Defensive end Tyree Owens signed with East Carolina in December as a junior college transfer. The former West Virginia player is one of the top recruits in the Pirates’ 2017 recruiting class.
Keith Niebuhr | 247Sports
Longtime East Carolina defensive secondary coach Rick Smith retired in December, ending a 36-year career that included two stints with the Pirates.
Stephen Igoe | Special to the Times
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
The final push for East Carolina’s 2017 football recruiting class begins this week, but the Pirates already have a large chunk of the group in school in their efforts to build toward the future.
With the last contact period set to open Thursday and run through Jan. 28, the Pirates coaching staff hits the road late this week to fill out the 2017 commitment list, which is currently comprised of 21 pledges.
Eleven of those commitments were already on campus and enrolled in school as classes started Tuesday.
Five junior college signees officially became Pirates in December when they inked their National Letters of Intent, none bigger than top defensive end Tyree Owens, a three-star defender who previously played for West Virginia and decommitted from Texas A&M earlier this recruiting cycle.
Owens is joined on the defensive side of the ball by Georgia Military College cornerback Marcus Holton and inside linebacker Cannon Gibbs, who could compete for immediate playing time as well this spring following the graduation of former starting mike linebacker Cam White.
Offensively from the JUCO ranks, three-star offensive lineman Dqmarcus Shaw chose ECU over South Florida and Southern Miss, and tight end Eric Weber has joined the fray.
The high school ranks produced six early enrollees, including four on the offensive side of the ball. The group is led by arguably the top quarterback in the Carolinas in Kingsley Ifedi. The Charlotte native and Vance High School product chose ECU over Pittsburgh and was named the Offensive Player of the Year by the Charlotte Observer.
State champion Shelby High wide receiver Jayden Borders joins position mate and Floridian Leroy Henley, who’s the highest-rated high school commitment of the class. Henley committed to the Pirates over more than 30 offers in December following visits to Kentucky and East Carolina.
In-state offensive lineman Matt Morgan from Corinth Holders High rounds out the group of early enrollees on the offensive side of the ball.
Highly recruited defensive end Taijh Alston and Charlotte native outside linebacker Ben Norris will provide defensive reinforcements beginning this month as well.
Counting the 11 early enrollees plus former Auburn safety transfer Tim Irvin, who joined the program during the fall, ECU intends to sign a full class of 25 on National Signing Day (Feb. 1).
East Carolina didn’t make it through the offseason without at least some shakeup on its coaching staff following this past season’s 3-9 outcome, and there could be more on the way.
The Pirates lost their longest-tenured personality and defensive backs coach Rick Smith shortly before Christmas, as the 68-year-old announced his retirement after 36 years of coaching at the collegiate level.
Smith spent two stints in Greenville, coaching the defensive backs from 2005-09 under Skip Holtz before returning as defensive coordinator under previous head coach Ruffin McNeill from 2013-15.
He served as the secondary and assistant head coach his lone year under Scottie Montgomery in 2016.
“I’ve been blessed to be around so many special people and I’ll certainly miss the day-to-day relationships I have with my players, helping them grow in life,” Smith said. “I’ve always stressed the value of an education and I’m exceptionally proud of the fact that most all my players have earned a degree. We love East Carolina and plan to remain in Greenville, a place that has been so good to us. We can’t thank the Pirate fans enough for their support, encouragement and many kind words over the years.”
Montgomery has yet to name a replacement for Smith, though Coastal Carolina’s Curome Cox, Northern Iowa’s Brandon Lynch and former Delaware cornerback coach Henry Baker have all been linked to the opening.
ECU also lost administrative assistant Sedrick Irvin, the cousin of former NFL great Michael Irvin, after one season, He was named head coach at Miami High School in Florida earlier this week, according to reports.
Irvin, a former running backs coach at Memphis, assisted ECU running backs coach Antonio King last season. He served as a high school coach in Miami before joining East Carolina and Montgomery last April.
Sources also indicate ECU could be in danger of losing defensive line coach Deke Adams, who has mutual interest in the same position at North Carolina.
Adams previously coached under UNC head coach Larry Fedora at Southern Miss and at UNC for one year in 2012 before heading to South Carolina. He was hired last season by Montgomery after the Gamecocks staff was let go.
With the start of the contact period comes the first of three important recruiting weekends around the country.
The Pirates are expected to host at least eight official visitors, including a number of commitments and a few important uncommitted prospects.
Topping the list is Iowa State graduate offensive line transfer Jaypee Philbert, who is scheduled to arrive Friday. Philbert has starting experience in the Big 12 Conference as an offensive tackle and would be eligible to play immediately as a senior.
Former West Virginia cornerback commit Chris Hunt is also scheduled to make the trip as well. The 6-foot-1 defensive back is a product of Bishop Sullivan Catholic in Virginia Beach.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.