East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Wednesday about the 2013 recruiting class. The following are selected comments:
“As always it is a great day to be a Pirate. This is a day that is anticipated by all football coaches around the country. A lot of hard work goes into getting to today by the coaching staff, the staff in the office and everybody that supports us. This morning when I and the rest of the staff began to see those faxes start coming through it was very exciting. To see 19 grown men huddling around the fax machine waiting for something from an 18-year old, is always an interesting site. For 28 years I have had the privilege of being at the college level and experiencing this day firsthand and it is always exciting to me. The recruiting part of football is year round and for quite a few of these players, we began evaluating and scouting them years ago.
“Every coach around the country says they like their class, but I really do like our class. I feel they will fit into what we were looking for and what this program needs. They are what I want our program to be and I like what the players bring to the table.”
“We feel good about this group and the way we attacked filling out our roster and finding players that fit our program. We talked about what we wanted to do a year ago on the defense, and that was to keep developing depth. I thought we did that very well last year especially along our defensive line. Last season, if someone got nicked up we were able to replace and reload with another young man that often times was just as productive. Depth always leads to strong competition and I think we did that again this year with our defensive line and linebacker commits. The linebackers we signed give us range and are able to play in open space. With new defensive coordinator Rick Smith coming aboard in the January, we still wanted the players to be familiar with their roles in our defensive system. The linebackers we signed really fit into the multiple-based system that Rick wants to run. We felt like we had to add depth and productivity on the backend of our defense among the defensive backs to give us additional strength, speed and length. I like the way this group fits all those criteria. I can’t wait for the Pirate Nation to meet them. All the defensive backs we signed have a similar look and personality.”
“I was really proud of how organized the coaching staff was throughout this process. Everything went as smoothly as it possibly could in the way we evaluated and got our players onto campus. Often times quite a bit luck is involved in today to make sure you get the right guys for your program. Recruiting is always a battle. You win some and you lose some. I like the ones that we won today.”
“Offensively we added six skill position players at receiver, tight end, running and quarterback. Tight end Darren Dowdell and three receivers in Trevon Brown, Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones all can really run and attack the football. We like that about each one of them. They all have length, range and can stretch the field and will be great additions to the program. The running back, Terrell Lane, is a player that can jump cut and get positive yardage. On the offensive line, we feel like we added a strong group. Marquis Walker in particular will be able to come in and immediately compete for playing time.
“Kirk Donaldson is a player that we think has the mobility to play tight end, but we have signed him as a outside linebacker. He is going to be one of those linebackers that will play over a tight end and can still rush the passer from the edge. We as a staff, me as the head coach and Kirk all agree that he will play linebacker here.
“We stretched our tentacles in the state and signed 11 players from the state of North Carolina. We have stressed hitting those players in-state for years. Our recruiting also took us to the talent rich areas of Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia. We began establishing ourselves in that state last year. We even went a little bit further up the East Coast to Delaware this season to add a defensive lineman in Randall Anderson. We still hit the state of South Carolina pretty hard and got some good players out of there like linebacker Devaris Brunson and defensive lineman Mike Myers. Tight end Darren Dowdell and defensive back DaShawn Benton are from Georgia. Benton can really run and cover. We also received commitments from recruits in Florida (Kurt Benkert) and Texas (Isaiah Jones).”
On if the BIG EAST Conference was sold to recruits this season in recruiting?
“Yes we did. I thought it gave us a big advantage out on the road. Many of the parents and the recruits that we talked to were interested in us joining the BIG EAST. The way the conference will be aligned in the future wasn’t as big of a concern for them. What the recruits and parents were interested in was the vision of where we would be heading as a football team and as an athletic program.”
Importance of Relationships in Recruiting
“The biggest thing in recruiting is the relationships established. We began establishing relationships with some of these young men over two years ago. Some even date back to my first year here. Getting the players here for games and camps is always a key. We signed eight kids that attended one of our camps Each year we have been able to build and grow our relationships with high school coaches and recruits from each area. Every coach has a spot that they are responsible for in the state of North Carolina.”
Advantages of having players already in school and working out with the team?
“It really gives those four players (Randall Anderson, Kurt Benkert, Tristan Mumford and Brandon Smith) that are early enrollees a big leg up. Being at a college is really a big adjustment. All four of them joined the program at the beginning of the semester. They have had the chance now to get their feet on the ground and begin working out with Coach (Jeff) Connors and his group in the weight room. The players have also been able to work with their teammates in seven-on-seven drills. Another big advantage is that they get used to speed of college both on the field and in the classroom. All of the players that enrolled early are assigned big brothers – an older guy on the team that really takes them under their wing – to make the transition go smoothly. One of the criteria that we want to make sure of when we recruit a player is that the environment is right for them to be successful. The environment is first on our list and after that everything else will naturally fall into place.”
This recruiting class compared to previous classes?
“I think that it has added and advanced our football team. What you want when you bring in a recruit is to have them already more advanced at this point than the group that was brought in the year before. Whether it is in height, speed or strength you are looking for a better caliber of athlete to build on than you previously had. With maturity it all depends on the person, but athletically this class is at a position where we can start at a more advance point than we could in previous years. That is exactly what is needed to advance the program. Talent-wise it is big advantage for us compared to previous recruiting classes.”
Loss of committed recruits right before signing day?
“It happens. We did the same thing to some other schools that thought they had a few of our players committed. It is all fair in love and war. You go after the best players that you can and you put in your best effort to get them, but sometimes a recruit will decide to go in a different or unexpected direction. We won most of them this year, but we did lose a couple at the end. Some of the times kids will change their mind and it is not because we were outworked or anything like that. I would much rather have a recruit change his mind or have hesitancy before they come here than in a game against Virginia Tech next year in September. We had a list of players that we just moved over to take the place of those that decided to go in a different direction. The guys that want to come to East Carolina will do the best here both on and off the field. When you get a group of players that are committed to the team and will do anything for a teammate, it means a lot.”
Offensive and Defensive Line Additions
“For me, and I have always said this, if you are strong at the offensive and defensive line positions you have increased your chances for success. We learned after the first and second year that nicks and bruises are going to happen along the lines and it is imperative to have enough depth at those positions to overcome. Our goal is, when we have an injury to not just replace a player with someone that is as productive, but will be even better. Developing depth along the lines is very important. It is easier to play right away on the defensive line than the offensive line, but both are always places that that we feel like we need to add to.”
Feeling when a recruits tells you the reason they chose your program was because of the family atmosphere?
“Environment is the first thing that I tell recruits about, but after that I tell them that I will not run this program like a business. If they are looking for hands-off or CEO-run operation, than this is not the place for you. I operate best in family atmosphere and that is what East Carolina means to me. The feeling of family runs throughout this university. Cohesion among our staff was something that one of our recruits noted as a key for him deciding to attend East Carolina. It was one of the reasons I decided to attend East Carolina in 1976 and it is that same feeling that recruits that we signed today are feeling.”
Junior College Players
“We are not afraid to go the junior college route and I think the two guys that we signed fit specific needs. Those guys that we signed will provide immediate help at the positions of running back and on the offensive line. We try to recruit the best player that we can whether they were in high school or at the junior college level to help us be successful.”