Pirates get defensive|McNeill bolsters D-Line with first recruiting class

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — A noticeably slimmer Ruffin McNeill held his first press conference since having lap band surgery on Jan. 13 and while the East Carolina football coach has trimmed his weight down, he his hoping that his class of 27 new recruits will make his roster heavy with talent.
Last season’s recruiting class was packed with players plucked by former ECU coach Skip Holtz, but after Holtz’s departure to USF McNeill’s main task was to keep the players in place.
This year it was all McNeill, as he hit the recruiting trail to sign 15 defensive players and 12 offensive players, 17 of which hail from North Carolina.
“Last year I had a week to hold on to the guys we had,” McNeill said. “This year we started evaluating and going through the film process, the background and character check process immediately after last year’s class. Even before the staff was fully hired. It’s a great feeling because I know what I want the program to be about and the guys I hired are on the same page.”
That page must have had a lot written on it about defense as the Pirates placed a premium on that side of the ball in McNeill’s first recruiting class, and rightfully so after the team finished dead-last or near last in all major defensive statistics last season.
The Pirates biggest weakness last season was along the defensive line where the team was small and young, but McNeill inked
some good sized lineman that will hopefully develop bigger bodies that will help post big win totals.
McNeill inked eight defensive linemen, five of which are 6-4 or bigger, including DT Leroy Vick, a 6-6 junior transfer from Georgia Military College.
McNeill said bolster his defensive unit was a major priority.
“We signed (eight) defensive linemen and four linebackers,” McNeill said. “Just think about this: In this league the two best front sevens played in the Conference USA championship. Central Florida had the best front seven and SMU had the best front seven … Think about the East Carolina Pirates, our place, they had won back-to-back championships and they had the best front seven in the league.”
On the other side of the line, McNeill signed five offensive linemen including a pair of 6-7, 270-pounders in freshmen Stewart Hinson from Monroe and Isaac Harris from Irmo, South Carolina.
“We wanted to make sure we fit our needs on both sides of the ball,” McNeill said. “Offensive linemen and defensive linemen will always be a key target for us. You win championships with great offensive line play and great defensive line play.”
The Pirates also added playmakers by signing three wide receivers and three running backs, most notably Florida freshman Chevelle Buie, who with four stars was the highest rated recruit ECU inked according to Rivals.com, and junior transfer Reggie Bullock.
Bullock was named the 2010 JUCO Co-Player of the Year after leading the NJCAA in rushing with 1,830 yards in 12 games.
The other running back was freshman Chris Hairston, a 6-0 freshman out of Winston-Salem who rushed for 1,156 yards last season.
The Pirates will head to camp next season with a logjam in the backfield, but McNeill said that is fine by him.
“We are going to reload. We know offensively what we need here, we need guys who can catch the ball in space and be creative,” McNeill said. “I think if you could see the highlights on these three guys you will see very similar actions.”