers…just follow ECU’s targets. Throw RB in their two since it takes a special eye for the right back for the spread. The silver lining, though, may be that so far, the guys we have lost in this fashion have seemingly been replaced with brighter future players (e.g., Our program’s future at QB is brighter with Kurt Benkert than it would have been with Kanler Coker, IMO, and the same could be said IMO for our future with RB Marquez Grayson than with Jabo Lee). And, for that matter, look how those guys are faring now? Wonder if Dontrill Hyman isn’t missing his Pirates now??

It is frustrating for us fans no doubt, but probably moreso for Ruff and crew who pour their hearts and souls into it. But, alas, I worry not…though I do admit some jaded feelings at times (like I don’t want to see the UNC flip a year ago do well at QB). I do think that despite this backdoor approach by these schools, we end up with the right guys here…because our guys know what we need and are looking for. If our D staff has that attribute as well…we are going to be in good shape for the future.

So, do we need 4-5 star guys at ECU? Not sure how I feel. Sure would love the talent here, but only if the are the self-starter type…you know, the guy who says, “I can be lead that team to greatness” rather than, “My greatness can help that team.”  If they are trend busters, if they are guys who would rather pave a new tradition than jump on a bandwagon…then I would love to see them here, but with limited recruiting budgets, burning our resources on those kids – IMO – is a waste of precious few resources. I like how Ruff and crew will determine which of those high-profile players they like and at least throw out an overture (something that frustrated me during Coach Logan’s years) and see if they get a bite. But otherwise, they hunt for jewels out there among the picked over and under traversed. And what they are building here, translates into a very good team rather than a collection of high-end parts.

All that said…it must be nice for those big dollar, name brand schools to be able to just scour our recruiting trail and sweep in to grab the fruits of our coaches’ labors.



8 comments on “A Pirate Recruiting Plight: Lots of Hard Work Rewarded Sometimes and Sometimes Not

  1. Jolly Roger

    Good article and I agree that I thought we may get a bump in recruiting after beating unc/state. I do like how our current staff goes after highly rated guys, and there is no doubt the talent level is better than when Holtz left, we are more athletic on defense and more explosive on offense. Hopefully, the new league/tv exposure will open more doors with future recruits.

    • Hi there JR…thanks for dropping in for a comment.

      I agree on the talent level incrementally increasing and I do like how we at least throw our hat in the ring for some of the high profile kids.

      Let’s hope that the AAC brings some much-needed increased national exposure and a few more talented kids to the program.


  2. DC Pirate 28

    Ron; Thanks for bringing this up, a great topic that could be better debated over a plate of wings and several pitchers of your favorite beverage. I think with the lull in the sports calender and the instant availability of information I find myself hanging on the decision of of what some 18 or 19 year old kid wants to do about their future, pretty lame on my behalf and I should know better as I have seen it time and time again. A Michael Jordan gets cut from his high school team, A Steven Strausburg goes from a nobody to a cant miss prospect. My son has also played with kids who were nothing, one became the freshman pitcher of the year in the SEC despite the fact he could not make our high school rotation as a senior. There was another kid who was an all american pitcher at UVA and eventual #1 MLB draft choice who could barely touch 80 at the high school level. Point is kids develop differently at different times. The same is true in football where sometimes a change in system or position better suites ones talent factor in desire and heart who knows what you have in the end.

    You make some valid points about the elite players, they tend to play for the name on the back of their shirt not the name on the front. I remember watching NSD last year and the comments of these elite kids were “after my 3 years are up” meaning thy have zero intent on getting an education and plan on being in the league weather the league wanted them or not. We have all seen plenty of cant miss kids who never make it onto a college field let alone make it to the NFL just as we have seen a Linval Joseph or old school references Earnest Byner a 10th round pick, Reggie Branch undrafted go on to win Super Bowls.

    I guess I have a few points that I would like to bring up. for whatever reason we seem to have a messaging problem about ECU within the state of North Carolina. I understand the politics and the history. While I was at ECU there were zero in the way of professional sports teams in the state so it was UNC 24/7 with others choosing the Pack. It was expected that if you had talent you stayed home period. Today I think some of the elite kids are free to join some of the SEC programs while others choose to stay with the ACC and I get that too. What I dont understand is how few of these kids even have us on their list even if they could walk in tomorrow and start. Feel free to tell me NO I get it but are we that bad that you wont even take a look and see that we might have something to offer like playing time and the chance to be the featured player.

    To me the writing is on the wall that with each passing year recruiting the state will only get tougher for us and yes you make excellent points about other programs coming in at the last minuet and flipping our kids which makes covering this stuff a complete joke, frustrating to those that follow it and here I did zero the entire time. I will say this again I really think we need to recruit this market for several reasons.

    First there is no competition meaning we don’t have 6 to 8 colleges to fight it out. Local kids are taught at the beginning that you leave home to go to school. Unlike N.C., kids are not pressured to stay home nor do they have the desire to go to Maryland as there are 7 professional sports teams within 30 miles of campus.

