With eight defensive starters departing the program, Elizabeth City State went on the offense to find replacements.
The Vikings’ efforts were rewarded Wednesday when 11 of the 14 athletes who returned signed national letters of intent were defensive players.
Among them were several that head coach Waverly Tillar thinks can play right away.
“Our goal was to replace the eight starters we’re losing, mainly defensive line and linebackers, but we also needed defensive backs,” Tillar said. “We wanted to find guys who can make an impact, if not be ready to play in the opener, by the third game.
“For the most part, we got that.”
Topping the nearly ready-for-primetime list are a pair of transfers, Darren Wilson, a 6-3, 320-pound defensive tackle from ASA Community College in New York, and Soloman Ratcliff, a 5-9, 186-pound free safety from Atlantic Sports Academy in Guilford.
“Ratcliff is speedy, a one-on-one cover guy that you need on the corners,” Tillar said. “Wilson is a big tackle who can give us what we need on the interior line and to help us develop young linebackers with him in there.”
Among the freshmen, the Vikings coach is high on Spencer Abraham, a linebacker from Dudley; Kendal Williams, a defensive tackle from Bartlett Yancey; Jerrell Timmons, a defensive end from Wilson, S.C.; Benjamin Stewart, a defensive back from Northern Vance; and Malcolm Cherry, a defensive back from Bertie.
“Abraham is going to be able to give us some support right away; Cherry is going to have an impact, he’s another one-on-one cover guy who may be the fastest guy on the list,” Tillar said. “With the loss of (All-American) Brad Davis at defensive end, in another year Timmons could be the second coming of Brad Davis.
“When I saw the Stewart kid on film I wanted him right away. He has natural skills.”
The 2013 recruiting class also includes Quentin Williams, a defensive back from South Johnston; Rasheed Rushing, a running back from Union Academy; Shaquille Johnson, a linebacker from Darlington, S.C.; Kendrick Pitt, a defensive back from Plymouth; Keenan Boyce, a linebacker from Stonewall Jackson in Virginia; and Dalton Edwards, an offensive lineman from Bishop Sullivan in Virginia Beach, Va.
“I would characterize this as a very good class,” Tillar said. “There’s a lot of talent. That’s what I like the most. They have talent and the skills to help us contend for a championship.”
Although virtually all of the scholarship money has been accounted for, the Vikings are not through bringing in players.
Tillar can still offer walk-on and financial aid opportunities to other players who can fill needs. ECSU will be looking for more depth on the defensive line and the linebacking corps and is also in need of punters.
“The only difference between the guys who have signed and the walk-ons is the money,” Tillar said. “The walk-ons will be accorded the same opportunities when camp starts, given the same benefits and if they step it up, they are in there over the money guy. It’s a level playing field, there’s just no money attached to it.”
Ryan Ferguson, a defensive lineman from Northeastern, is among the first to have accepted a walk-on opportunity. And he is excited.
“I didn’t see a problem with staying home, and I felt it was a great opportunity,” said Ferguson, who may be shifted to linebacker. “They have a great program, and I’ve been to many games and seen how competitive they are.
“Coach Tillar reminds me of (Northeastern coach) Antonio Moore. I saw something in him that coach Moore has.
Coach Moore kept me on the right path for me to be blessed to have a day like this.
“If I work hard and am determined, I think I can help out.”