East Carolina football coach Mike Houston figured the change was coming, but he is concerned about how immediate eligibility for transfers will affect college football.
“(Wednesday), the NCAA approved some legislation that we have been anticipating, that basically allows all players to transfer one time without having to sit a year,” Houston said. “In the past, if someone transferred from FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) to FBS, they would have to sit a year in order to be eligible.
“They’ve done away with that so it allows everyone to transfer without restriction, effective immediately. It’s certainly going to change the landscape of college football pretty drastically.”
Houston doesn’t favor the new policy personally.
“No, but we’ll learn to adapt,” he said. “The reason I’m not for it is because I’m a big fan of recruiting players, then developing players, establishing a relationship, having them here over time. I fear that that will damage just the ability to do that.
“I think (player continuity in a program) that’s best for the game. I think that’s best for kids. I think that’s best for everything. My fears may be wrong. I just fear that you could turn this thing into a deal where you recruit a new team every year. Every year is free agency. I hope that it does not turn into that.
“The NCAA is going to have to be very, very cautious with how they move forward regarding other legislation and rules in order to protect the integrity of what college football and amateurism is.”
The American Athletic Conference has also done away with a rule that required players to sit out a year when transferring from one member institution to another.
To and from the portal
The Pirates have plucked three commitments from Marshall players who were in the transfer portal, including running back G’Mone Wilson, wide receiver Jhari Patterson and safety Devon King.
ECU plays at Marshall on Sept. 18.
The portal gives and it takes away. Kicker Patrick Nations is apparently exiting the Pirate program.
“I really like the specialists that we have in the program and the ones that we have coming this summer (Laith Marjan and Sully Hardin),” Houston said. “The place kicking competition, I said all along, will truly start this summer and work through the fall camp. I’m excited about the guys who are coming in and excited to have Owen (Daffer) back, who was our back-up place kicker last year.”
The Pirates had a COVID pause that started after spring practice was underway.
“We’re obviously well back at it,” Houston said. “We’re two weeks back after our pause. We’re back to about where we were when we paused. It’s a little disappointing in that we had that setback and we do have a pretty large number of guys who missed a lot of time because of COVID. We’re getting most of those guys back the next couple of days, the beginning of next week.
“We are having a spring scrimmage. The institution is not necessarily hosting a spring game but we’re going to have one for ourselves. We’ll have that next Saturday (April 24) and it will kick off at one o’clock. We have a large number of families and different people that will be in attendance this Saturday at our scrimmage and we’ll have a large number next Saturday.”
The scrimmages will be open to the public.
“As long as they’re Pirates, they can come,” Houston said
“As to how things are going, I’m overall pleased. I hate that we had to pause. That set us back pretty significantly. The combination of that and the COVID stuff just really set us back, but we’re getting to practice and the guys that have been out there the whole time and the guys that have been able to be consistent with their training have really improved. It’s a heck of a lot better than last year when we didn’t do anything.”
Holton Ahlers is established as ECU’s starting quarterback, but his backup, Mason Garcia, continues to develop.
“I think every rep he gets, he’s improving,” Houston said of Garcia, who started the Navy game in 2020 when Ahlers was in quarantine. “He’s got ability. There’s no doubt. Every practice, he’ll make throws that just really kind of make your jaw drop. He’s got the raw talent. He’s progressing. Experience is what he lacks. He was very, very raw when we got him as just a player within the game. That’s improving. I’ve been really pleased with Alex Flinn, too. Alex has really come on here in the last week or so and is a very reliable guy there at quarterback. I think there is a lot of competition going on in that room behind Holton.”
True freshmen running backs Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris paced ECU’s ground game in 2020, but don’t look for the Pirates to get that kind of play from incoming high school signees in 2021.
“We only have a few of our freshmen here right now,” Houston said. “The rest of them will get here this summer. We did take quite a few junior college kids, some grad transfers, some stuff like that. I don’t know if you’re going to see, outside of possibly … a specialist who is a freshman, a kicker or a snapper or something like that. It’s going to be somebody new in those roles one way or another because the ones we have here are young, too.
“Outside of that, I don’t know if you’ll see a freshman just step in the way we did last year just because there’s too much coming back and there’s not many of them coming in.”
Prep for opponent
The Pirates are primarily focused on internal development this spring. There is some thought being given to the season opener against Appalachian State in Charlotte on Sept. 2, as well as the challenges that Navy’s option offense will present on Nov. 20 in Annapolis.
“Especially with the pause setting us back, we’re doing well just to work on us this spring,” Houston said. “We discussed using a practice or so towards Navy, but with the pause, it really set us back as far as our install and everything so we’re not going to be able to do that. We’ll take care of that stuff this summer. We spent some time as a staff looking at Appalachian and what they’re doing and everything. I think we’re preparing to a degree for that, but we’re not sitting there running scout teams or anything like that.”
The rain that plagued the start of spring ball has subsided but an indoor facility remains a program priority.
“It’s made it beyond me jumping up and down and saying, ‘We need this,'” Houston said. “I think it’s more of a priority institutionally. They’re working toward the next steps. I think there’s some pretty significant talks going on right now.”
Will fans be back?
Game attendance was restricted significantly in 2020, but the Pirates are hoping that Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will regain its fan energy next season.
“We’re anticipating full capacity,” Houston said. “That’s going to depend on the governor. The Pirate Club, the athletic department, we’re all anticipating full capacity. I hope we have a sold-out Bank of America Stadium for the opener against App and I hope we have a sold-out Dowdy-Ficklen for our home opener against South Carolina (Sept. 11).”
There is a lot of anticipation building as the Pirates invest in the offseason.
“Just excited about our program,” Houston said. “Excited about the kids we have in our program. I think anybody that sees us and watches practice and watches some of our guys, we’re bigger, faster, stronger, lot more depth, so we’re looking more and more like an AAC team than when I walked in the door two years ago.”