    Second the concentration of talent in such a small geographic area makes it easy to cover. ECU was looking to recruit a Juco player named Kelby Johnson for our O line who originally started out at UVA. Well Kelby played on the same line in high school with the Kouandjio brothers who both now start at Alabama in addition to a kid who just signed with the Seminoles. Pretty good college line perhaps the best high school line in the country. Im not suggesting we are going to sign the 2 starting tackles from the Tide or the kid going to FSU but we did sign a kid named Chrishon Rose who went up against these guys as a high school player. Point is you dont have to get the best but you want guys that are used to playing against the better competition game in and game out. In addition you want kids that are prepared for what awaits them off the field and in the class room. I think there are some clear advantages here especially at the private school level. Having a foot in the door in this market will also help our basketball program. I know at our school we have 6 kids off of this years BBall team that have signed with D1 schools. Again we dont need the stud kid but Ill take the one that plays against him and holds their own. Also makes it easy on the one doing the recruiting one school 6 players with D1 ability. Funny thing we were picked to finish 4th in the league so think about what these other programs put on the court.

    Bottom line our reputation I think is better here than it is back in NC and I think we have the best chance of bringing in better talent from this market than in NC. When you look at the 3 ECU players from this area none heavily recruited Grove, Derrel Johnson, and Rose all have been solid assets to the program and there are plenty more available if we decided to go after them. There are now plenty of Alumni living here and as a result plenty of Pirate stickers on cars. Once again sorry for the long post told you I would do better at the local pub.

    • Hi DCP28…sorry took me awhile in response.

      As you know (and you and I have discussed), I think the DC area is ripe for us to mine both football and hoops.

      I mentioned in a response to UV that one thing that hurts us badly, IMO, is the proximity of D1 schools in our neighborhood. With the move to the AAC, I see big opportunities in your area and up into NJ and even PA now. I live in eastern PA and there are a considerable number of alumni here but more importantly, a larger number of kids flocking to ECU as an alternative college to PSU. Now with regular games against Temple on the schedule, it shouldn’t take much for us to exploit the area for recruiting purposes. If we could arrange an OOC with PSU or Rutgers or Maryland, it would serve that purpose as well.

      We used to get a gem or two from NJ back in the day and we can do it again.

      BTW…I should be down in your area some in the next few months…perhaps we can have a plate of those and a pull or two of a good ale.

      I respond to your direct email as well!

      Go Pirates, Go!

  3. Conference affiliation has a lot to do with this. However, I think we’ve done a good job of late at attracting those hidden jewels and (more importantly) developing the players once they get here. I had not heard the poaching angle before but it doesn’t surprise me. I would be interested in your thoughts on our recruiting class once we’re past NSD. Sammy Batten seemed happy with it.

    • Hi Ed…great to hear from you…hope all is well.

      I will have some commentary on the class after NSD. I will talk to each kid for Bonesville Magazine this year so I should get some good insight.

      You may recall, last year, I came away from the magazine really excited about Davon Grayson, Marquez Grayson, and Isaiah Jones and so far, two have been outstanding. I am hoping that it is the trifecta…with Marquez emerging this spring.


  4. ultraviolet

    Marion Kirby, Pirate alum and former Greensboro Page dynasty coach, once said that you really need 7 or 8 good to very good players and to get the rest coached up to do their jobs. Whether you can apply that to high D1 level competition is debatable, but there probably is a number that would work for us, like say 12 in each recruiting class. If you find 12 starters per recruiting class you’ve probably done a very good job. Not saying they all start from day one, but over their 4 years of eligibility they start at least one season.

    I think this staff works really hard at their business and I would like to hear their thoughts on that. Beyond that, poaching happens to everyone, not just ECU. We sometimes like to think we’re the only program with hardships. I understand why we can’t take a kid from ‘Bama and get constantly pounded by the brainwashed masses of kids that go to UNC, but it concerns me more when we lose out to a Marshall. I know they’ll admit anyone who can fog a mirror, but we need to beat them on academically qualified kids. Makes me wonder what they’re up to. They have a history.

    • Hey UV…love the commentary!

      For me, poaching is certainly part of the game plan across the country, but what is more frustrating is that – at least for ECU – in the offensive skill positions, it seems that the schools who swoop in do a last minute scan to see who our staff uncovered where their work did not. I know it is part of the game and when you have brand power, well, you can do that with ease…still frustrating though.

      I hear you on the Marshall ilk. What they are up to is exactly what you suspect…they will bring in anyone with a pulse and make no bones about it. They are aligned with the school on the desire to have big-time football at any cost and where it like a badge.

      We have pried a few away from them, too. BTW, I saw where Buie is now back in football (played at Fort Scott last season), speaking of one we pulled from Marshall (I think).

      Our biggest plight, is the number of D1 schools with much bigger pocketbooks in close proximity to us who poach. Tough to compete when there are so many.

      I would like to see 2 years out of the core of each class as starters…

      Cheers UV.

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