East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery has made appearances at Pirate Club functions this spring, bringing an optimistic message to that supportive element of the fan base.
“‘Finally,’ is kind of the message,” Montgomery said. “There has been a lot of great things to happen for us. The first thing is Dave Hart (special athletics advisor to Dr. Cecil Staton, the chancellor) has come in and been a huge morale boost for the staff, the student-athletes, everybody involved. He’s really worked hard to give our kids the things that they need to be invincible Saturday and make the game day experience better.
“He’s done that and he’s done more.”
Most of the players in the program have been brought in during Montgomery’s tenure.
“What we’re trying to get out to the fans is that this is our team” Montgomery said. “We’ve been able to recruit 80 percent of the guys that are here now. We’re not putting in our system anymore. We’re coaching detail. We’re really pleased with the guys that have come in and embraced what we do — the level of discipline — and embraced the thought of working the body and that discipline beats talent. We’ve really made some huge strides in that. We feel like a football program right now. It’s not just a football team.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we understand the importance of doing things the right way. We just came off the highest cumulative GPA (grade point average), which is the highest on record of any football team because of the people we have been able to recruit here and their belief system. We’re trying to get to be a program. The things that Dave Hart and the athletic program and the Pirate Club have been able to do, now they’re giving our kids that morale by looking into an almost-completed locker room, an almost-completed lounge, an almost-completed fueling station and an almost-completed training room that will really, really give us the ability to take it to the next level.
“It also increases their feeling about being a major Division I, Power 6 program. That will have huge gains in the recovery process that goes with having a training room where we’ve got 15 guys waiting on one steel tub. Now we have huge passenger cooling tubs and heat tubs and even a tub with a treadmill in it. We’re proud of that and we’re bragging because the Pirate Nation and Pirate Club have given us the ability to do that for our student-athletes.
“You’ll see immediate dividends from those things added to the program versus non-recovery when guys just leave and go home and come to practice again. We’ve really taken a huge step. That’s the message we’re getting out.”
Fueling the football players has improved.
“We’ve been given the ability to have a mandatory breakfast for our guys,” Montgomery said. “We’re feeding them a huge breakfast. We fed them a huge breakfast every morning during the spring, which was checked. That turned into better play in the spring. Better nutrition turns into better work in the weight room as well. Moving forward into the fall, really working with our athletic department and Dave Hart, on providing where we can not only feed them breakfast but we’re also in a situation where we’re closer to having a training table.
“We’re to that point where we’re getting full recovery out of our guys, we’re controlling what they’re eating. The things I’ve talked about the last two seasons are now starting to happen. It’s very critical that everyone understand that the student-athletes really come first. When you’re cheering on Saturdays, you’re cheering for them. And when I’m advocating on Monday through Friday, I’m advocating for them. We’ve taken some huge steps.
“We’re also having captains’ practices. We get eight hours with them during the week of working out so we’re able to do that. They’ve done a really good job of creating an atmosphere where it’s a practice atmosphere. We’re going out and running seven-on-seven or doing this or that. We’ve been practicing a long time because we started so early in the spring. We’ve done some different things on offense, of course, this year and we’re doing some different things on defense this year so we needed that extra time but now, from what I hear, of course we can’t watch it, it’s really coming together. We know what we’re doing and we’re doing it much better than we’ve done it in the past.”
Start of season
ECU will open the 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, against North Carolina A&T, a Football Championship Subdivision program which was unbeaten in 2017.
The Pirates started the 2017 season with a 34-14 loss at home to James Madison, the 2016 FCS champion.
“We’re really excited about that,” Montgomery said of the matchup with A&T. “We’re handling what we can handle in the building. We’re really kind of singularly focused on A&T. We truly mean that. . . . We’ll be ready to play when it comes that day because we didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to last year in the season opener. I think it had a huge effect on the way we played throughout the year.
