Even if they are just
graduate assistants, paying their dues and aspiring to work their way up
the coaching ladder, there is a reassurance about seeing Damon Magazu
and Brandon Williams listed with the East Carolina football roster.
There was some uncertainty
for each in the recruiting process that eventually made them Pirates but
they were both stellar defenders during a recent era when ECU was best
known for its offensive output.
They have returned to their
alma mater to work with the defensive unit as the Pirates seek success
under first-year coach Scottie Montgomery following a 5-7 season.
ECU wasn't on Williams'
radar during his time at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, SC.
"I was committed to the
Naval Academy coming out of high school," Williams recalled last week.
"Then I went to Hargrave Military, a prep school. I had to go there to
get my SAT score up for the Naval Academy. I couldn't get my score up. I
had to find somewhere else to go. Coach (Marc) Yellock (former ECU
defensive line coach) came and recruited me while I was ... at Hargrave.
"After that, I told them
that I wanted to come here. I took a visit up there in the summer time.
This was the place where I decided I wanted to be."
Williams had 54 solo
tackles and 70 assists as a senior for a 2014 ECU team that
won 28-21 at Virginia Tech
70-41 at home against North Carolina
in successive weeks.
"Beating Virginia Tech at
Virginia Tech," Williams said. "That's probably one of my best memories.
That year we also beat North Carolina. ... Those two have got to be some
of my best memories here."
Magazu ensured his legacy
as a Pirate in the sixth game of his freshman season,
intercepting N.C. State's Russell Wilson in
overtime at the East goal line in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
for a 33-27 ECU win over the Wolfpack.
That's not his biggest
thrill in retrospect of his college career.
"My biggest thrill at East
Carolina was probably my entire senior season," said Magazu, who
completed his eligibility at ECU in 2013. "Just coming to the
realization of all the hard work, our team and our staff put in for the
previous three years. It started to pay off. Winning 10 games isn't
easy. Going out your senior year winning 10 games and a bowl win (37-20
over Ohio in St. Petersburg) was kind of the
cherry on top of all the hard work — everything that we put in from the
past couple of years."
'All in' with Ruff
Magazu arrived at ECU
shortly after a coaching change and, coincidentally perhaps, returned
under similar circumstances.
"I was recruited by Skip
Holtz's staff," said Magazu, who played for Charlotte Providence, while
his dad, Dave, was offensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. "It
was initially by Phil Petty. Then it was mainly by Coach (Rick) Smith.
He and my dad coached together a long time ago when I was little at
Kentucky. They were on the same staff there. He and my dad have a great
relationship. Once I got to my sophomore or junior year in high school,
my dad talked to Coach Smith about my interest in East Carolina. That's
when the recruiting process started.
"I was real excited to come
play for Coach Holtz and, specifically, Coach Smith. That was the main
reason why I picked ECU. Then when Coach Holtz left and Coach Smith
followed him down to South Florida, I was just kind of waiting to hear
who the new head coach was going to be. When Coach Ruff (Ruffin McNeill)
came to my house for a home visit, I was all in and decided to continue
coming to ECU."
Magazu's dad has been
offensive line coach on John Fox's staffs at Carolina, Denver and now
Chicago in the NFL.
Reversing his field
Magazu majored in Business
Marketing at ECU.
"I was working in what I
like to call the real world for about a year and a half," Magazu said.
"I was just more passionate about football, wanted to continue to go in
that direction, eventually land a full-time job and kind of take it from
Magazu was a national
account manager for an IT recruiting firm, Ettain Group, in Charlotte
before landing his graduate assistant assignment.
"I made the choice when I
had my previous job that I wanted to get into coaching," Magazu said. "I
talked to my dad about it. He obviously had a lot of insight and input
but ultimately left the decision up to me. It was really calling the
previous coaches I'd played for and letting them know that I was
interested in trying to get a GA job somewhere, whether it be offense,
defense — it really didn't matter. I was just trying to get my foot in
Brief NFL flings
Magazu was released after
rookie camp with the Baltimore Ravens. Williams had a similar NFL
"I went to the Jacksonville
Jaguars," Williams said. "I went to rookie mini-camp and I was released.
After I got released, Coach (John) Wiley (former ECU inside linebackers
coach) and Coach (Rick) Smith (Pirates secondary coach) said they could
see me getting into coaching. After that, I decided to go into
Williams had majored in
Criminal Justice. His present field is on the field — and in the film
"Basically, keeping up with
breaking down film," Williams said of his responsibilities in the
coaching offices. "Helping the players out and coaching them. If they
need help learning it, just explaining it to them. Breaking down film
and getting the game plan ready with the coaching staff. I'm working
with defensive line this year."
