North Carolina Central interim head coach Granville Eastman got a gift wrapped four-star present in the form of running back Jamal Currie-Elliott this month.
Elliott played high school football up the road from NCCU’s campus at Hillside High, and has returned to the Bull City after a taking a detour through the Pacific Northwest. Elliott (5-10, 185) committed to Oregon out of high school, enrolling in January and going through spring practice with the Ducks. However, Elliott left school shortly after the spring game and popped back up in his hometown, reporting to camp with the Eagles.
Elliott will be eligible to play right away and should make an immediate impact for the Eagles. It’s too early in camp to tell if Elliott will dethrone returning starter Isaiah Totten as the No. 1 ball carrier, but he will definitely add to the team’s offensive arsenal.
“Our first day of 1-on-1 (drills) he was clearly the best player out on the field,” Eastman said. “Without a question. He’s been more than a pleasant surprise.”
Here’s what Elliott should bring to the table this year:
Coming into fall camp the Eagles had just two backs on the roster who had any meaningful carries in 2017. Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Totten led the team in rushing with 744 yards on 125 touches. Junior Torri Cotton only carried the ball seven times in 2017. Ramone Simpson and Dorrell McClain, a pair of former All-MEAC backs, will not return this season, leaving running backs coach Jordan Reid scratching his head for depth behind Totten, that is until Elliott arrived.
Sophomore quarterback Chauncey Caldwell, a high school teammate of Elliott’s, led the team in rushing attempts (126) last season, but Eastman and quarterbacks coach Graham Hobbs probably don’t want their signal caller getting the most carries again. With the addition of Elliott, Totten returning, and Cotton healthy, the Eagles go into 2018 with a possible three-headed monster.
“If we can stay healthy, offensive line wise, and build off what we did last year,” Eastman said, “I think that combination is going to be a handful. That’s what we are working towards right now.”
Last season, with Totten and Caldwell as the lead ball carriers, North Carolina Central finished fifth in the MEAC in rushing, averaging 137.6 rushing yards per game.
Home run hitter
Totten burst on the scene in the opener at Duke with an 81-yard touchdown run, showing off break away speed. Elliott has the same kind of explosiveness, clocking a 4.73 40 in high school, showing off home run ability during his time at Hillside High School.
“He can score from anywhere on the field,” Eastman said.
He averaged 7.8 yards per carry during Oregon’s spring game in April. During his junior season of high school, Elliott, after transferring back to Hillside from IMG Academy, ran for more than 100 yards four times.
An additional weapon
Elliott not only lines up in the backfield, but the versatile back can also return kicks and catch the ball out of the backfield. In just three games his senior season - a year that was cut short by injuries - Elliott caught 13 passes for 164 yards. Junior wide receiver Xavier McCoy is the only returning receiver who caught more than 13 passes (18) and the NCCU running backs caught a combined 17 passes a year ago.
As a junior he caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for another score.
“He handles kicks well, punts, kickoff returns,” Eastman said. “Right now we are experimenting with somethings. I think if he and Isaiah are on the field at the same time, that would be a handful. They are both good backs out of the backfield catching the football. Jamal catches the football exceptionally well.”
The Eagles open the season on Sept. 2 against Prairie View A&M in Atlanta, Ga. at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.