Quarterback Gardner Minshew of Northwest Mississippi Community College has officially signed with the Pirates after spending the 2015 season at the JUCO level. He was offered a scholarship by East Carolina, but did not sign until Benkert left the program.
Benkert never seemed to fully gel with the East Carolina coaching staff after the sudden firing of head coach Ruffin McNeill. While disappointing for the program, it is no surprise that Benkert left the Pirates to play his final two seasons at Virginia with McNeill. Alas, that is another story for another day.
Minshew, a Mississippi native, signed with the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt after a storied high school career. He picked Troy over offers from Akron and UAB and interest from several other programs. He ended his time at Brandon High School with a school record 11,222 career passing yards and 105 total touchdowns. He was named the south's offensive MVP in the 2014 Bernard Blackwell All-Star Game to cap off his senior year.
Despite signing in February of 2015 with Troy, a career with in the Sun Belt was not meant to be. The three-star recruit made the difficult decision to go another route and instead sign with JUCO power Northwest Mississippi Community College as a pro-style quarterback.
Minshew stepped onto campus for the Rangers and immediately saw his star rise in the pass heavy attack. The 6-2 quarterback started all 12 contests for the Rangers, leading the program to an 11-1 record and NJCAA national championship.
On the year, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,288 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing only five interceptions. He had five games with 300+ yards in the air, capped by a 421 yard, five touchdown performance in the NJCAA national championship game versus Rochester.
Minshew chose the Pirates over offers from Buffalo, Florida A&M, Southeast Missouri State, and Tennessee Martin. He also gained interest from Iowa State, Kansas, Southern Miss, and Utah State during the recruiting process. He was very close to returning to NWCC for his sophomore year and building up a more full resume before East Carolina came knocking.
With so little returning experience at quarterback, Minshew is expected to immediately challenge Philip Nelson for the starting position. One of the main reasons he made the move to ECU was the coaching staff guaranteeing him a real chance to unseat Nelson. He will also have to beat out backups Jason Connella, Ray Smith, and John Jacobs for playing time.
Minshew has three years of college eligibility remaining and can be redshirted if needed. If he does not unseat Nelson, the Pirates may redshirt Minshew and give him three full years to start for the AAC program.