The Huddle: TE tiers, a trend with this year's head coach hires, ECU & Elon off to strong start in '25

The Huddle: TE tiers, a trend with this year’s head coach hires, ECU & Elon off to strong start in ’25

Welcome back to The Huddle!

We are in the thick of the 7-on-7 season, which is kind of fun. I like seeing a lot of teams together at these events. I’m not too much into the lack of tackling and hitting.

Something to keep in mind: these things are also barely officiated. You don’t see penalties like in normal games. The most disciplined team in an 11-man football game usually comes out on top. Based on 7-on-7s, there is no way to tell how sound a team will be with its overall execution.

Quarterback play is also hard to decipher. It can display their ability to process defensive coverage techniques and show off their understanding of space, leverage, and second-order effects. We also can get a pretty good idea of a passer’s ball placement ability. However, having knowledge over these aspects of game can either be thrown out of the window or dampened when you’re facing pressure from opposing teams. I’ve also seen some shorter quarterbacks excel in 7-on-7s because they don’t have their own offensive line to see over.

In this week’s Huddle, I wrote about an interesting trend in this year’s head coaching hiring cycle, summarized some good recent recruiting developments for ECU and Elon, and shared my tight end tiers for the 2024 season.

1st Down: Schools are targeting alumni in this year’s head coaching cycle

Something I’ve noticed since the beginning of this head coaching changes cycle has been the amount of schools picking a leader who is an alumni. Here are the ones that I’ve made note of:

  • Zack Bennett, Alleghany
  • Ryan Horton, Chapel Hill
  • Greg Lloyd, Crest
  • Johnny Boykin, Clinton
  • J.K. Adkins, Freedom
  • Kermit Carter, Jordan-Matthews
  • Timmy Charity, Manteo
  • Barrett Sloan, Midway
  • Austin Taylor, Mount Airy
  • Matt Wilson, Newton-Conover
  • Daryl Vereen, North Mecklenburg
  • Dalton Brown, Northwood
  • Daniel Dillard, Piedmont
  • Ricky Brindley, Pisgah
  • Brad Denson, Richmond
  • Josh Pardue, Starmount
  • Jarren Hill, Union Academy
  • Ralph Jackson, West Stanly

There are some other examples of schools hiring a candidate who is not an alumni but from the area, even from a rival. Some examples: Wheatmore hired Jacob Sheffield, who is a grad of nearby Trinity. E.E. Smith in Fayetteville hired Te’Vell Williams, a graduate of Pine Forest from across the city. Antwon Stevenson is a T.W. Andrews graduate who was hired by Ragsdale, which is right next door.

High schools deciding to hire one of their former players to be the head football coach is nothing new. However, there are decidedly more examples of this happening this offseason.

My assumption is that schools have prioritized finding leaders who they can trust to have the absolute best for the school and community at the top of their intentions. Their solution has been to lock in on these alumni coaches, who they know for a fact cares about the school. Sometimes coaches pursue a job with the intention of it being a stepping stone for an opportunity in the future. Again, this is just where my mind takes me when I see this trend.

This is not to say that an out-of-towner coach can’t come to love a school he’s been hired at, but it’s more of a guarantee when you have a coach who is from there and is wanting to get the job for that specific reason. Additionally, having a true understanding of a community’s individual mentality and quirks can go a long way for a high school football coach, because the job is far more than the X’s and O’s. Also, sometimes the fans just really want that hometown guy in place as a feel-good thing.

To be clear, I’d say most of these hiring cases were instances where the coach initiated the return to his hometown school. There were others, I’ve been told, that involved the school influencing the alum to leave his current job because they so badly wanted someone loyal to the community.

2nd Down: Nice start for ECU and Elon in the class of 2025

The North Carolina Division I football programs that begin with the letter E are off to a heck of a start in the class of 2025.

Mike Houston’s ECU Pirates have already landed commitments from four prioritized in-state prospects.

