GREENVILLE — Ruffin McNeill recounted on Wednesday afternoon what was very likely his worst recruiting nightmare in more than three decades of coaching football.
It was a fitting time to spin the story, because on Wednesday, McNeill was in victory formation. His East Carolina team got a full 25-man signing class, and that included last-minute nods from a fleet-footed high school running back and two towering JUCO offensive linemen that capped a monster seven-man class at that position.
Its the hardest part, and Ive been on the other end, said the fifth-year ECU head coach whose signing day success came on the heels of a 10-3 season and on the cusp of the Pirates move to the American Athletic Conference of the last-minute drama that saw the Pirates get two of their most coveted recruits, and also one they didnt expect.
I was in a hotel and I had five (verbal commits), McNeill recalled. It was in the days ... when we didnt have cell phones. Wed have to stop at a telephone booth (when on the road). I was sitting in the hotel room and I had five guys committed ... and the first call comes. Coach, Im sorry, but I got an offer from this school and Im going there. Right after I hung up the phone, five minutes later, another guy calls. Coach, Im going to another school, and then Im down to three.
By the end of that night, McNeill had one of the five left. Things went much differently this time around.
McNeill and his staff nabbed Virginia Beach, Va., tailback Anthony Scott (Green Run High School), got the final nod from California JUCO offensive lineman Dontae Levingston (Harbor City, Calif./Santa Monica C.C.) and got Kansas JUCO OL Quincy McKinney (Columbus, Ga./Hutchinson C.C.) to renege on his commitment to Louisville and join ECU.
The only loss for the Pirates was Gaffney, S.C., running back Hyleck Foster, who chose Marshall.
In addition to Scott and the crew of new offensive linemen, the 25-man class included four wide receivers, a tight end, six linebackers, two defensive linemen and two defensive backs. Also included in the total are 2013 defensive line commits Malcolm Ashley and Demage Bailey.
Not included are the Pirates four mid-year freshman signees, who are enrolled in school and who count toward last years class: 13 signee receiver Trevon Brown (Wilmington/New Hanover), receiver Curtis Burston (Apex/Middle Creek) and defensive backs Blake Norwood (Pensacola, Fla./Pensacola) and Cody Purdie (New Bern/New Bern).
McNeill said his previous bad experiences hardened him, and the lessons he learned then still hold true now, even when recruits take their decisions to the wire like Scott did.
Guys that are committed, when they start flinching, I start flinching. When they start looking (elsewhere), we start looking, McNeill said. Its fun to win, but its better to find the right Pirate. Its better to find the right young man.
Scott will join a backfield that lost two-time 1,000-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, and as evidenced by the seven true freshmen who played for ECU last season, the newcomer could run his way right into the Pirates lineup.
Anthony is a guy that adds pop to our offense, McNeill said of Scott. He can catch and is a guy that really can make a difference. Hes really impressive.
McNeill said he enjoys the competitive part of recruiting, but said he wont lower his standards in order to sway a recruit in his favor.
I wont beg them to come. Ill recruit them to come but Ill beg no one to come here, and we dont have to, McNeill said, adding that his sales pitch to recruits is only about ECU, not the other schools recruiting them. I never negative recruit and I dont believe in it. Why should I go into a persons home and mention another school? I dont have that time.