Feb. 2, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Wednesday about the 2011 recruiting class. The following are selected comments:
On National Signing Day
“This is always one of the most exciting days for major-college football. It has been that way since I got into college coaching. It needs to be. It’s a process getting to this point. It has become even better, bigger and broader with the media coverage we have available now.
“Our Pirate football family and Pirate Nation are having a very exciting day. This is just as exciting as our first class last year in 2010.”
On This Year’s Signees
“We’re very pleased with the young men who have joined our Pirate family today. I’m sure every coach says that, but we’re very proud of the group we have.
“We began this process immediately after last year’s signing day. We hired the staff and started our evaluations of prospects with reviewing film, going through information and conducting background and character checks. We started that last year.”
On What The Coaching Staff Was Looking For In Recruits
“We want talented football players and good student-athletes in our program. One of the things that is a priority and qualifier to be a part of our Pirate family is character and leadership. We have to find the right guy who fits what we want and need. That’s first. The talent part comes second.
“We want great football players, but we wanted to make sure we brought the right guys in. We had some guys on the list who we thought were very good football players, but we didn’t think they would fit into our philosophy here. There are no hard feelings or anything like that. We feel good about the guys we got fitting into our East Carolina brand. We signed guys who think team first and entitlement last.
“Because we started so early, I was able to visit with a lot of these players on our campus during spring ball and summer camps. A lot of the players who you see on the list today came to football games, sometimes more than one. I was able to meet with players and parents on numerous occasions as a result.
“When I had the surgery, it worked out well because it wasn’t as required of me to go into each prospect’s home as it is sometimes. I had already met with their parents so many times before.
“There were a few recruits who I needed to go visit. After the first week of the surgery, I was able to sit back and talk to everybody on the phone. One of the unique things about this new set of parents we have is that they all understood. Their first question was ‘How are you doing?’ They get the process and what I’m doing here. That made it great. The last week out I was able to get into some homes and touch base with some guys who I had not seen as frequently as some others. It all went very well.
“The other thing we wanted was guys who were not afraid of the process. We wanted players who are not afraid of the challenge, the process of preparation, of practice and of doing the extra things off the field. We wanted players who would embrace the challenging schedule and the challenge of our coaches. We wanted recruits who would be up to the challenges presented by our new head strength and conditioning coach, Jeff Connors. These guys are not afraid.
“With me, there’s always trust and commitment. We develop a trust among each other, from player to coach and from coach to player.
“Finally, we wanted guys who were committed to being Pirates. We wanted guys who wanted to be here. I’m not into the hat-trick game. I wanted guys who wanted to be here at East Carolina and play for us. We wanted players who would represent Pirate Nation in a professional and first-class manner and contend for championships, which is what we plan on doing. Those were some major intangibles involved.”
On His Surgery
“I have to extend a big thank you to the office upstairs. We thought we had everything timed out pretty perfectly. The plan was in place since around September, but the date changed due to the lateness of the bowl game.
“We backed up the starting date to a dead period. Our coaching staff, our guys upstairs, said, ‘We got it.’ That first week they handled everything. I love those guys and girls upstairs with all my heart. They have done a great, great job from top to bottom. They allowed me to recover at a pace that was most productive. Antonio Huffman [Director of Operations] and Cary Godette [Director of Administration] were very important. Harold Robinson [Director of High School Relations] also did a great job evaluating film.
“Our recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick handled scheduling on the road and did a great job. Lincoln Riley, Brian Mitchell, Clay McGuire, John Wiley, Marc Yellock, Dennis Simmons, Brandon Jones and Duane Price are bulldogs. They are relentless. I knew they would be. They get after it. They love the coaching and recruiting parts.”
On The Makeup Of This Year’s Class
“The class is made up of 17 young men from North Carolina. I’m very proud of that. One of the things in my recruiting philosophy is that I want to hit North Carolina hard. We did just that. Of our junior college transfers, we have five total and three of them are from North Carolina. One is from Nevada and the other is from Mississippi.
“One of the qualifiers for junior college recruiting here is that the kids have North Carolina ties or ties to our staff. The first example is Reggie Bullock, who was coached by one of my former players at Texas Tech. Chris Baker’s defensive coordinator at Hinds Community College was a player who Mitchell coached.
“Also in the class are four players from South Carolina and three from the Virginia Beach area. Chevelle Buie completes the class and he’s from Florida.”
On The Class Fitting Needs
“The other process was making sure we fit our needs on both sides of the ball. Offensive and defensive lines will always be key recruiting targets for us. You win championships here with great offensive and defensive line play.
