Bowl appearance affects FLA recruiting

Florida has built a reputation for producing highly-recruited football talent and ECU has made its presence known inside the sunshine state in recent years.

You really cannot see the strides the East Carolina football team has made on the recruiting trail this season. Not quite yet.

But as the Pirates get set for the Beef ‘O'Brady's Bowl – their second game inside the state of Florida this year – they are presented another opportunity to enhance the visibility of the program in one of college football's recruiting hotbeds.

One week away from taking on the Ohio Bobcats, recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick is going to exercise every chance to get the word out about the Pirates and what they are all about.

"You're definitely going to be on the television stations, you're definitely going to be in the newspapers, (and) you're going to be on the radio and just telling those kids that we are going to Florida and we are in Florida … it's going to help your recruiting," said Kirkpatrick.

ECU's first visit to the sunshine state was a 31-13 victory against new Conference-USA member Florida International on Nov. 2. That game was in Miami, while next Monday's bowl is being held in St. Petersburg.

Prior to arriving to ECU, first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith spent three seasons at nearby South Florida. And in addition to exponentially improving the Pirates' defense, Smith has also brought along his Florida recruiting ties and contacts.

Ever since the Pirates' lop-sided loss at Marshall in their regular season finale, ECU coaches have hit the east coast hard. They have been in homes from Atlanta, to Virginia Beach, to Florida and of course North Carolina as they look to wrap up the 2014 recruiting class shortly.

"Recruiting is not always about the immediate needs. We've been getting (Head Coach Rufffin McNeill) in homes this week after practice," said Kirkpatrick, "but in this bowl game, we'll be reaching kids we might be signing four or five years, six years down the road."

Not only have coaches been able to visit targets during the off-season, but in recent seasons been provided ample opportunities to watch them play in-season. The Pirates scheduled two open dates and a Thursday night game this year and the results have already paid off.

"When they came down and saw me … it meant a lot to me because it was so far from North Carolina, obviously," said ECU's quarterback-in-waiting and Cape Coral, Fla. native Kurt Benkert.

Another bargaining chip McNeill and his staff have at their disposal is a new conference. Starting next July, ECU will join the American Athletic Conference. Similar to C-USA, the AAC includes two members in the state of Florida – South Florida and UCF.

Blend membership in the AAC along with victories against in-state ACC opponents North Carolina and North Carolina State, a set of brand-new black uniforms and possibly a 10-win season for just the second time in program history and you can argue that Kirkpatrick has his most appealing product to sell during his nine-year tenure at ECU.

"Those are four factors that we are really selling and seeing the effects of," said Kirkpatrick. "I don't think in my nine years here we've ever had this much momentum going for us. This fifth factor may be something that we don't even know or we are getting ready to discover at any moment."

ECU wore its all-black uniforms against FIU and could do so again next Monday. It will be wearing home uniforms.

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