Corey Seargent received first team practice repetitions with the East Carolina football defense this week because of an interception the former Northwestern Trojan made in his team’s opening spring scrimmage last weekend.
Seargent’s arrival in Greenville, N.C., was delayed by a semester. His SAT score missed the NCAA-qualifying threshold last spring, so he enrolled at Jireh Prep, in nearby Matthews, N.C., during the fall and got his test score straightened out. He joined ECU’s football program in January and is quickly making his presence felt, as evinced by the interception.
“He was getting most of his reps with the third team,” said ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith, a 33-year veteran of college coaching. “Because he made the interception, yesterday I told him that ‘as a reward I’m gonna put you with the ones to see how you handle it.’ He did a great job yesterday. He’s really competing. I feel like he’ll play as a freshman next year.”
Because he’s a freshman, Seargent was unavailable for interview. ECU coach Ruffin McNeill’s policy is designed to ease the freshman transition from high school to college, but Seargent already has had help in that regard with his semester at Jireh. Whie playing football for the school, he lived in an apartment paid for by his tuition, and had a jam-packed daily schedule.
Jireh coach Scott McConnell says that’s important for fostering a structured environment.
“They don’t have down-time,” said McConnell, “so they can get used to what college is gonna be like.”
McConnell has a good track record with shepherding Rock Hill kids through prep school and on to ECU. He coached former Northwestern Shrine Bowler Brandon Williams at Hargrave Military and helped him get a preferred walk-on spot at East Carolina. Williams rose through the ranks steadily to the point of earning a scholarship, a starting gig at linebacker and winning the team’s defensive MVP award this past fall after making over 120 tackles. He’s now preparing for the NFL draft, and was able to help Seargent wrap his head around not getting on campus at ECU right away.
“(Seargent) knew Brandon Williams,” said McConnell. “So Brandon talked to him about what prep school does. It’s just a final detour. Get here, take care of business and then you get to go to school.”
Like Williams, Seargent capped his high school career at Northwestern with a Shrine Bowl appearance. That week in Spartanburg gave him some of his initial tastings of life as a cornerback, the position he’ll play in college. Smith said that Seargent is lining up as a field cornerback, the defensive back that covers the wide side of the field – with safety help – as opposed to the boundary, who covers the short side of the field without safety help and is usually a team’s best cornerback. The position change actually gives Seargent less responsibility – now he’s only got a fourth or a half of the field to cover – and his instinctive abilities and willingness to strike ball carriers will be extremely useful when he’s one-on-one beyond the hashmarks.
Evidence item No. 1: Seargent’s interception during last Saturday’s scrimmage. Smith said the former Trojan was standing off his receiver in a corner quarters defensive alignment intended to deny big plays, when he broke on a short pass toward the sideline. Seargent popped the ball up in the air, corralled it and took off down the field for a 38-yard return.
“Hell of a play,” said Smith. “He does a great job with his eyes. He read the quarterback, broke on the ball and felt like he could go underneath the out-route and make the pick.”
Smith had plenty of praise for Seargent, saying he makes very few mental mistakes, that he breaks on the ball well, and more importantly, that he’s handling his academic duties with aplomb and hasn’t missed any study halls or tutoring sessions. ECU has 14 underclassman defensive backs (as well as six upperclassmen) so it’s crucial for any of the young pups – Seargent included – to emerge from the pack during the spring practice season.
“We travel with six corners and six safeties. Those third team guys and second team guys, they’re gonna all be on special teams,” said Smith. “Right now (Seargent) is working on punt coverage, punt return, kick return, and kickoff coverage, so he’s probably gonna be a starter on at least two or three special teams, plus, right now, if I had to guess, he’s gonna be second team corner or third team corner. So, he’ll be on the bus and if he keeps progressing like he is, I think he’ll wind up being our backup field-corner.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T
Other locals’ spring scrimmage performances
▪ Former York Cougar Hunter Nunn has probably helped himself to increased playing time thanks to a good spring at Appalachian State, which culminated in two touchdown catches during a scrimmage on Feb. 21. Nunn’s twin brother Beau started at offensive guard for the Mountaineers last season and made the Sun Belt Conference’s All-Freshman team. Hunter, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound preferred walk-on, didn’t see nearly as much playing time, but he’s listed as the No. 2 tight end in the team’s most recent depth chart. Appalachian returns 20 of 22 starters from last season, but there are backup jobs available and Hunter Nunn appears to be grabbing his chance.
▪ Former South Pointe Stallion Zeek Rodney made a sack for a five-yard loss during Wake Forest’s offense versus defense scrimmage Saturday. The 6-foot-1, 290-pound Rodney played in nine games last season as a true freshman, and finished the season as the No. 2 defensive tackle for the Demon Deacons.
▪ Former Northwestern quarterback standout Mason Rudolph wasn’t too thrilled with his performance – in which he threw an interception – during Oklahoma State’s 118-play scrimmage Wednesday. He told the Stillwater (Okla.) News Press: “I made a lot of mistakes. There were certain mistakes that were easily correctable, so we’ll get back there in the film room this afternoon and tomorrow morning and correct things for Friday. So, not a great day.”