“We know the most critical game, the most critical play is the first play of that game. We’re really focused on that and we are excited. We’ve spent time on A&T in the spring. We’ll spend more time on A&T in the summer and going into the fall. We’ll spend a lot of time on them. We’re really, really excited about getting a chance to play at home and to start the season against some outside opponents.”
The Pirates have seven known commitments for the next signing class. At least two recruiting sources have ECU’s pending class at the top of the American Athletic Conference.
“We’re leading the conference right now in recruiting,” Montgomery said. “That’s maybe not by the standards of coaches but by the standards that are put forth by the people who analyze that. . . . I think one huge advantage that we have was starting spring ball early. We were able to build those relationships longer. When we went on the road, we had a lot more information. I thought that sweeping the state in December and in January just put us way ahead in the state. It also put us ahead in some different areas, whether it be Virginia, whether it be Georgia, whether it be South Carolina. I think we’ve really done a good job at this point of hitting our needs.
“I can’t talk in specifics but we’ve done a good job of trying to put up a fence in our neighborhood. We’re going to continue to try to do that. Our coaches are working so hard right now. A lot of my nights are just filled with talking to prospects. Most of my nights are filled with talking to prospects and building relationships. It’s just a relationship game. Now that we’re able to show off what the Pirate Club has given us the ability to do, we’ve taken another step in recruiting. The next step for us is to have a successful season. The things that the Pirate Club has given us the ability to do — we haven’t had any of that over the last couple of years.
“You add that. You add the morale. You add some redshirting and recovery to it, we think we have the perfect formula for success. Everything is not falling into place. We’re working it into place.”
It isn’t all about football for Montgomery. He has three young sons and he wants to be a good father.
“I’ll just be very candid,” Montgomery said. “The last two years I haven’t done as much as I should have. We’ve been working really hard to try to get it the right way, but I think that there’s a reverse effect on that. This year, I’m going to spend much more time with my family, my kids. I’m going to do a better job with that. I’m going to spend some time. I’m going to take them fishing and do all the things that I should have been doing more of the last couple of years.
“I think that will bring a little better fortune for us just because when you’re right at home and you’re working, you come to work with a much better attitude. You’re more pleasant. You get to deal with your family. I’ve just got to do a better job of that. I make sure that our coaches do that. I’ve just got to hold myself accountable a little bit more this year. It will be a much better summer for us. We’ll spend a lot more time together this summer.”
Difference of opinion
Greg Warren, a veteran long snapper from Wayne County before his retirement from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has said he doesn’t feel like he will encourage his 2-year-old son, Grant, to play football because of indications that the game is associated with lone-term health issues. Montgomery is a former assistant with the Steelers.
Warren played at North Carolina. Montgomery is an alumnus of Duke. Their opinions differ about their sons’ participation in football.
“I disagree whole-heartedly,” Montgomery said. “One hundred percent, I disagree with that. That’s his family so he gets to choose. I love Greg. He gets to choose for his family. As far as for me and my family, if my kids want to play football, I’m going to encourage it. If they don’t want to play football, I’m not going to hold it against them by any means.
“But what football has been able to do for me and people that I know. … The research is continuing to grow. We’ll always lean on the research, but I think there’s other things that we can do to protect the student-athlete as far as equipment and the way that we practice with smart coaching. . . . If my kids want to play — absolutely, we will let them play football. We’re going to support them. I’m going to try to go see as many games as I can. I really feel like there’s been so many lives that have been saved by football.
“If we start to just talk about the injuries that come with football, and they are real, . . . but we’re also missing a story line that this game has been the saving grace, the discipline in this game has been the saving grace for a lot of people. I’m not just talking about the people who go to college football or even the National Football League. I’m talking about the ultimate team sport or a high school coach that really changed their life and now they’re successful business men or great fathers or great husbands. A lot of it is connected to football.
“Yeah, we love football in my house. I’m going to always push it. It’s always going to be on television. We’re going to deal with some of the negatives that come with it. I don’t want any of our kids to ever get hurt, but they’re a lot of ways you can get hurt. We’re going to try to prevent all those ways as much as we can.”