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Reaction: Pirates get their final three recruits

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East Carolina's head football coach Mike Houston introduces his staff at the 2019 Signing Day Celebration at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Feb. 6, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

East Carolina football coaches put a priority in recent weeks on recruiting defensive linemen.

The Pirates got their top targets on the traditional national signing day, receiving letters of intent from Virginia high school linemen Immanuel Hickman and Rick D'Abreu on Wednesday, and they also landed Garden City (Kan.) Community College tight end Zech Byrd to complete a 21-player class. ECU came into the day with three scholarships available after securing 18 recruits during the December early period.

Hickman is a 6-foot-3, 260-pound end from Matoaca High School and the highest-rated three-star recruit among ECU’s spring targets. He made his decision public less than an hour before ECU first-year head coach Mike Houston and the Pirates held their signing day celebration event with fans at a club level at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“The three kids that we signed today were our three targets,” said defensive line coach Jeff Hanson, who was instrumental in signing the two defensive players. “We were very fortunate to sign all three of them, but this is a great place and when you get kids down here and they see what we have to offer and they get around Mike Houston, we have a lot to sell here. East Carolina University sold itself.”

East Carolina’s class ranks near the middle of the American Athletic Conference. Central Florida finalized the top class in the league Wednesday, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

The recruits the Pirates signed in December included two quarterbacks, multi-talented Traveon Freshwater from Elizabeth City and the Pitt County trio of D.H. Conley receiver CJ Johnson, Farmville Central defensive tackle Keziah Everett and South Central tight end prospect Jeremy Lewis.

“Of this class, 11 are from the state of North Caroina and for us that is very important because we have to recruit our home state well and have to recruit it aggressively,” Houston said. “We are excited that over half of the class comes from in the state, then the remainder of the class comes from basically the surrounding Southeast. Also, we have 10 defensive players, 10 offensive players and one specialist, so there is good distribution.”

Hickman also was recruited by AAC schools Tulane and Cincinnati. 

D'Abreu (Chester, Va./Thomas Dale) gave a verbal commitment to James Madison in August, when Houston was coaching the Dukes of the Football Championship Subdivision, but last month D'Abreu tweeted that he was re-opening his recruitment to a few finalists. ECU hired Houston on Dec. 3 after he totaled a 37-6 record in three seasons at JMU.

Byrd (6-7, 265) was verbally committed to the Florida Gators during his career at Stanhope Elmore (Ala.) High School, but he has never played at the NCAA Division I level. He was a redshirt freshman last year at Garden City.

“Getting Zech Byrd was an awesome get for us, because we’re thin in that tight end room and tight end is a difficult position to play and it’s a more difficult position to recruit,” said Fontel Mines, who is ECU’s recruiting coordinator along with coaching the tight ends and inside receivers.

Although they could not sign scholarship letters of intent, ECU also received a slew of preferred walk-on commitments Wednesday. They included North Lenoir’s Terrance Copper Jr., defensive lineman Tagg Bullock from a highly successful Wake Forest HS program that hasn’t lost a game since 2015 and North Pitt alum Brian Smith, a linebacker from Louisburg College.

“When we took the job in December, these guys immediately hit the road in recruiting and for the last two months they have been away from their families and really haven't been here much,” Houston said of the Pirate coaches. “We have been everywhere, and they have been relentless not only in putting together this class, but also getting a great jump-start on the 2020 signing class and the 2021 class.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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