Hurricane Hermine is projected to be a potent tropical storm when it passes through the Greenville area before East Carolina kicks off against Western Carolina on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Gusts and downpours are expected to build into Saturday before conditions gradually improve in the hours approaching game time as the storm moves into the Atlantic. Still, there is the possibility of a shower at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in the season opener.
Scottie Montgomery said the Pirates will be prepared. The first-year ECU coach said adverse weather won’t keep the Pirates from doing what they plan to do.
“No, not really,” Montgomery said.
The Pirates practice in the rain to play in the rain.
“When we get rain here now, we don’t go in,” Montgomery said. “We practice in the rain. The only thing that moves us in is lightning, of course, because of the safety of our players. A little rain doesn’t hurt.
“We’ve had some rain. Going back, I think our guys know, we had a ridiculous rain storm one spring practice. I could kind of look in the face of everybody out there. They were wondering when we were going in. Well, after it started raining harder and harder, they stopped looking around at each other because they realized we weren’t going in.
“That adjustment comes. We have certain drills that we do from wet ball drills to other things to get our guys prepared. We don’t overdo that because we don’t want them thinking about it too much. We have a Thursday or a Friday time where we handle some wet balls and we get ourselves ready and prepared to go play. We won’t change very much though.”
Big 12 no longer a distraction
The statement this week that the Big 12 had removed ECU from consideration for expansion immediately narrowed the focus for the football program.
“My reaction to that is we’ve got focus on what we focus on,” Montgomery said. “It actually clears up a lot of things for me right now because we can clearly focus on the AAC and making sure that we do our job. I feel like they’re missing out by not having this entire program and our entire fan base and that part of it, but it just creates a bigger chip on our shoulder.
“I’m OK with it. Our coaches will do what we’ve got to do to make sure that our guys understand that we’re going to continue pushing forward. Now we can truly be focused on what we have to be focused on and that’s championships. That’s what we are right now. We accept it. We move forward. That process is that process. Now we have to go out and show exactly what we are made of.”
Relations restored within
A new season is at hand with a new coach and a new starting quarterback. There’s a lot to be excited about.
The emotion can be felt throughout the football offices in the Ward Sports Medicine Building where players and coaches are re-establishing relations after unit competition in preseason camp.
“Lot of excitement,” Montgomery said Wednesday. “We’re into our routine as a normal game week. We have to control ourselves because we still have a lot of work to do as far as polishing and detailing what we want to do and making sure the appropriate people are where we want them to be. We’re trying to manage that excitement and manage that emotion but the excitement and emotion in the building right now is on fire.
“Our coaches are finally talking to each other again. They’ve been competing against each other for so long that you could see the aggression toward each other, which I love, that competition level is great. Now our defensive and offensive backs are talking to each other. It’s just an exciting time in the building. It’s just been great.”
There was still some polishing up to be done in the days and hours before the season started.
“We’ve just got to make sure that our personnel is exactly what we want for different situations, whether they be red zone, third down, just special situations in games.” Montgomery said. “You always go through two-minute drills. We’ve got to make sure our personnel matches exactly what we’re trying to get done. We think we’re a good ways there. We feel pretty good about where we are right now but it’s always good to go get a chance to see it again on tape. … That’s what we’re trying to concentrate on at this point in time.”
Western Carolina has had back-to-back seven-win seasons and returns 48 lettermen from 2015, including its top four tacklers.
The Pirates have won the last seven games in the series although they haven’t played the Catamounts since 1981.
“Good football team,” Montgomery said. “Coach [Mark] Speir has done a good job ever since he’s been there.”
Speir took over in Cullowhee following the 2011 season.
“He continues to grow their program,” Montgomery said. “Offensively, they give our defense some challenges. They use so many fly and sweep motions, it affects our run fits. Off of it, they have some plunge passes and different things. Once they get you sold, connected to what you’re trying to do in the run game, then they try to pop one up over the top on you or crossing routes or one-sided progressions to two-sided progressions that can cause you problems if you’re not careful. They’ve done a really, really good job.
“Running the football is something that they can do well. No. 21 (Detrez Newsome) is a special player. Every stadium he goes into, he performs and performs at a really high level. 85 (Randall Emerson) is their sweep, fly guy. He can do so many things with the football. He’s a guy that they like in space. You can tell that. They have a quarterback battle going on but it’s not a quarterback battle where they’re trying to find out who can play. They know both guys (Wes Holcombe, Tyrie Adams) can play and they’re very different in their approaches to the game so that means you’re having to prepare for two different styles of quarterbacks. From an offensive standpoint, that’s a challenge that they present.”