Pirates spring forward
Both ECU alums went through
Montgomery's initial spring practice.
"It's a new system and our
boys right now they're buying into it, just learning what to do,"
Williams said. "Last year, we ran a 3-4 but this is a totally different
3-4 and I think just getting more work at it, we're going to be
successful this year."
The anticipation for the
upcoming season is building. The Pirates open against Western Carolina
at home on Sept. 3 at 6 p.m.
"I'm working with Coach
Smith," Magazu said. "Mainly focused on the safeties — just breaking
down a lot of film, helping Coach Smith game planning for the passing
game and just continuing to harp and teach on the installs that we have
to our safeties and entire secondary and helping out a little bit with
special teams as well."
Magazu was a team leader
and that trait translates effectively into his new post.
"I love working with the
players," he said. "Not only just Xs and Os but kind of guiding them
through college and life. I know I'm not the oldest guy but I feel like
I've been through enough to be able to kind of guide them in the right
steps and situations that come about to a lot of college
student-athletes. Hopefully, make them better men for the future when
they become fathers and what not.
"I'm not a father but I
have a great father figure to look up to. Any questions they have about
things like that I can kind of relate to how my father handled the
situation. ... That's one thing that I love is not only Xs and Os but
everything off of the field to help the players."
Cause for optimism
Being involved in spring
practice and the teaching sessions the coaches are permitted to have
with players in the summer has given Magazu cause for optimism.
"We have a lot of great
athletes and we have a great team as well," he said. "There's going to
be a bit of a learning curve but I think we kind of got over that hump
by the end of spring.
"We have a real physical
and athletic team and you can tell from watching past film that we have
a fast team as well. Put all of those together, I think we have a
promising season coming up, not trying to look too far ahead. We've just
got to get to that first game and make sure everything's ready to roll
by Sept. 3."
Williams sees potential,
"I think it's going to be a
good year for the Pirates," said the former inside linebacker. " ...
We've got to continue to work hard, grind it out and just wait for Sept.
3 to come for our first game. ... The players are working hard. The
coaching staff, they're working hard. We're just trying to put it all
together for Sept. 3."
Workouts at lunch time
It isn't all work and no
play for the defensive GAs.
"Whenever I have time, like
lunch time, a couple of the buddies up here, we either go shoot some
hoops or lift some weights," Williams said.
Both Magazu and Williams
played high school basketball.
"Every time we play, it
seems like he's guarding me, I'm guarding him," Williams said.
Coach Mo's influence
charisma has gained him acceptance from Pirate Nation.
Williams said. "He's just a great guy, great mentor. He's always
thinking positive, always giving good advice. It's really just him being
himself, being how he is. He's a great dude to be around. He gives you
great vibes, just a great person all-around."
Magazu echoed those
"A lot like what Brandon
was saying," said the former safety who had five interceptions as a
senior, of the program's new leader. "He is who he is. He's not going to
try to be somebody he's not. He's just a natural leader. He has a lot of
great insights for not only football, the offensive side, the defensive
side and special teams but he has a lot of insight into life as well.
Being able to ask him questions about Xs and Os and even life in
general, he has a lot of great insight for that."
Montgomery values the
former high-profile players in their GA roles.
“Damon has a tremendous
work ethic and attention to detail, not only in recruiting but coaching
safeties as well," Montgomery said. "He brings an incredible level of
energy to the field on a daily basis. Brandon has a great relationship
with our current players and has been an invaluable member of our staff
during the transition. He coaches as hard as any young coach in the game
Montgomery made a
successful transition from player to coach years ago. Magazu and
Williams are starting that journey.
"The main thing, it's just
a little bit different being on this side of the ball rather than being
a player," Magazu said. "It's a lot more things going into just everyday
practice than the players even realize or that I even realized while I
was playing. It's a little weird being back on the other side, but I'm
starting to get used to it."
Smith a recurring figure
Smith, a grandfather, has
been there for Magazu at various stages of his life.
"I've know him for a long
time," Magazu said. "Again, when he and my dad coached together at
Kentucky, I was maybe four or five years-old. Through the recruiting
process and then got to play for him my senior year when he came back to
be the defensive coordinator.
"We stayed in touch for the
year and a half, two years that I was outside of football. So I've known
Coach Smith for awhile. I love him and he's a great guy and a great
person to work for. ... It feels good to be back."