Freshmen Make Their Mark on Offense

GREENVILLE, N.C. — This year's recruiting class has produced offensive talent that can immediately contribute to the Pirates' already explosive offense.

Fall camp is a time for East Carolina's gridiron warriors to prove that they belong on the field this season and for the team’s true freshmen, whether or not they can make the immediate jump from high school to major Division I college football.

A little more than a week into camp, there are still a handful of freshmen from this year’s recruiting class that are in the mix of staving off red-shirts on offense.

Tight end Stephen Baggett has caught the eyes of several coaches and players because of the unique combination of size and weight — listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds — he brings to the Pirates’ already prolific passing game.

“I’ve been very pleased with Stephen Baggett. I think he’s a very mature young man, he’s a very physical guy,” recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick told Inside ECU Sports. “If we can just get some more technique tone in him, I believe he’s a guy who can add to our arsenal and get in there and play for us.”

But what separates a promising freshman with potential from an immediate impact player is the mental makeup they possess.

All throughout last year’s pre-season camp, the million-dollar question was whether or not Head Coach Ruffin McNeill would red-shirt freshmen receivers, Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones. He did not and it paid off — Grayson caught four touchdowns in his first two games and Jones was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2013.

Aside from the obvious talent the duo had, McNeill and his coaches reiterated that the deciding factor was the maturity they exuded, despite being among the youngest players on the team.

“The biggest thing about this game is the mental toughness part,” McNeill told reporters at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility. “There is a difference between high school mental toughness and Division I toughness. Once we see that from consistency, from conditioning, proper mindset and proper focus, we’ll put him in there.

“I’m not afraid to play freshmen.”

The most noteworthy freshman in camp is the Pirates’ prized jewel of the 2014 recruiting class: Green Run (Va.) running back, Anthony Scott. During last week’s media day, Riley said Scott brings a different level of speed that he hasn’t seen at ECU in his tenure.

However, Scott is ingrained in a highly competitive, crowded position battle at running back and has more to prove than some of the other freshmen that are looking to avoid red-shirts.

Similar to Baggett, Hanahan (S.C.) wide receiver, Terrell Green, is physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds that could create some matchup problems for opposing defenses catching passes.

The last name that was brought up by a few players and coaches is Knightdale (Raleigh, N.C.) inside receiver, Quay Johnson, who could be this year’s dark horse freshman that surprisingly steps in and contributes right out of the gate.

“I think we’ve got three guys that after a week are certainly still right there in the mix,” Riley. “The thing Isaiah and Davon did a great job of last year, they weren’t just unbelievable the first week. They were good and they just kept getting better, better and better and by the end of camp, there was no question that they were ready to play.”

ECUs regular season opener against North Carolina Central is a little less than two weeks away and there is still plenty of time for this year’s crop of freshmen to prove they are ready as well.

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