Presley Rises From Walk-on To Starter

GREENVILLE, N.C. — From walk-on to scholarship athlete to starting defensive end, sophomore Fred Presley has moved up the ranks in a small period of time.

Ruffin McNeill gathered the entire East Carolina football team together to close fall camp last Friday, but not before calling on sophomore walk-on Fred Presley to come forth to the center of the huddle.

“I thought I was in trouble at first just because of the way he said my name,” Presley said.

With the players’ attention fixated on their coach and teammate, McNeill announced Presley was no longer a walk-on and that he would be granted a scholarship.

In an instant, cheers resounded through the Cliff Moore Practice Complex fields as the local Snow Hill native was mobbed by his fellow Pirates and any anxiety he had felt turned into relief then jubilance.

The good news soon got better for Presley when his name appeared at one of the two first-team defensive end positions on this week’s depth chart. In his abbreviated playing stint as a freshman, Presley collected 19 tackles (seven solo).

“Fred’s put in the time. He’s never complained, he’s never asked for anything and, on the field, he’s produced,” McNeill said. “I’ve not had one problem with Fred off the field. He’s been a perfect Pirate.

“They never know it’s coming, but he earned It.”

Presley is just the latest player under McNeill to rise from being a walk-on and step into a key role with the Pirates.

Last season, it was running back Cory Hunter that emerged as a walk-on before he sustained a season-ending knee injury. Prior to that, it was current starting cornerback Josh Hawkins and, of course, there is ECU’s star receiver, Justin Hardy, — one of the country’s premiere pass catchers — that was once a walk-on.

McNeill and his staff have shied away from any of the football politics that suggest that there should be a difference in how scholarship athletes and walk-ons are treated and, as a result, there seems to be a more harmonious environment surrounding the program.

“It’s not one of those deals where a non-scholarship guy is looked down upon,” said defensive line coach Marc Yellock, who recruited Presley and brought him on the team in 2012 as a walk-on. “We have like over 40-something guys that have been in the program since Ruff has been here that’s been able to see scholarships as walk-on candidates.”

Yellock has made it clear that he does not play favorites when it comes to who plays on Saturday. He is known to be strict at times, but for Presley, that was exactly what he needed.

“He wants perfection,” Presley told Inside ECU Sports. “You can’t be perfect, but if you strive for perfection, you’ll gain excellence.”

Presley was a raw talent when he first arrived at ECU, spending a season on the scout team. And though he has come a long way, some of his teammates still remember the type of player he was early on.

One of those players is one of the Pirates’ senior leaders on the defensive line, Chrishon Rose.

“I remember when I first saw him,” Rose said. “He would toss people around, while he might not even know the play. He didn’t know technique that well and he really didn’t know the defense that well. What he did give us was a lot of effort, he ran to the ball and he made tackles. Even if it was wrong, it was his best effort.”

Presley has been given a scholarship and a starting position in the span of the last week as the Pirates get set to kick-off the 2014 season under the lights of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday.

Clearly, his best efforts have not gone unnoticed.

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