“We felt good about our running backs and receivers by signing three of each. The two inside receivers are Danny Webster and Donte Sumpter. The outside receiver is Antonio Cannon. Our quarterback for this class is Cody Keith. He’s what we want at quarterback. We’ll always sign a quarterback here.
“On defense we signed seven linemen and four linebackers. In this league, the two best front sevens played for the Conference USA championship. UCF and SMU had the best front sevens. Think about the East Carolina Pirates. They won back-to-back championships with the best front sevens in C-USA. We also signed three defensive backs.
“Our focus was to make sure we improve our talent level at all positions, offensively and defensively. We had to make sure our front seven defensively is going to get to the level we want it to be.
“We feel good about filling those needs.
“I’m very excited about what we have here. I feel good about what we met. I look forward to getting those guys on campus and around our team and coaches. I’m also excited to get them around Coach Connors and indoctrinated into what we do here.
“I’m pleased with our signing class. We’re well on the way with the foundation laid last year in 2010. This class will be another foundation brick. I’m very proud to be laying the groundwork here.
“We added some junior college players at positions where we need immediate help, but I want to reload here and not rebuild. I plan on being here a long time. We’ll always recruit heavily among the high-school ranks. If we have an immediate need, we’ll fill it based on the criteria of being from North Carolina or having a staff tie.
“I want to stay close to home in North Carolina or regionally with Virginia and South Carolina. They know what we’re about here at East Carolina.
“We’ll always try to fit and meet our needs up front. That’ll be a priority as long as I’m here.”
On Playing Time For The Signees
“Everybody we bring in here we expect to contend for a starting job and immediate playing time. I’m not afraid of saying that. The team has been told that. Of course there are some positions that take more time to develop than others, offensive line being the main one.
“Providing competition will happen every year. It’s not because of last year or anything like that. I want there to be competition here. I think competition is key to having a successful program. Each day, week and play, you want to compete at a high level to maintain your position. We will create competition here at East Carolina on a yearly basis through recruiting and on a daily basis through work habits.”
On The Running Back Situation
“We’re going to reload. We know offensively what we need here. We need guys who can catch the ball in space and be creative. I think when you see the highlights on these three guys you’ll see that ability. Chris Hairston has great quickness and speed, can return the football and run it. He has very good balance and footwork. Reggie Bullock is as productive as they come. He can catch and possesses great breakaway speed and vision. Chevelle Buie is extremely fast and does a lot of very good things with the ball in his hands.
“We bring in guys here who can compete right away. I want everybody on the team to be worried about who we’re bringing in. I’m not threatening anybody or anything, that’s just what I believe in. It’ll be the same way around here next year.
“You earn your position each day. There’s no entitlement here. We appreciate you and what you’ve done, but you have to earn your job every day here. I have to earn my job every day here. Our players are going to have to earn their places every day here. We’re going to bring in competition at each position every year. The best guy wins and plays. Those three guys we brought in are very, very good.”
On Local Products Montese Overton And Dontrill Hyman
“Montese Overton is a really, really good football player. He can run and has range. As a coach, I’m in love with length. I think that’s key facing the spread offenses we do today. Montese is a young man who can really develop and put on weight. We really fell in love with him on film. When he came to seven-on-seven camp we saw his ability to run, change direction and cover.
“Dontrill Hyman is exactly what you’re looking for in a recruit. He has height, strength and can run. Added to that is great power and length. I’m very happy to have those two guys.”
On Having This Class Be Completely His Own
“Last year I had a week to hold onto the guys we had. This year we started evaluating and taking them through the film and evaluation process immediately when the staff was hired.
“It’s very fulfilling. I know what I want the program to be about. The guys I hired are on the same accord. We watch film and put not just one set of eyes, but multiple sets of eyes on each player. I thought that was very important.
“To evaluate your team, you can do it in practice, but the real evaluation comes through games. You watch your players in live situations with the officials, television cameras and packed stadiums like we have here. Through that evaluation, you discover what you need.
“I knew, and Lincoln Riley knew, what we needed in order to be successful on offense. Being a defensive guy, I knew what we needed on defense to play the style I want and am used to.
“To go out, attack and relentlessly pursue the guys we tagged who fit those criteria of character and talent is very satisfying.”
On Recruiting In The Tidewater Area
“We got three great players from the Tidewater area. Having played with those guys back in the 1970s, they were always instrumental in success. Also having grown up and coached in North Carolina at the high school and college levels, I knew about the talent in that area.
“We go after the best guys. I don’t really care what other schools are after them. We’ll compete. Those three guys fit what we need. Jeton Beavers, Chaz Lowery and Domonique Lennon can make a difference in this program.
“John Wiley and I have a lot of connections in the Virginia Beach area. We know many of our former players from Appalachian State and guys who I played with who are in that region now. Those connections come in handy at a time like this.
