Big Four, ECU add players during early signing period

By Rodd Baxley - Sports Editor
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Wednesday signaled the beginning of college football’s first early signing period.

For the first time ever, from Wednesday morning and lasting through Friday, college football prospects will have an opportunity to ink their letters of intent before the traditional signing period in February.

In May, the NCAA authorized a 72-hour window from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22 allowing high school football players in the class of 2018 to sign with college programs. The traditional signing period still runs from the first Wednesday in February through April 1.

Here’s a look at what North Carolina’s big four ACC schools, and ECU, added with the 2018 class.

Duke

Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his staff announced Wednesday that 15 prospects have signed national letters of intent to join the Blue Devil football program.

The class includes three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, two defensive backs, two defensive linemen, two linebackers, one running back, one tight end and one quarterback.

Defensive lineman Tahj Rice, a four-star prospect from Louisville, Ky., headlines the class. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg out of Heritage is one of six in-state signees.

Safety Nate Thompson comes to the Blue Devils from Southern Lee. The other in-state products are defensive tackle Elijiah Brown out of Providence Day, tight end Zamari Ellis of Southern Vance, wide receiver Jarett Garner of Hickory Ridge and offensive lineman Maurice McIntyre out of Northside.

Joining Duke from South Carolina are running back Mataeo Durant and wide receiver Dennis Smith. Durant, out of McCormick High School, was named the 2017 South Carolina Football Coaches Association Upper State Running Back of the Year.

Ellis, Holmberg, cornerback Jeremiah Lewis and offensive lineman Casey Holman are expected to enroll at Duke in January.

East Carolina

East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery and the Pirates had 19 players ink their commitments to the program on Wednesday.

D.H. Conley quarterback Holton Ahlers was the first to make his commitment offical. The prized Pirate signee had several SEC schools make a late push, but he stuck with his hometown school.

Ahlers finished his high school career with the second-most offensive yardage by any player in NCHSAA history. He also won the Shrine Bowl MVP this past weekend.

Ahlers was one of 13 in-state signees for the Pirates, including Hoke County standout Andre Pegues. Pegues adds another weapon on the outside for ECU’s offense.

Of the 19 newcomers, 13 are defensive players. Defensively, ECU is adding seven defensive backs, including two junior college transfers, and a trio of linemen and linebackers each. On offense, the Pirates signed a pair of linemen, two wide receivers, one quarterback and a tight end.

In addition to junior college transfers Warren Saba and Mike Witherspoon, seven incoming freshmen are expected to enroll early at ECU in January.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels will welcome a quartet of four-star prospects to campus next year, led by a pair of playmaking wide receivers in Green Hope’s Jordyn Adams and West Mecklenburg’s Dyami Brown.

Of the 14 signees, Havelock offensive lineman Avery Jones and dual-threat quarterback Jace Ruder from Kansas round out the four-star prospects.

The Tar Heels received letters of intent from six in-state products, including Wallace-Rose Hill running back Javonte Williams, Wake Forest safety Javon Terry and Wake Forest running back Devon Lawrence.

Seven of the prospects are offensive players. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tar Heels are adding a trio of defensive backs and defensive linemen each, and one linebacker.

North Carolina State

N.C. State’s class is rated the highest among in-state schools, according to 247Sports.

The Wolfpack are set to welcome a quartet of four-star prospects to Raleigh, including Orange linebacker Payton Wilson, N.C. State’s top recruit who flipped his commitment from UNC earlier this month.

Heritage running back Ricky Person, Sanderson defensive lineman Alim McNeill and quarterback Devin Leary out of New Jersey round out the Wolfpack’s top signees. Person was named offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl this past weekend.

Nine of the Wolfpack’s 21 signees are from the Tar Heel State, including cornerback Malik Dunlap, who helped Harding beat Scotland in the NCHSAA 4A state championship.

N.C. State also added North Davidson kicker Chris Dunn, who finished the season with 89 touchbacks and made a school-record 57-yard field goal this season.

Wake Forest

Wake Forest saw 21 players ink their commitments to join the Demon Deacons next season.

Ten players each on the offensive and defensive side, with one kicker in Nick Sciba out of Clover, S.C. are set to be in Winston-Salem. The class is highlighted on offense by offensive tackle DeVonte Gordon out of Maret School in Washington, D.C., and quarterback Sam Hartman out of Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

On the defensive side, defensive tackle Kelijiha Brown and Ryan Smenda, a linebacker out of Florida lead the way.

Cornerback Ken Dicks III was the final signing of the day, waiting until early afternoon to ink his letter of intent.

The class has players from six states and one from the District of Columbia in Gordon. Georgia led the way with six signees, while Florida featured five players, North Carolina had four and South Carolina had three.

Three of Wake Forest’s top signees are defensive players, including Dicks III, Brown and safety Peyton Woulard.

Gordon and Hartman were the Demon Deacons’ top offensive signees, along with South View offensive lineman Mike Edwards.

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By Rodd Baxley

Sports Editor

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or rbaxley@robesonian.com. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or rbaxley@robesonian.com. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.