ELIZABETHTOWN — Until recently, A.J. McKoy had never heard of Western Carolina University. But on Wednesday, McKoy signed a National Letter of Intent to play college football for the Catamounts.
“I didn’t know anything about them until they invited me for a visit,” McKoy said. “And I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the mountains. But once I got there, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”
Western Carolina, located in Cullowhee, recruited McKoy as an “athlete” — which means he could see action on either side of the ball, as a running back or defensive back.
McKoy, who finished his high-school career as the Eagles’ career rushing leader with 4,697 yards and 64 touchdowns, was also versatile for East Bladen. In addition to being the featured running back on offense, he spent his senior season returning kickkoffs and punts, as well as playing in the secondary.
“I think they are getting a fine young man and a heck of an athlete,” said East Bladen coach lenon Fisher. “There aren’t many who can do all the things A.J. can on a football field.”
The Catamounts are coming off a disappointing 2011 campaign, during which they went 1-10 overall — the lone win a 52-31 verdict over Mars Hill.
Playing out of the Southern Conference with the likes of Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and The Citidel, Western Carolina will enter the 2012 season with a new head coach in Mark Speir, the former assistant coach at Appalachian State.
“We know him pretty well,” Fisher said. “He was part of the recruiting staff that went after Kevin (Richardson) a few years back, so we know he’ll take good care of A.J.”
Before deciding on Western Carolina, McKoy was getting looks and consideration from Elon, UNC-Pembroke, Appalachian State, Colorado and N.C. State. At one point during the process, McKoy thought he had his choices narrowed down to Elon and Appalachian State.
“But both those schools started getting Div. I transfers, so I visited Western Carolina and that was it,” McKoy said. “And I was happy to see them hire the coach from Appalachian State.”
In addition to a solid conference schedule, McKoy will also get the chance in 2012 to go up against such formidable football schools as Marshall (Sept. 8) and Alabama (Nov. 17). And he’s hoping to see action in both those games.
“They told me I’ll get a look at running back and defensive back,” McKoy said. “They said if I can gain some weight and work out well, I could start at DB and special teams — that’s fine with me, I just want to play.”