“When the recruits come down and visit the campus, city and Pirate Nation, that makes our job much easier. Virginia Beach is important to us. It’s right up the road. Those young men felt the same way. We’ll still recruit and attack that area, even as far up as Washington, D.C.”
On Any Late Surprises With The Class
“Chevelle Buie was the last one. We felt good about him. He had a bunch of guys on him. Speaking with his mom last night and this morning, it was ECU no contest. He came up and enjoyed his visit. He was one of the first young men I saw when I got out of the hospital. He came by the house and had a great time on his official visit.
“We felt good about the rest because we started early. We’ll start early again this year. We had the recruits up in the spring to come visit practice and attend the spring game. We go out in spring recruiting to get around them and then we invite them all to camp. Finally, they come up and attend games in the fall.
“The relationships are key in recruiting. The program sells itself when they get here. I had a chance to meet with the majority of the prospects and their parents three, four or five times. Our relationship builds and that’s very important.
“The thing I’m always big on is that when the guy commits, he stays with it. He doesn’t waver or get shaky toward the end. Nobody did. That means they want to be here. I’ve been around guys who want to be at your place, and they always do the best. Academically first and on the field. All these guys want to be here. I’m proud of that and I appreciate that.”
On How The Offense Impacts Recruiting
“Offensively, it’s been that way ever since we’ve been in this style. You have to turn some really good players down. We love what Antonio Cannon brings to the table. He’s an outside receiver who can stretch the field and make the deep-ball catch like Lance Lewis. Antonio fits perfectly with what we want offensively.
“At inside receiver we have Danny Webster, who played quarterback and defensive back in high school. Donte Sumpter is the same. He’s a special guy who will start inside but could play at the outside position with his speed.
“Another thing that’s changed is you get guys who can be dual athletes. Danny is an inside receiver, but he could easily go over and play defense. He’s very aggressive. He’s one of the biggest hitters in the class, along with Domonique Lennon. I like where they are right now and we’re looking forward to playing them.”
On Key Pieces To The Class
“They all met our needs. On the offensive line, look at the size, height and length. I want the length they have. Isaac Harris is probably going to be 6-foot-8 when he gets here. I was very excited about all of them.
“I knew the defensive line was something we needed to improve. I was excited to get the high school guys as well as the junior college linemen. Those transfers are very good young men who were productive on the field. They’ll help us immediately.
“I love everybody, but I know for a fact that you win up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Those guys are always a joy when they say yes that they’re coming here.
“I’m a defensive guy and I love those boys. At linebacker, Joseph (JoJo) Blanks can bring it. I like him. He has the leadership going at middle linebacker. He’s a North Carolina kid who went to West Robeson and played for Mark Heil, who I’ve known my entire coaching life. I feel good about his high school experience. After meeting JoJo and his coach at ASA, I knew he was well coached. He understands how to play downhill. He’ll provide middle linebacker help immediately.
“The skill guys and defensive backs, they can all run. They have great ball skills and attack it in the air. I like that.
“Cody Keith is a passer who can really throw the football and has mobility. He has moved around a few times, but to me that’s a plus. My daughter had moved five times by the age of nine. When she went off to Appalachian State for college, I was worried about her adjusting and because we were in Texas. Olivia didn’t have any problem adjusting because she did it so much when she was young. It’s the same thing with Cody. He has come in, blended with the team and hit the ground running.
“I feel good about the entire class.”
On C.J. Struyk Family Ties To East Carolina
“Anytime you get bloodlines in the program that’s good. C.J.’s proof is on his own. He was a Shrine Bowl participant and came to our camps. He’ll contend for the long-snapping job. He can also play center. I’m very pleased to have C.J. in the program and to continue the lineage.”
On An Ideal Signing Class
“We like to get to where we field a team with 11 signees on offense, 11 on defense and three athletes. Our defensive struggles were a part of it for immediate help, but I’m always going to be lineman heavy. You can’t have enough of those guys here.”
On Ranking Recruiting Classes
“I appreciate those guys who do the rankings and the services they provide. Everybody has their wants and what they need. I go after what I like on film. The film doesn’t lie. We go after what we like and need. Somebody judging who has hardly seen any film, I don’t put much credit in that. I put credit in what my coaches and I watch.
“The rankers did the best job they could and we did the best job we could. I don’t put any value on that either way. I feel good about who we signed. I wanted guys who wanted to be part of our brand and who didn’t mind being a part of a process of working, practicing and preparing. Not all the guys who signed other places fit those needs for us. I rely heavily on my staff and we check each other. I’m the final eye and like the kids we signed.”