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Flying high at Beast of the East

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D.H. Conley's CJ Johnson warms up before their game during the Beast of the East Football Tournament at North Recreational Complex on June 23, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

More than 20 prep teams from North Carolina and Virginia met at North Campus Crossing’s recreation facility Saturday to square off at East Carolina’s Beast of the East passing seven-on-seven tournament.

Players came to town hoping to improve their skills and fine-tune any mistakes as the high school football season inches closer. In attendance for the event were the squads of South Central and D.H. Conley.

Conley coach Nate Conner was excited to have his team face off against others not in the same uniform.

“This is huge. It’s a key phase to our offseason,” he said. “This is kind of the first time we get to compete at the beginning of the summer, so it gives us a base to compete against someone in a different color jersey. So now we get to go back and we have motivation to go into practice the next weekend and build off of that until we have our next competition and we can gauge how we improved.”

South Central and coach Andy Tew were also in attendance, and Tew was keen on watching the performance of his team’s wide receivers and how they responded to their first challenge and competition of the new season.

“We are working on some concepts that take time for a young quarterback or young receivers to understand,” Tew said. “We did a great job of competing. Now it is our job as coaches to do a better job of teaching, and the players need to do a little better job of understanding what they are teaching.” 

SC coaches and players were focused on each individual play, identifying weaknesses and strengths in each player. Their day ended at 0-3, failing to make the final 16-team tournament.

D.H. Conley, which went 2-1 in the preliminary matchups, became a No. 4 seed, and squared off with Maury High School of Virginia in the first round. The Vikings lost the game, eliminating them from the tournament. 

Conley has been searching for the arm to replace former star and current East Carolina freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers throughout the offseason. Conner made it clear the team is still deliberating as to who will get the start on Aug. 17 when the Vikings open their season against Elizabeth City Northeastern. 

Junior Nick Hamilton took control of the Viking offense during the Beast of the East event.

Conner was pleased with Hamilton’s day and has faith in his continual growth throughout the off-season.

“Nick Hamilton has done a real nice job learning so far,” the DHC coach said. “He’s been challenged in a lot of different ways; he’s had his ups and he’s had his downs. He’s been maturing and we just have to keep giving him a lot of reps and opportunities in this kind of situation.”

On the field with Hamilton was ECU commit and star wide receiver CJ Johnson. Johnson made sure to let everyone know he was there with a series of impressive routes and catches that left onlooking ECU coaches looking excited for what the 6-foot-2, 205-pound playmaker can do for the Pirates once he enters the program in 2019.

The camp came late in a busy month for the Pirates in terms of recruiting. They have used these camps to welcome in recruits of all kinds and have been on a hot streak lately in terms of verbal commitments from rising senior high-schoolers, including landing a verbal nod from AC Reynolds quarterback Alex Flinn during the Beast of the East.

Flinn and Bryan Gagg (Bradenton, Fla.) are ECU’s two QB commits so far for this class, which has jumped to No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Both are considered pro-style quarterbacks and are rated as three-star prospects.

Ahlers signed with ECU last December after a storied career at Conley, participated in spring workouts with the Pirates and is in contention for playing time this fall as a true freshman.

Contact Jake Keator at 252-329-9594 or jkeator@reflector.com and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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