Season Wrapup: Erik Highsmith

VANCEBORO, N.C. --- During West Craven's state title run, North Carolina commitment Erik Highsmith proved to be the most integral piece to the Eagles' pass-heavy spread offense.

"He either drew double-teams and opened up other people or he got singled up and caught a lot of balls," West Craven head coach Clay Jordan said. "We based what we wanted to do with our passing attack off how people played him."

"We had a lot of signals [to] check in and out of calls," Highsmith said. "Based on whatever we see – man, zone [coverage] – we had signals to get correct. We really called our own [routes]. Coach Jordan would call a play, and we just audibled if we saw something different."

On the way to the NCHSAA 3A State Finals, Highsmith led the state in receiving yards. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound wide receiver accumulated 1,543 yards, as well as 15 touchdowns, on 90 receptions.

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"If I had to classify him one way, he definitely would be a deep threat," Jordan said. "He's great at catching the fade route. We throw an awful lot of fades and fade comebacks. He could get deep for us."

This season, Highsmith was the only player to start both ways for West Craven. In addition to his receiver duties, he played cornerback with the other team's top receiver as his primary responsibility.

"Erik has great ball skills and he's got good hips," Jordan said. "He was a good DB. He was one of those kids that you couldn't leave on the sideline, because he just could be a shutdown corner for us; his athletic ability took away other people's big threats.

"We don't like to play kids both ways, but because of his ability on both sides of the ball it was a no-brainer."

On the season, Highsmith collected six interceptions.

With Highsmith making an impact on both sides of the ball, West Craven ripped through the regular season undefeated. The Eagles, which ended with a 15-1 record, continued their undefeated streak into the playoffs until losing in the state finals.

Highsmith played his best against West Craven's toughest opponents. In a 49-35 victory over Kinston (N.C.), which went 10-3, he caught four passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Against powerhouse Greenville (N.C.) Rose, he had five catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Nothing, though, can compare to Highsmith's performance on the road in the regional finals against another powerhouse, Rocky Mount. Rocky Mount entered the contest undefeated on the field – its lone official loss was a forfeit due to an ineligible player. In a game that West Craven won on its final drive with 34 seconds remaining, Highsmith caught 11 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown.

"It was a big game and I just had to do what I needed to do to help my team," Highsmith said.

In the 3A state finals, things were different. Mount Ulla (N.C.) West Rowan kept West Craven out of the end zone until 18 seconds remained in the game when Highsmith caught a meaningless three-yard touchdown pass. West Craven lost, 35-7.

"I think number one, we played a pretty good team," Jordan said. "We played a team that got more pressure on our quarterback than anyone had all year. Their defensive front whipped our offensive line that day and we couldn't get a lot of time to throw the football.

"Secondly, because they got pressure on our quarterback, it limited some of the throws that we could make."

While he doesn't expect to be an integral part of the offense like he was at West Craven, Highsmith does anticipate seeing the field as a freshman next fall for UNC.

"[The UNC coaches] expect me to play – they don't expect to red-shirt me," Highsmith said.

With the graduation of four wide receivers and Hakeem Nicks' decision to head to the NFL, there is a great opportunity for Highsmith to receive playing time as a freshman.

"[Charlie Williams] told me I could play the ‘Z,' the ‘Y,' or the ‘H' – not the ‘X,' what Hakeem played," Highsmith said. "I'd be off the line in a slot or outside."

Since verbally committing to UNC in October, Highsmith and Williams speak one to two times a week.

Last week, Williams traveled to Vanceboro for an in-home visit with Highsmith.

"He talked about everything – my official visit, my grades," Highsmith said.

"He just talked about how we have four receivers coming in. He said all four of us bring something different to the table; he said all of us have an equal chance of playing."

Highsmith will officially visit UNC this coming weekend.

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