The Catamounts have a first-year defensive coordinator, Dustin Landry, who coached in 2015 at Holmes Community College in Goodman, MS.
“He’s spent time at ACC schools and SEC schools. He has a good understanding of the run fits and everywhere that he’s been, from a passing game standpoint, he’s been up at the tops in the nation defending the pass. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the way he coaches the defensive backfield and also how he’s going to run that defense. Those are the things that we’re really concerned about because they are so gap sound. We’re going to have to play great fundamental football offensively and when we have a chance to make a big play, we have to make it. That’s what we’re concentrating on right now.”
Party like it’s 1999
Montgomery was a senior at Duke in 1999 when the Blue Devils played in ECU’s home opener after the Pirates began the season with a 30-23 win over West Virginia in Charlotte. ECU won, 27-9.
Montgomery remembers the atmosphere as being something special. He’s looking forward to the Pirates’ entrance on Saturday night and the fan base is looking forward to welcoming him.
“That anticipation is something that’s constant,” Montgomery said. “It’s a constant anticipation at this point in time because we’re getting closer to that moment. Seventeen years ago, when we came out of the other side, as much as people say it’s hard to come out and play in those environments, you really enjoyed it because you realized that — wow — this is big-time football culture.
“You didn’t know the next time you’d be coming out or being able even to have a chance. It was my senior year so to run out in college stadiums and have that feeling — so thank God I’ve been blessed to the point where I can actually run out on the correct sideline and be able to enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that the people in Dowdy-Ficklen provide.”
Duke QBs comparison
Montgomery has been quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Duke the last two seasons.
Thomas Sirk led the Blue Devils in rushing and passing last season.
Philip Nelson, a former starter at Minnesota, has won the starting quarterback job for the Pirates. Montgomery was asked to compare Nelson to some of the quarterbacks he worked with at Duke.
“We’ve had some guys at Duke that had tremendous arm talent, that could run and that’s kind of where the comparables start because at this point in time I haven’t been in a true war with Phil yet on the field but his accuracy is above a lot of the people we’ve been on the field with,” Montgomery said. “He has great poise and pocket awareness. He won’t leave the pocket unless he needs to. … He can throw the ball down the field. We ran the ball a little bit more with our quarterback last year than we did our first couple of years when I first got back.
“We had a kind of a different type of quarterback. Comparing him would be kind of a hard compare but I know that he is tremendously talented. He has great arm talent, like I said before. He just has poise. I’m impressed with a quarterback that has poise at this time. A lot of guys will break down in their fundamentals and leave the pocket and just try to look for guys wide open.
“He’s great in his reads. He does a great job of listening to what coach [Tony] Petersen (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach) and I tell him. We’re really happy that he is who he is at this point in time but we’ve still got to go to war.”
No real rituals or superstitions
Montgomery said he isn’t given to anything but good preparation in anticipation of a game. He said he has no rituals to speak of, no superstitions.
“Not really, outside of a great week of work,” Montgomery said. “My whole week is probably a routine and a superstition because everything has been mapped out since we got here in February. We knew what time we were practicing. We knew what time we were hitting the field. We knew what time we were coming off the field. We knew what the periods were. We adjusted the periods inside the minutes on what we do so I have to feel really good about the process of how we practice and how we meet, how we come off the field and the time on the field. . . . All those things — that’s my superstition. Our routine is our routine for a reason. Those things have to be in order and when they are I can come over here and at any time and get dressed. I’ll spend a lot of time focusing and praying between now and then.
“A lot of times, the health of our players is what I pray for and that they get a chance to go out and compete at the highest level they possibly can.”
First time for everything
There’s a first time for everything and Saturday night will be Montgomery’s first game as a head coach.
“Trying to stay right in the moment and not get ahead — stay in our process,” Montgomery said of his priorities. “Really, really do a good job of also understanding everything else that comes with this week. … I still have to run. I still have to put myself in the situation to where we recruit all times of the day. I’m trying to keep my routine the same as much as I possibly can because it allows me to do the job.
“The other part — I have more time because I’m not the one writing everything on the board. I don’t have to write the entire game plan. I’m not typing it into the computer. A lot of people don’t realize the coordinator, he’s his own secretary most of the time because none of the coordinators want you near their call sheet. They want to make sure that they do it all.
“That eight or nine hours that I have during the week, I’ve been able to spend more time reading just different situations in the game but also making sure that our players are focused, watching them and meeting with our captains and listening to the concerns of our captains and what we need to do moving forward.
“I’m trying to stay on routine as much as I can.”