East Carolina University’s football program has made the case to claim the title of "Wide Receiver University.” Considering Justin Hardy set the record for the most receptions all-time in college football in 2015, then got one-upped by his teammate Zay Jones two seasons later, it’s hard to deny the talent coming from the Pirates at the position.
While both of those ECU greats have graduated to the NFL, the Pirates have no shortage of big-name and great receivers on this season’s roster.
Jimmy Williams came into this season with the expectations of taking over the record-breaker role for ECU's offense, which has caused him a lot of focus by opposing defenses. Unfortunately for them, Trevon Brown is lined up opposite of Williams and is taking advantage of any coordinators that forget about him.
In the Pirates’ second game, West Virginia made the mistake of blitzing the Pirates and all it took was a quick pass from Gardner Minshew to Brown for him to stamp his name in ECU's record book for the longest touchdown reception in the program's history, a 25-yard pass Brown took 95-yards to the end zone.
"I'm blessed, I never thought I would do something like that," Brown said. "It just kind of happened towards the end of the game. I went back in there and Gardner threw the ball then it was off to the races. It's a great accomplishment but I think I can do more this season."
The junior wide receiver has been brilliant despite the Pirates' offensive shortcoming this season. Racking up 458 yards on 26 catches, Brown's just one of two ECU wide receivers to eclipse the 400 yard-mark, the other, Davon Grayson, leads the team with 795. Grayson has elevated his stats in conference play, but Brown is still averaging more than 57 receiving yards per-game and is the just one of three receivers to have multiple touchdown catches for ECU.
Even though things have gone well for Brown personally this season, 2016 was much tougher for the Wilmington native. Just one day before the Pirates opened the season against Western Carolina, he was ruled ineligible to play by the NCAA due to academic matters and missed the entire season. Then, Brown battled a nagging neck injury through fall training camp, which made his return in 2017 questionable. But, now that he's back, he is ready to show off.
"It makes me very happy that I've gotten to this point and that I'm able to show off what I've been holding back," Brown said.
According to Tony Peterson, the Pirates' offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, having a player as explosive as Brown back in the offense takes a lot of pressure off quarterbacks and play callers due to how physically talented he is. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 211 pounds, he is able to overpower then out-jump most of his defenders.
For Peterson, it's very clear that just giving Brown an opportunity to catch the ball presents big-play potential.
"I tell my guys if you have a 1-on-1 and you have the opportunity to get him the football just make sure he can touch it. Don't overthrow him by six inches when you could have underthrown him and let him catch the ball," Peterson said. "He has a unique skill at catching the ball no matter who's around him and we're excited about him."
While Brown has shined this season, he is a vital part of a wide receiver core that contains many options. Even though Williams has been contained so far this season, he's still managed 18 catches for 294 yards and, as a team captain, always has the potential to break out at any moment.
Beyond just playing the same position, these receivers have a connection that's hard to find on other teams. Brown, Williams, Grayson and Quay Johnson have all been here since 2014 and have been through the ups and downs of this program together. No matter who the quarterback, coach, or offensive coordinator is, it's one-another these guys rely on.
"We have a bond like no other. We all come together and talk about each other," Brown said. "It's unbelievable how close we are and how great we can be. We're trying to get to that point that everybody can see it."
This season has been another adjustment for this group with a new wide receivers coach coming in. Keith Gaither is the man lucky enough to inherit such an experienced and talented corp. Last season, Gaither was in the American Conference, but he was coaching at Temple University after spending two years leading ECU’s wide receiving corps. This year though, Gaither is armed with his most well-rounded bunch and expects Brown to start taking an even greater role in ECU's passing game.
"I expect his role to improve and increase as we continue to go on. He's only been back for three weeks so as we move into conference play I expect his catches to go up," Gaither said. "He's going to become one of our main playmakers and we are going to feature him."
If Brown continues to improve, Thomas Sirk could finally find him down field for a score rather than Minshew, who has thrown all three of his touchdowns. As he continues to break out, don’t be surprised to hear more and more about the outstanding play of Brown the rest of the season.
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