East Carolina’s 2022 season ended with a 35-13 home loss to No. 4 Cincinnati on Nov. 26 with the cancellation of the Military Bowl. The Pirates, coming off a 7-5 campaign, return to action on Sept. 3 at noon against N.C. State at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Spring practice culminated on April 9, but player development and recruiting seldom take an offseason break.
“The kids are training five days a week with Coach (John) Williams and his staff,” said coach Mike Houston on Wednesday. “Combination of running and lifting. And so that concludes this Friday.
“We’ve had OTAs (Organized Team Activities). Basically, practices, couple days a week, all throughout the summer. … Had one this morning and so they’ve had a pretty full summer. … They’re bigger, faster, stronger, getting on the same page, football-wise. It’s been a real positive summer.”
Gasper joins staff
Houston added Scott Gasper to the staff as director of player personnel and recruiting in mid-June.
“He came to us from West Virginia,” Houston said. “So excited to get him here. He’s continuing to develop and fill out our recruiting department, which we’ve expanded pretty drastically in the last year. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on when it comes to that stuff.
“The support staff off-field positions that we had here when I got here was far behind the rest of the conference and most of the (Group of Five) schools. Just, there were not positions. There was not money. It was just poorly understaffed.
“We worked very hard to add a lot of, a lot of these positions that were needed, we’ve added a full-time nutritionist, she’s developing a staff, we’ve added a couple of those analysts, but then our recruiting department, we’ve added, director of creative media, Jarrett Ozimek, we added him, two years ago. With Scott’s position, he has underneath him three other full-time positions now, we’ve added a director of on-campus recruiting. We’ve had a director of scouting and then we have another scouting position that we’re getting ready to post and hire, right now.
“What they do is they handle all the logistics of the recruiting process. They’re constantly evaluating film and sending it to the position coaches or sending it to me. Scott manages who I’m talking to daily. I’m talking to three or four recruits every day. So, he’s managing that and just managing my schedule. And so, it’s just, with all the changes in recruiting, it’s become a year-round deal. There is no time when you’re not recruiting.
“With the transfer stuff we had official visits all spring, and then you got official visits this summer with the high school kids, and then you’ll have official visits throughout the fall. And so, it’s just become so much more than it was years ago. We needed the staff infrastructure there to be able to do it at an effective level. And I think that, you look at the way this class is coming together for next year and it’s really, it’s not a very big class, but it’s a really, really high-end class ability-wise.”
The Pirates have 13 known commitments to date for the class that will sign in December.
“I can’t talk specifically, obviously that’s against NCAA rules, but what I will say is, with a small class, we really said, ‘These are the high school players that we want to go after,'” Houston said. “Things have changed with the transfer portal and that stuff — we’ve been very, very selective with committable offers.
“But we are very excited. We’ve hit on virtually every, actually every top-tier recruit that we have said, ‘This is who we want at this position.’ We have three, right now that I still think we’re going get. I feel really good about. They have not committed yet, but I think in the coming weeks, you’ll see the class round out and I expect us to probably be done with the class before the season starts.”
Houston said he anticipates signing around 16 players in December.
C.J. Johnson returns
The Pirates had some significant personnel losses among receivers from the team that went 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference last season. That void has been addressed through transfers and got a boost from the return of C.J. Johnson, who was suspended from the program during the winter.
“I feel good about the guys we have in that room,” Houston said. “They’ve been here all summer, getting ready. And so, that’s one of the big things, going to be one of the big focuses as of preseason camp is just getting all those guys on the same page.
“You have some of the names that people know that have been with us, like Maceo Donald or C.J. Johnson or Jsi Hatfield, Andre Pegues, Taji Hudson. You have those guys.”
Johnson was reinstated July 1.
“But then you have the new additions, Isaiah Winstead transfer from Toledo, Jaylen Johnson transfer from the University of Georgia and then Jarrett Garner transfer from Duke,” Houston said. “Those three guys along with the guys we have coming back, we feel really good about the wide receiver position going into the season.”
Preseason practice gets started in two weeks.
“Report date is August 2nd,” Houston said. “The first day of practice is August 3rd.
“We’re in helmets the first couple of days, then shells, then progressing towards the full pads and full contact.”
Scrimmages are scheduled for Aug. 13 and Aug. 20. A portion of the Aug. 20 scrimmage may be open to the public in conjunction with Meet the Pirates.
The national landscape in college football has been dramatically altered with plans for Texas and Oklahoma to move to the Southeastern Conference, and Southern Cal and UCLA to join the Big Ten.
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday that he feels the media grant of rights, which extends to 2036, will hold his league together, but there are skeptics.
This will be the last year for Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida in the American.
‘I think it’s not done yet,” Houston said. “I think the next two years you’re going to see a lot more movement and it’s all being driven by TV revenue. So, where we end up, I don’t know. You know, I do think the American was aggressive and made some moves to solidify itself.”
The AAC is adding Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and Texas-San Antonio to its membership when Cincinnati, Houston and UCF exit for the Big 12.
“As you see movement at the power five level, I think that will continue to impact the American Conference,” Houston said. “So, I think the next two years, you just, you’re going to continue to see some movement until things stabilize a little bit.”
The Pirates Unite $60 million fundraising effort will include a new indoor football practice facility.
“It’s badly needed,” Houston said. “It’s been badly needed. It’s certainly not a want, it’s a priority need. And so, I’m glad that we’re moving aggressively in that direction. I’ll be glad when we break ground and we get it built. It’ll be a tremendous enhancement to our competitiveness and our ability to prepare the program. And it’ll also be a tremendous asset in recruiting.
Name-Image-Likeness will continue to impact recruiting. Alabama coach Nick Saban said his program had $3 million in NIL funding last year. Ohio State’s NIL revenue approached that figure in six months.
Texas Tech is collectively offering $25,000 each to 100 football players.
“Name and image likeness continues to be a huge, huge topic, at the collegiate level and we’ve got to continue to evolve that in order to be competitive,” Houston said. “It’s going to continue to be a factor at our level.
Compensation for college athletes for NIL is a relatively recent development.
“Anybody can do a name and image likeness deal with any of our players,” Houston said. “If someone’s interested in doing that, all they have to do is contact the athletic department, or if they contact us, we’ll direct them to who can guide them. Anybody can do a deal.
“The other thing is the Boneyard Collective, which was started by a group of our donors. It is something that is going to be used as a way to establish some name and likeness deals with our players. … They’ve got a website and they’ve got some stuff out there. And so, you’re going to see that be an avenue where anybody can give $20 to it if you want to, or you can give a thousand dollars to it, but anybody can contribute towards that collective. And then that collective will be used for naming image likeness deals with our players.”
Houston said NIL deals are impacting recruits.
“Heavily,” he said. “I think you’re going to continue to see the gap widen between the schools who are doing a good job with it and schools that aren’t. The news came out yesterday that Texas Tech, they’re doing one for a hundred football players. They have a collective, that’s doing a name and image likeness deals for a hundred football players. And so, you’re seeing institutions make this a priority. And the ones that do are going to be able to recruit at a higher level, it’s just part of it.
“It’s a part of the game. It’s here to stay. So, we just need to figure out how we want to navigate that.”