Suppose East Carolina had avoided red zone turnovers at South Carolina and managed a win instead of a 20-15 loss? And what if the Pirates had completed comebacks against Central Florida and South Florida? That would have put ECU at the six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. Like UCF (6-6), the Pirates could be playing a postseason game on Saturday.
That might also mean that ECU wouldn’t be as good next season given the work the coaching staff has been getting done on the recruiting trail while some programs have preparing for bowls as their primary focus.
It’s a scenario with which Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery, who played and coached at Duke, is familiar.
“It’s good to continue to practice but one of the years that we thought we could have been better in recruiting when I was in Durham, we played in the ACC championship and then we played in a bowl game,” Montgomery said Thursday. “We got the publicity but we still needed to get out and get some of those relationships going.
“What I’d like to do — I’d like to be playing in a big-time bowl game that happens a little bit later and have our practices set the way that they should be set and then, at that point in time, we can fly out as much as we need to to go recruiting and keep those relationships going. There is a best of both worlds. Sometimes where the bowl game is placed can be a little hindrance to recruiting.”
After going 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference in Montgomery’s first season in 2016, it was obvious ECU needed to get busy filling some position voids.
“We’ve been working really hard,” Montgomery said. “It’s just been one of those situations where I thought throughout the year our guys had laid a great foundation at recruiting. We knew that we were going to have to get on the road, some people were going to be uncomfortable.
“Being uncomfortable is waking up at 4:30 in the morning and staying up to 10:30, 11 o’clock at night. That’s what we have to do to get this thing fixed and going in the direction that we have to have it go in.”
Some of the players the Pirates have received commitments from or signed in recent weeks have had an impressive list of programs competing for them. The Pirates have tailored individual approaches in the process but there are general themes as well.
“What we try to do is to make sure with the parents and the recruit, the No. 1 thing is I’m going to take care of them, me, personally,” Montgomery said. “I’m going to have their best interests at heart. . . . If they do anything or someone does anything to put them at harm then they need to know that I’m going to act and I’m going to take care of them.
“The next part of it is we’re going to make sure that they’re educated.
“We know we’re going to have some great players now. . . . We’re going after the best players in the entire country. We’re not afraid to lose in recruiting. We’re going to recruit hard. We’re going to recruit against anybody and they like that. . . .
“It’s also something to be able to come play in front of Pirate Nation. We always finish it with a big-time presentation on the game day experience of what it’s like to feel the passion of our fans — how great it is to play here versus all the other places that they possibly could play. That’s usually the exclamation point.
“The biggest thing with the families is really making sure that their young child that they’re giving away to you and the university is taken care of.”
ECU announced this week that five junior college signees would be enrolling in January.
Cannon Gibbs [feature profile] is a linebacker from the same junior college program that produced quarterback Gardner Minshew, Northwest Mississippi Community College.
“Cannon Gibbs is a very, very good football player,” Montgomery said. “He has great instincts. We wanted somebody with a little more size to continue to grow the position with competitive depth. He was a guy who we had identified that could tackle.
“When we went to recruiting defensive players, the No. 1 thing I wanted to bring in I wanted them to have great tape tackling the football, not just highlights. We watched game film, being able to see guys who know how to get people on the ground, didn’t struggle to get people on the ground. That’s what we liked about him.”
Marcus Holton [thumbnail sketch] comes from Georgia Military, which has sent some solid players to ECU in the past.
“He’s a kid that if you follow him when he was coming out of high school, he was a big-time recruit,” Montgomery said. “Everybody wanted him. He had to go to junior college. We just stuck to it throughout the course of recruiting. We had a good visit with him during the summer. We thought he added great coverage skills. We also thought that he had the length that we’ve definitely been looking for and he wasn’t afraid to go tackle the football. We’re really excited about adding him to our coverage. . . . He’s going to be a corner for us.”
Tyree Owens [feature profile] figures to be a sizeable presence on the Pirates’ defensive front. He began his career at West Virginia, where ECU will play on Sept. 9 next season,
“Wow,” Montgomery said. “That recruiting battle, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to coach [Kenwick] Thompson (defensive coordinator) and coach [Deke] Adams (defensive line coach). That was a recruiting war. He was, of course, wanted by so many different people and it came down to a relationship with he and his mother. Thank goodness he had family close to here. A lot of people didn’t know that so we were just banging it out to make sure everything happened.
“He came on his official visit. He enjoyed himself. We talked and talked and talked and continue to talk. The young man surprised us and called us and told us he wanted to be a Pirate. . . . We were so happy when that happened.”
Dqmarcus Shaw [thumbnail sketch] (6-4, 320) will bring impressive size to the offensive front.
“His nickname is D.Q.,” Montgomery said. “He’s another guy that we were in a recruiting battle with as of late, a lot of the teams in our conference. He was committed somewhere else.
“Geep Wade (offensive line coach) did a fantastic job with him. He’s going to play guard for us. He does a good job his first and second step. Really strong. He does a good job of working up to the second level. Just a big, big, big man and what we’ve been looking for, a guy that’s grown and can come in and give us some competitive depth right now.”
Eric Weber (last year’s thumbnail sketch) signed with the Pirates last February but spent a season on the juco level.
“He had to go finish up a few things,” Montgomery said. “He’s coming in. He’ll be a tight end for us. We think he’s an extreme talent, great ball skills, great quickness. This year, he played a lot of defense as well.
“Overall, we thought he was a great player coming out of South Carolina last year and a lot of other people felt the same way. This year, we were able to stay with him and get him in school.”
In addition to being personally involved in recruiting, Montgomery also has enhanced his perspective on his first season as a Pirate.
“I’ve done a lot of our evaluations, whether it be players, coaches, scheme — all of it combined,” Montgomery said. “I think we can get better at all of it. After I went back and looked at everything, I thought the South Carolina game was probably our most critical point of the season. I thought our guys played exceptional but we didn’t come away with a win. A special teams blunder and the turnovers caused us to lose, 20-15, in a game where we out-performed them (519-312 total yardage). . . .
“The mental aspect of that game rolled into Virginia Tech was a critical point in time for us. We’ve got to be much better in the second quarters of all games. I think that was our worst quarter of the year. There’s things we can do to make that better. Turnovers, we’ve got to do a better job of creating them and we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football.
“All in all, there’s a lot of things that we can work on. . . . We can work on them, not only from a recruiting standpoint but our coaching has to be much better than it was and it will be.”
Montgomery will continue a busy schedule but he’s much more settled in the program this month than he was a year ago when he accepted the job.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do throughout December,” Montgomery said. “This was the best December that we could possibly think of having at this point in time. I’m so happy about where we are. I’m also very happy about my mind and the clarity that I have since I’ve been here but I still have got a lot of work to do before I can get a couple of days for Christmas. Then I’ve got to get right back in here right after Christmas so there’s a lot of work that still has to be done in December.
“Last December, I was putting together a staff, trying to reach out to our new players and even trying to reach out to our current players. This year, I know a lot more. I have a lot more understanding of what we need to do so I’m a much better coach this year than I was last year.”
NOTE TO READERS: Click the link below for recently added thumbnail sketches on Houston (TX) Benjamin Davis HS LB BRUCE BIVENS (added 12.15.16); Altamonte Springs (FL) Lake Brantley HS RB TRACE CHRISTIAN (added 12.13.16); and Batesville (MS) South Panola HS via Itawamba (MS) CC OL DQMARCUS SHAW (added 12.13.16).