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From redshirt to game-ready

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Tahj Deans looks to run after making a reception during an East Carolina spring scrimmage at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Spring practices certainly don’t tell the whole story of college football teams, but they surely can be a fair snapshot of the core of a team.

One of the universal trends of East Carolina’s second spring under head coach Scottie Montgomery was the rise of some of the young players he helped to sign shortly after his December 2015 hire. While some of them played as freshmen, others waited in the wings and have now proven the worth of a season spent on the scout team and in the weight room as a redshirt.

Redshirt linebacker Aaron Ramseur, quarterback Reid Herring, wide receiver Tahj Deans, defensive back Kayshawn Canady and a handful of others spent the spring defining themselves as the potential future of the Pirates.

Montgomery lends a good deal of the credit to his strength and conditioning team, led by Jeff Connors, for such players showing up ready to make big plays in spring practice.

“If we get the right type of person, the right type of body and the right type of student, we're going to be able to develop them pretty quickly. Coach C. can develop them pretty quickly,” Montgomery said.

One intangible, the coach said, is having great players already in that position when an incoming freshman arrives.

The impact of the high standard already set can be substantial, and it is one of the reasons Montgomery is happy to have three graduate transfers on campus this summer. The Pirates also added the commitment of another grad transfer this week in the form of safety Korrin Wiggins, a Durham native, from Clemson.

“That's why we worked so hard this offseason to put great players in certain roles,” the coach said. “Our kids see what they're supposed to look like at 22 and at 23. The vision of what they are going to turn into makes it a lot easier to come in and do your job every day.”

Montgomery also lauds ECU's commitment to paying the full cost of attendance for its student-athletes, which includes what he said are vital healthy snacks and protein shakes on a daily basis, helping them to maintain good habits as they pursue becoming the athletes in their visions.

By about seven or eight games into last season, Ramseur, then on the scout team, was ready to make the leap to the real thing, Montgomery said.

“By the time this spring came, none of us were really shocked about (Ramseur), but some of us were shocked about some of the other people and their bodies,” Montgomery said, adding that offensive linemen D’Ante Smith and Cortez Herrin, who played as true freshmen, also showed rapid development as rookies. “Now there is no question they are ready.”

Having a full 12 months to recruit, Montgomery said, has meant zeroing in even more on the specific body types the staff is seeking to play its schemes.

“Here at East Carolina, we've got to understand that we are not an acquisition program, we are a developmental program, and development is what is going to make us a great program and not just have a great season,” he said. “Now, we've put ourselves in a situation to start growing versus just trying fix little issues here and there.”

Recruiting for ‘18

Montgomery, a former standout wide receiver at Duke who went on to sustain an NFL career, will see if his read-and-react skills as a coach are as sharp as when he played.

The coach has had plenty of time to dissect last season’s disappointing performances following a promising 2-0 start, and understandably his recruiting strategy has been tailored at least somewhat to focus on what his team often lacked last season.

“We wanted to attack the idea of having more length,” Montgomery said of his recruiting approach following a 3-9 inaugural season. “If we can reduce the space on the field with a little bit more length, that's very, very important. Everybody that we played, at least in our conference, the space on the field was critical. Everyone is trying to get you in space, and everyone knows if you can get into less space with some of these players, then we have a better chance.”

The aim is to decrease that space, but also to find players with a strong history of playing the positions they are likely to play in Greenville, the coach said.

Like always, there is also the competition inside the competition that Montgomery relishes.

“We wanted guys that were being recruited at a really high level,” he said. “We wanted to win some battles, be in the battles, and we lost some of those battles and we were OK with it, but we wanted to compete for the best talent in the country.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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