A sense of normalcy appeared to return to the East Carolina football program as newly hired coach Mike Houston stepped to the podium on Wednesday at the Ward Sports Medicine Building.
One reason was the recruiting class that looked promising as it was built over the summer under former coach Scottie Montgomery was largely back in the fold. Three players that had de-committed as the season unraveled to a 3-9 record re-committed with signatures on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.
“The message to them was this is who we are as coaches and this is how we’re going to do things,” Houston said. “You already know East Carolina University. It was selling them on the dream of what we’re going to create here.”
The de-committed players who signed were Bailey Malovic, a three-star offensive lineman from Highland Community College in Kansas; Nishad Strother, a two-star offensive lineman from Havelock High; and Juan Powell, a two-star athlete from Douglass High in Atlanta.
Powell, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder, is among eight players enrolling early in time for spring football. Houston said spring ball will determine if Powell plays offense or defense.
One addition to the class was Demetrius Mauncey (6-0, 190), a three-star running back from East Rutherford High in western North Carolina. He had committed to Purdue in June before Houston flipped him to the Pirates.
“I knew his high school coaches,” said Houston, whose three-year stint at James Madison University included a 2016 national title in the Football Championship Subdivision. “We talked about the style we’re going to play, and he’s that style of back he is. He’s every down back that he has speed. He’s a first- and second-down back, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can hold up on pass protection.”
One player Houston learned he never had to worry about was Traveon Freshwater, a three-star defensive end from Northeastern High in Elizabeth City. Freshwater, who committed to the Pirates among a final three that included N.C. State and South Carolina, is one of those rare athletes following advice to commit to a school rather than a coach.
“I had a good bond with coach Montgomery and was sad for him, but I committed to a school,” Freshwater said. “I liked the program (sports management) and the academic support that is in place for athletes. I felt it was a good fit.”
The class features 16 high school players, two junior college transfers and 11 players from the state of North Carolina.
Houston says he has two scholarships remaining to use during the traditional February signing period. He plans to target a defensive lineman and a skill player.
The class is ranked 68th in the nation by Rivals.com. The Pirates are fifth among the 14 American Athletic Conference schools behind Central Florida (50), Memphis (52), South Florida (55) and Temple (65).
“I said to our staff if we had been here for two years and this is class we signed I’d be ecstatic,” Houston said. “This is a quality group of young men of strong character and integrity, they are academically fit for East Carolina University and talented. A lot of them will be immediate impact players.”
Alex Angus, DB, 6-2, 190 Browns Summit, N.C.
Keziah Everett DT, 6-1, 325 Farmville, N.C.
Malik Fleming DB 5-9, 180 Fairburn, Ga.
Alex Flinn QB 6-1 , 210 Fletcher, N.C.
Traveon Freshwater DE 6-1 , 230 Elizabeth City, N.C.
Bryan Gagg* QB 6-3 , 200 Bradenton, Fla.
Hozey Haji-Badri* DT 6-3, 270 Chantilly, Va.
Jsi Hatfield* WR 5-9, 175 Graham, N.C.
Trent Holler OL 6-2, 285 Latrobe, Pa.
C.J. Johnson WR 6-2, 220 Greenville, N.C.
Jeremy Lewis TE 6-3, 215 Greenville, N.C.
Bailey Malovic* OL 6-6, 260 Irmo, S.C.
Demetrius Mauney RB 6-0, 195 Forest City, N.C.
Ja’Quan McMillian* DB 5-9, 165 Winston-Salem, N.C.
Patrick Nations* PK 6-0, 190 Tamassee, S.C.
Juan Powell* ATH 5-11, 170 Atlanta, Ga.
Chad Stephens LB 6-0 , 225 Greensboro, N.C.
Nishad Strother OL 6-3 290 Havelock, N.C.