Photo: Mason Garcia on his recruiting trip
East Carolina continues its 16-day break between losing to Temple on Thursday night and Oct. 19 game at UCF with new coach Mike Houston taking advantage of the time to emphasize recruiting. He has holes to fill.
Trouble is that talent won’t arrive until next year as freshmen, although Houston did learn on Tuesday senior starting offensive guard Cortez Herrin was granted an NCAA media waiver to return as a fifth-year senior in 2020.
“We had our entire staff out on the road recruiting this past Friday,” Houston said. “Between this past Friday and this coming week we’ll see all of our committed kids and many more that are high on our list. You’ll see us all over the East Coast. We plan to spend a good bit of the week recruiting.”
Houston has a better idea of the holes to fill now that the Pirates are halfway through the season. The overall record is encouraging at 3-3, but the AAC losses to Navy and Temple have shown the new coach that his inherited 2019 roster lacks talent and depth to compete with the AAC programs in the top half of the East and West divisions.
Although the Pirates have three wins, they have to find four victories out of their final six for bowl eligibility. Two of the wins are over Football Championship Subdivision teams, Gardner-Webb and William & Mary, and the NCAA only permits teams to count one FCS victory. ECU added William & Mary to the schedule as a late addition after Virginia Tech canceled its game 2019 game with the Pirates.
Of the six, three are against defending champion and formerly ranked UCF (4-2, 1-1 AAC East) in Orlando; No. 25-ranked Cincinnati (4-1, 1-0 AAC East) on Nov. 2 at home; and No. 21 SMU (6-0, 2-0 AAC West) in Dallas.
The other three contests are against USF (2-3, 1-1 AAC East) on Oct. 26 at home; at Connecticut (1-4, 0-2 AAC East) on Nov. 23; and Tulsa (2-3, 0-1 AAC West) on Nov. 30 at home.
Finding four wins out of that six won’t be easy.
“We understand who we are right now,” Houston said. “We’ve got to find better ways to do things. We got to make sure the players we have we’re asking them to do what is within their ability level. There are some things we have not yet installed our defensive scheme. We’ve got to continue work at progressing before we put other things in.”
Houston also cited the lack of seniors in the program as a handicap to competing in the conference. Counting Herrin before his new status, ECU has eight senior starters but on the two-deep depth chart only 10 seniors.
On offense, they are Herrin, starting left guard; Branden Pena, starting center; Fernando Frye, backup right guard; Anthony Watley, starting tight end; and Deondre Farrier, starting wide receiver.
On defense, they are Alex Turner, starting defensive tackle; Jalen Price, starting defensive tackle; Kendall Futrell, starting defensive end; Michael Swift, backup defensive end; and Colby Gore, starting cornerback.
As for the future, Houston already has 21 verbal commitments in the Class of 2020. There is a one 4-star prospect, quarterback Mason Garcia of Carolina Forest in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and there are nine 3-stars.
A year ago, when Houston was hired in December to replace Scottie Montgomery, there were no 4-stars and eight 3-stars. Five of the 3-stars were inherited and remained committed, while three others were signed with a late push under Houston, including flipping running back Demetrius Mauney of Forest City in western North Carolina from Purdue.
The 2020 class is currently ranked No. 47 in the nation by Rivals.com, although with 21 commitments that number may decline as other schools fill out their recruiting quotas. In 2019, ECU was ranked No. 84; in 2018, No. 85; in 2017, No. 70; and in 2016, No. 78.
“We’re excited with the class we have put together right now,” Houston said. “They’ve all been on campus multiple times. We’ve had the entire class at a home game already. We’re looking forward having them all back for one more home game as a group. I think they’re excited about the future of the program. In our opinion it’s a very talented group top to bottom.”
Houston also announced sophomore linebacker Delvontae Harris and defensive back Juan Powell have been reinstated to the team. They had been suspended shortly before the season started for stealing from parked cars on campus. The charges against them were dismissed when they completed community service.
They don’t provided immediate help, but Houston added they’ll have a chance to work their way back into the playing rotation.
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