The familiar old double wide in the sky is gone, replaced by the skeleton of what will soon become a modern new press box and suite tower on the South side of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
It’s the most visible sign of the improvements East Carolina is in the process of making to its athletic facilities.
But it’s not even close to the being the most important upgrade.
That honor belongs to the new locker room and training facility inside the Ward Sports Medicine Building that greeted the Pirates upon their arrival for preseason camp last week.
The excited reaction of the players to the renovations — which include an updated locker room, a new sports medicine center, hot and cold therapy pools, a player’s lounge and team meeting space big enough to accommodate everyone on the roster, along with other amenities — speaks volumes about their impact on the morale of the program.
And there’s something to be said for that since, after two straight 3-9 seasons, any kind of positive reinforcement is a step in the right direction.
“It’s pretty amazing to get a new locker room when you didn’t have a good season,” senior offensive lineman Garrett McGhin said. “We’re not blind to it. We know we didn’t have a good season last year. But it was something we needed.
“As far as those cold tubs and the new training facility, that’s what’s going to keep guys on the field and back on the field. Having a place we can go to spend our off time in a controlled environment is going to help us. When you have nice facilities, it adds another standard you have to live up to and more motivation to do well.”
But can facilities really help a team win football games?
Not directly, of course.
In the case of ECU, though, it’s not wishful thinking to believe that the brick-and-mortar improvements that are being made can and will bring about a similar upgrade in the Pirates’ performance on the field.
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First and foremost, the newly enhanced facilities will help the Pirates narrow the gap that exists between themselves and many of their American Athletic Conference rivals, not to mention Virginia Tech, North Carolina and the other Power 5 programs that are traditionally on their schedule.
They have already had a noticeable impact on coach Scottie Montgomery’s recruiting, as illustrated by the increased number of in-state prospects that have chosen to play for ECU over the past two cycles.
More than anything, though, the ongoing renovations represent a renewed commitment to the football program on the part of the school’s administration. It’s a drastic and badly needed change directly influenced by the recommendations of Dave Hart, the consultant brought in to run the athletic department following the departure of former AD Jeff Compher.
“There are certain things that are expected, certain things that when I came in that I took for granted that were already in place,” Montgomery said Saturday at his team’s annual preseason media day event. “Then I realized that getting them in place would be harder than I imagined.
“Now the things I talked about are viewed as necessities and those necessities are being met. We’re doing a good job of supporting the student-athlete now. That’s where it all starts.”
But it doesn’t stop with a flashy new place for the players to change into their uniforms and recuperate physically after a demanding practice. The commitment to help the Pirates become bigger, faster, stronger and more healthy has also been extended to their well-being away from the playing field.
Specifically, to the way they’re fed.
In the past, football team members were provided only four meals per week in one of the dining halls on campus. Now they’re being fed breakfast each morning and given access to a training table every evening that provides them with meals catered specifically toward their individual needs.
“It’s 100 percent different,” said McGhin, who is much leaner at 302 pounds after losing around around 25 pounds since the end of last season. “Now we’re in a position where we can get the right foods so we can either add weight or lose weight and we’re not just on our own.
“Typically in the past, speaking from my own experience, guys would go out there and get whatever is cheapest, and a lot of times that would be fast food. If they wanted to put on weight, they’d eat a bunch of McDonald’s. But they weren’t putting on the right weight. Now they’re eating the right proteins, vegetables and stuff to put on good weight. They’re feeding us more and they’re feeding us better.”
To a man, the Pirates made available to the media on Saturday said they were appreciative of the efforts made by Montgomery and school administrators to improve their situation, and the players believe that the changes will improve their chances of being competitive once the season begins on Sept. 1 against North Carolina A&T.
But as stated earlier, facilities and training tables don’t win football games.
That, as sophomore linebacker Aaron Ramseur pointed out, is something the players have to go out and do themselves through hard work, discipline and better execution than they’ve had over the past two seasons.
“We’ve been given a lot of support,’ Ramseur said. “The locker room that we just got, we can’t use that as an excuse anymore. We know it’s on us now. ECU did their part, now we’ve got to go out and repay them back.”