Summer Journal: Who's Next?

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Year after year, there are incoming freshmen that immediately step in and make large contributions in college football. Josh Graham previews who those players might be for ECU in 2014.

It wasn’t long after Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones stepped onto the Cliff Moore practice fields last August that the East Carolina coaching staff noticed they had something special with its duo of freshmen receivers.

Throughout fall camp, Head Coach Ruffin McNeill was often probed about the two roommates that just so happened to be close friends too and whether or not either of them would be red-shirted.

McNeill firmly dismissed the notion, saying “if they want to wear a red shirt, they can wear it to class,” despite the Pirates already having a crowded receiving corps. We soon learned why he thought this way.

Grayson hauled in three touchdowns and Jones found the end zone once against Old Dominion in their collegiate debuts at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Less than a week later, Grayson caught his fourth touchdown against Florida Atlantic and continued to make great strides before his season came to a screeching halt on October 12 — he partially tore a ligament in his left knee at Tulane, which effectively ending his season.

Meanwhile, Jones seemed to blossom more in each game he played in. By the end of the season, he was no longer referred to as the son of former ECU legend and Super Bowl Champion, Robert Jones, but instead a playmaker and a dangerous threat to opposing defenses.

Jones finished the year with five touchdown catches and was second on the team in receptions (62) and receiving yards (604).

ECU recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said players like Grayson and Jones don’t come around often, but in Lincoln Riley’s “Air Raid” spread offense, an incoming freshmen’s opportunities to contribute immediately are more plentiful than at schools that run conventional pro-style offenses.

So who is next in line among the 2014 class of freshmen? Who is going to separate themselves next month and jump right in and help the Pirates win this upcoming season?

It shouldn't be a surprise that the most likely answer is another pair of wide receivers that have been enrolled at ECU since January: Curtis Burston and Trevon Brown.

Burston, formerly of Middle Creek High School in Apex, N.C., is a physical receiver (6-foot-1, 226 pounds) that uses his size well to gain separation from defensive backs. Although most of his damage will likely be done in the red zone, Burston is more than capable of being a deep threat down the field.

He is also one of ECU’s three 2014 signees that were invited to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in December, which pits the best high school talent from North Carolina and South Carolina against each other.

Shortly after committing to ECU last summer, Burston told that he thought Riley’s offense was a perfect fit for his skill set and that it was similar to what he ran in high school at Middle Creek.

Trevon Brown’s road to Greenville has been far more tumultuous and checkered with roadblocks.

The former New Hanover High School star that booked 69 receptions for 1,182 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior in 2012 had originally signed with ECU last February with the intent to play in the fall. Unfortunately for Brown, he could not because he failed to submit his high school transcript to the NCAA’s Clearninghouse before the April 20 deadline.

Also, it is worth noting that Brown was arrested and charged with possessing a controlled substance in February. The case is still pending.

Assuming he plays, the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Brown adds game-changing speed to the Pirates’ offense that would already make him one of the fastest players on the roster — right up there with his former high school teammate and fellow receiver, DaQuan Barnes — and will allow Riley and quarterback Shane Carden to stretch the field offensively.

So will Burston and Brown be this year’s versions of Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones? That’s an awfully high bar to set —especially since Grayson and Jones are still on the roster and expected to pick up heightened workloads — but it certainly isn’t unrealistic.

It very well could be someone else (after all, I wrote a story last year that named Quataye Smyre ECU’s breakout player as a freshman).

However, that’s not important. Regardless of who it is, there always seems to be few new faces that might choose to wear red shirts to class, but refuse wearing them on the football field.

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