  • Randleman High School 6-foot-4, 285 pound interior offensive lineman Jonathan Stokes offers the size and athletic potential that the Pirates will hope to morph into a long-term starting answer.
  • Havelock High School do-it-all weapon Jonathan Williams is a huge local get for East Carolina. Williams has the type of blazing speed that reminds you of similar athletes who wore the purple and gold. Williams is on the smaller side at 5-foot-10, but there will be a role for him in Greenville without a doubt.
  • Kaleb Morrow committed to the Pirates over the weekend. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end from Apex High School is a quality route runner for his size and has shown good hands. He feels like a prospect that could excel in a college-level spread offense.
  • Kendric David is an athletic linebacker from Palisades High School in South Charlotte who has been a two-time So Meck All-Conference selection. ECU will want to add weight to his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, but they are banking on his athleticism fitting the mold of a modern college linebacker.

East Carolina is now in the lead for most in-state commits for the 2025 class. While ECU has had some success with recruiting players from North Carolina, Pirates fans have long wanted to see that expanded. Mike Houston is really making an effort to build the fence around the state.

Elon University, which has an FCS program that competes in the Coastal Athletic Association, has been moving fast as well.

  • Big Nolan Irwin is a 6-foot-6, 290-pound right tackle from Northwest Cabarrus High School in Concord. His size and nasty streak led to over 20 Division I programs verbally offering him. Irwin will not have too long of a pathway to getting early playing time with the Phoenix.
  • New Mallard Creek defensive tackle Chaz Knox also committed to Elon. The former A.L. Brown player doesn’t have the height to attract the FBS schools (he is six feet tall, 284 pounds), but his level of production at the high school level, especially as a pass rusher, has been unreal. It’s hard to imagine someone of his energy not carving out a role at the FCS level.

Maybe I’m wrong about this and it’s just a false preconceived notion in my headspace, but I haven’t exactly associated Elon with being a major player with in-state recruiting. It’s good to see the Phoenix get these early pledges from Charlotte-area trench players that have drawn the attention from out-of-state Division I programs.

3rd Down: Tight End Tiers

Here are my tight end tiers for the 2024 high school football season in North Carolina. I have four tiers: Kendre Harrison, Elite HS Tight End, Plus-Starter HS Tight End, and Above Average HS Tight End.

I consider all of these players to be the best of the best in North Carolina, so don’t get hung up on the tiers they are in. There are plenty of tight ends that I consider to be average, or well, not that, that didn’t even make this list.

Kendre Harrison

  • Kendre Harrison, junior, Reidsville

Elite HS Tight End

  • Henry Anthony, senior, Cannon
  • Corban Hall, senior, Charlotte Christian
  • De’Angelo Hall, senior, Olympic
  • Gus Ritchey, senior, Cary

Plus Starter HS Tight End

  • Gavin Barber, junior, Mooresville
  • Davis Brown, junior, Rolesville
  • Jack Ewell, senior, Ayden-Grifton
  • Dillon Galloway, senior, Brevard
  • Garison Millsaps, senior, Alexander Central
  • Kaleb Morrow, senior, Apex
  • Colby Pennington, senior, North Moore

Above Average HS Tight End

  • Landon Barnes, senior, CHASE
  • Ameil Braswell, senior, Hillside
  • Jaxon Clegg, senior, Marvin Ridge
  • Joe Crowley, senior, R.J. Reynolds
  • Connor Everett, senior, Fuquay-Varina
  • Alex Haywood, sophomore, Providence
  • Najai Hines, senior, South Garner
  • Hudson Nolden, sophomore, Palisades
  • Trashawn Ruffin, junior, North Duplin

Victory Formation

Stay tuned to our 7-on-7 coverage this week! There are some incredible groupings coming up (at UNC on Wednesday/Thursday in particular).

I’m trying to finish up my reports on returning team production. It takes a lot of research and a lot of adding and subtracting to begin with, but every time a new transfer happens, I have to re-do an entire team’s production stats. When I’m done with this project, I will release top 15s by classification for returning team production in rushing, receiving, tackling, tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions, and forced fumbles. I think it’s going to be a huge help in predicting which teams will rise to the top this year.