Despite the current up-in-the-air status of college football, ECU Coach Mike Houston and his staff have not let up on opening the door for a host of transfers coming into the program…and they come from powerhouse programs like Alabama and Oklahoma, from in-state rivals like North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State and Appalachian State and even one from Arkansas and the Pirates may not be done.
It is noteworthy that while the transfer portal giveths, it also takeths away, and the Pirates have seen a number of players depart the program via transfer too. But, on paper at least, the incoming talent seems to be greater than the outgoing and several of the players will also be available immediately.
Now, anyone who has been around the program for some time should note that ECU’s transfer history has not been stellar. Some good ones for sure, but not enough to ignite a monumental change in the W-L prognosis.
This time, may well be different.
If Houston’s past penchant for identifying difference-makers via the transfer route is any indicator, the Pirates program may get a noticeable boost from these transfers (including some that came in last season like WR Audie Omotosho and TE Zech Byrd.) He seems to know the Transfer Portal’s value and how to work it.
While at James Madison University, Houston didn’t shy away from the microwave approach and many of his bets panned out pretty damn well. So it stands to reason that Coach Houston not only has a good handle on what his program needs, but also has the eye for which players out there can provide the biggest and quickest impact on the program.
During his tenure at JMU, Coach Houston and his staff brought in ~17 top level transfers and largely, 12 panned out with several making major impacts on the program.
Starting with 2018 transfer Ben DeNucci (from Pitt), who came into the program, took the starting quarterback job and went on to pass for more than 5,700 yards and 45 TDs in two seasons and was picked by Dallas in the NFL Draft. Former UCF running back Jawon Hamilton came into a crowded JMU backfield and found a way to contribute 168 carries for 919 yards and five touchdowns and returns as a key part of a RB tandem for the Dukes in 2020.
Safety Wayne Davis came in from Ohio State and started immediately for the Dukes at LB and then moved to full-time job at Safety last season. He will be an all-CAA contender this season.
These are just a few of the successes Houston had a JMU when it comes to transfers. A JMU beat writer broke down the transfers during Houston’s tenure and a brief assessment piece and largely it reads as if JMU greatly benefited from the transfers in during his tenure.
It is not likely that Coach Houston is just taking interested athletes for transfer, but rather there is strategy behind the pick-ups. Clearly there is need on the offensive line and getting N.C. State Graduate Transfer Justin Chase (a one-time ECU commit) and UNC-CH Transfer Avery Jones are very important for the Pirates both immediately in the case of Chase and down the road in the case of Avery, who has three years of eligibility remaining.
It also makes complete sense that Chase Hayden, a biggish Graduate Transfer running back from Arkansas, was invited in as well. Not only did the Pirates lose a pair of backs to outbound transfers (Hussein Howe and Tay Williams), but likely starter Darius Pinnix has battled injuries and the Pirates need another physical back on the team…one that can take on a load of carries if needed. If a back from run-first Arkansas can’t help us, then none could really.
Oklahoma linebacker Ryan Jones brings two seasons of eligibility with him via a Graduate Transfer returning to his home state looking to make noise on the offensive side of the ball as a slot/hybrid TE for the Pirates. He was a two-way 4-star standout in high school when former ECU OC Lincoln Riley swooped in and took him to Oklahoma. Jones has always had interest in the offensive side of the ball and he will certainly not hurt the Pirates there.
Alabama Graduate Transfer Nigel Knott brings more than potential to the ECU secondary, he brings work ethic that comes along with having been on a national championship program. Though he was injured all of 2019, that could end up a blessing for ECU as not only can Knott play immediately, he is very likely to get an additional year of eligibility. The Pirates secondary could use a boost. Additionally, the Pirates picked up a young DB from Duke in Isaiah Kemp, who will likely have to sit out the 2020-21 season, but will have three years to make an impact.
Perhaps one of the more important pick-ups is the under-the-radar Graduate Transfer Chris Willis from Appalachian State. The off-season brutalized the ECU defensive line, losing stalwarts Kendall Futrell and Alex Turner to graduation and then losing Trey Love, Chandon Hickerson, and Brian Smith to the Transfer Portal. Willis will have only one season to help the Pirates and his help will be needed at defensive end. You would have to think that Houston and his staff see something in him that screams “immediate help.”
This group, well they do look good on paper, some will impact right away and others for a few years down the road. And, the transfers seem to hit on needs for this team. Yes, I think Coach Houston knows what he is doing and these moves, I believe, are less an indication of how far away we are from being an AAC contender, but rather, how close we are.
Love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
Cheers and Go Pirates!