Bucs sign solid recruiting class

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   When Elizabethton High School star running back Walter Brown joins the East Tennessee State University football team this summer, he will be in some good company. The Buccaneers 2003 recruiting class with a high emphasis on local talent has to be considered one of the best in recent years.
   "I was very pleased with the number of local and East Tennessee kids that we signed," said Hamilton. "We had 11 players from the state of Tennessee. That has been a priority of ours. Fortunately, the last couple of years, we've been able to sign the players from the state of Tennessee that we wanted."
   That emphasis on local players includes three from the immediate Tri-Cities area besides Brown. They include Bart McMillan, a 6-2, 215 lb. linebacker from Tennessee High and Matthew Hurd, a 6-3, 215 lb. tight end/linebacker from Sullivan North.
   Rounding out the trio is Virginia Tech transfer Anthony Nelson.
   A former prep All-American lineman at Sullivan South, Nelson adds bulk to the offensive line with his mountainous 6-4, 334 lb. frame.
   "Bart McMillan is someone we've been looking at the last few years," said Hamilton. "Playing at Bristol, he was a real physical kid. I'm very impressed with him. Matt Hurd has the potential to be a 245 pound tight end for us that can run. We were glad to get Anthony Nelson when he transferred from Virginia Tech. He's been working here in the offseason. I'm pleased with all the locals."
   Besides the group from the immediate surrounding area, the Bucs did a great job getting key recruits from the Knoxville area. Brandon Gibson, a 6-3, 295 lb. lineman from Sevier County, heads up the list. He is joined by Reggie Jones, a speedster from Austin East, Antonio Minor of Fulton, who like Jones doubles as a wide receiver and defensive back, and Kenny Harper, a big running back at 5-11, 221 pounds.
   "We're real excited about Walter at running back and Kenny Harper too," said Hamilton. "Kenny made the Tennessee/Kentucky All-Star game and he was a strong, physical back in the South-Doyle program. He's got good speed.
   "Antonio Minor is an outstanding skill player. If you look at his bio, he got recognition both as a wide out and a defensive back. He's just an outstanding athlete, a basketball guy and a track guy. Reggie Jones is another good athlete. He has the speed to play receiver. I really feel good about them."
   They did well in rival territory, getting three players from Chattanooga schools. Brandon Barnes, a lineman from East Ridge, and a pair of teammates from Hixson High School, linebacker Nick Rivers and lineman Donald Butcher could be a future thorn in the side for their hometown university.
   The sweep of East Tennessee was completed by grabbing James Garmany, an all-around athlete from Rhea County.
   "James is a tremendous athlete," commented the most successful ETSU football coach of the modern era. "He played quarterback and defensive back. He can run and he is an outstanding basketball player. You look at those guys and I feel good about all the skill players we brought in.
   "I look at Nick Rivers. He's a guy that several 1-A teams recruited. He's one that I think has a chance to come in here and be successful with the type of linebacker ensemble we have."
   Finalizing the list of announced signees are Ricky Epps, a defensive lineman from Fort Myers, Fla., Oregon transfer Tate Pittman, who wanted to join his brother on the ETSU team and junior college transfer Kameron Northern, a massive 6-3, 350 lb. lineman from Los Angeles.
   "We needed to strengthen our offensive line," said Hamilton. "We had some guys that can play, but we needed some guys to get in the mix with them and help us up front. With Anthony Nelson and Kameron Northern, both of those guys are in the 330 to 350 pound range. They have a chance to strengthen us right now.
   "After last year with all the injuries we had at linebacker, it seems you can never have enough linebackers. It was big when Tate Pittman transferred from Oregon. His brother Brock plays for us. Tate was on scholarship out there and played some last year. He was a junior college player from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College before he played at Oregon.
   "He wanted to play his last year with his brother. We're real fortunate. He's 6-0, 235 and runs real well. He was recruited by a lot of people out of junior college. With Anthony, Kameron and Tate, I see three people who can help our football team out next fall."
   There is also a player out of South Carolina, expected to be announced today as a new member of the ETSU football squad when his mother signs off on the letter of intent.
   Coach Hamilton did emphasize that one scholarship was being held back in case a quality quarterback would come along.
   Despite having relatively few spots open, it is one of the most anticipated recruiting classes to come along. They will be counted on to shore up weaknesses on the Buc team, coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2002 after being ranked No. 8 in the nation in one preseason poll.
   "Looking down the list we signed the type of players that are quality 1-AA players," said Hamilton. "We have players that have a chance to be successful in our league. We only had 12 seniors on our team and we didn't have a lot of scholarships, but I think we've done a real good job of stretching the scholarships and filling our needs."