Defensive end Brandon Henderson (97), making a tackle for Georgia Military College during a game this past season, verbally committed to East Carolina on Wednesday, giving the Pirates one of their top class of 2017 recruiting targets.
East Carolina baseball head coach Cliff Godwin speaks during the team's media session Monday in Greenville. The Pirates were ranked No. 6 in the Baseball America collegiate poll released Monday.
Walter Powell | 247Sports
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
East Carolina waited a long time for the football recruiting commitment it received on Wednesday, but it was worth it in the end.
Georgia Military College class of 2017 defensive end Brandon Henderson verbally committed to ECU on Wednesday morning, capping off a long recruitment that started last May with the Pirates.
Henderson received his first NCAA Division I offer from ECU on May 17 of last year. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder would add more offers along the way from the likes of Houston, Kansas and many others, and Texas and Georgia even brought him in for official visits earlier this month, but it was the Pirates all along for Henderson.
“I pretty much knew, even when I was taking those visits, that East Carolina was where I wanted to be,” Henderson said. “They showed me the most love the entire time and stuck by me. I wanted to see what it was like to take those visits, but really I knew in the back of my mind ECU was the place for me.”
Henderson, the 21st verbal commitment of the class, isn’t your typical junior college recruit. The Greenwood, South Carolina, native had zero offers coming out of high school and he was actually cut twice as a walk-on player at two separate Mississippi junior colleges.
He finally found a home with Georgia Military College in 2015, and has used the past two seasons to propel himself into a major college football player.
“I like to use the saying, ‘A rose that grew from concrete’ to represent my story because it wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Henderson said. “I didn’t come from the best background and wasn’t supposed to make it this far. I was denied twice trying to walk on before and to be able to be at this point now, it’s just like defying all the odds, just like a rose growing from concrete.”
Henderson, who had 12 tackles for loss as a sophomore, projects as a defensive end for the Pirates with two years of eligibility remaining. He joins fellow Georgia Military College commitment Marcus Holton, a cornerback who enrolled in January.
Junior college defensive line commits Tyree Owens and Blake McClain, two former “Power 5” linemen at West Virginia at South Carolina, respectively, are committed and will join Henderson in revamping the Pirates’ defensive line, which lost position coach Deke Adams to North Carolina last week.
With 21 commitments in the books for the 2017 cycle, East Carolina will welcome in at least two important visitors this week.
Junior college offensive lineman Tanis Joseph, a talented offensive tackle with double-digit offers, will visit ECU from Wednesday through Friday before closing out the week with a trip to Memphis.
Along with the Pirates and Tigers, Joseph is also considering SMU, which he visited two weeks ago, as National Signing Day — Wednesday, Feb. 1 — nears.
South Carolina high school defensive back Tank Robinson is currently slated to visit this weekend. The three-star prospect from Lake Marion High held offers from the likes of Clemson, N.C. State, Alabama, Virginia Tech and many more earlier in the recruiting process, although most of those schools have filled up, allowing ECU to swoop in late.
Whether it be Robinson or previous official visitor Chris Hunt, a Virginia Beach cornerback, the Pirates would like to close out the class with one more defensive back.
AHLERS SET TO DECIDE
While much of the recruiting focus in the media and around college football is currently on the 2017 class, one of the 2018 cycle’s top in-state prospects will make his verbal pledge soon.
D.H. Conley High four-star quarterback Holton Ahlers has set his commitment date for Monday at his high school’s gymnasium at approximately 11:40 a.m. Ahlers will be deciding between East Carolina and N.C. State.
The Pirates have gone all-in for Ahlers lately, sending the entire assistant football coaching staff to watch last Friday’s Pitt County rivalry basketball matchup with J.H. Rose. The week prior, three ECU assistants showed up to see Ahlers’ hoops game with purple and gold No. 12 jerseys draped over their shoulders.
But N.C. State has recruited Ahlers longer than the Pirates, and each coaching staff has a tremendous relationship with the state’s top passer statistically heading into Monday.
“It’s almost dead even, though I would say one school maybe has a little bit of an edge,” said Ahlers, who doesn’t want to reveal the team at this time.
PIRATES GET NO. 6 RANKING
With expectations sky high after last year’s NCAA super regional run, the diamond Pirates have earned their highest preseason ranking in program history.
Baseball America slated East Carolina at No. 6 in its rankings released Monday, rounding out a group of preseason polls that have ranged the Pirates anywhere from inside the top 10 to No. 13 overall.
East Carolina opens practice Friday and will begin the season with a Top 25 road showdown at Ole Miss.
“I saw the rankings, unfortunately,” head coach Cliff Godwin said on Monday at the team’s annual media day. “But no, it’s great for the program. But I tell our kids they don’t hand out trophies in the preseason.”
“I’ll be proud when we’re No. 1 at the end of the year.”
Led by a key nine-man senior class with plenty of experience, the Pirates know nothing can be taking for granted just because of a number beside their name heading into the season.
“We ignore the noise, that’s for sure,” ECU senior ace Evan Kruczynski said. “Even with the (ranking) that came out. I was messing with one of my teammates today. The better notification I got this morning was my 12 o’clock class was cancelled.
“It’s awesome for the program, but you have to go out there and execute or it doesn’t matter.”
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.