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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, January 19, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

ECU football looks to Gators for 'strength'

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A contract has not been completed and nothing is official but John Grieco (Grē-kō) from the University of Florida has the inside track for the new football strength and conditioning position at East Carolina.

Grieco, who graduated from Florida in 1995, has been the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Gators baseball program and also has worked with Florida’s football program. He has been a fulltime strength and conditioning coach at his alma mater since July, 1996.

Grieco has been responsible for general physical development and in-season conditioning of Florida athletes.

The Gators baseball program with which he has worked has been ranked No. 15 nationally in the preseason by Collegiate Baseball and No. 20 by Durham-based Baseball America. Florida is coming off a 37-21-1 season in 2003 in which it reached an NCAA regional final for the second straight year.

Grieco has learned under highly-respected Florida strength and conditioning director Rob Glass, who has worked with 14 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six players taken in the first round in the NBA and four first-rounders in major league baseball.

Glass worked with Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders during Glass’s tenure at Oklahoma State from 1986 to 1995 and another Heisman winner, Danny Wuerffel, quarterback of Florida’s 1996 national championship team. The list of athletes Glass has trained is long and impressive.

The strength program at ECU has been directed by former Virginia Tech defensive end Jim Whitten the last three years. Whitten was selected by former Pirates football coach Steve Logan to replace Jeff Connors, when Connors left after 10 years at ECU to take over strength and conditioning for the football program at North Carolina.

Interim athletics director Nick Floyd has said that Whitten will remain at ECU and work with other sports. There was a segment of the ECU community interested in bringing Connors back. The Pirates probably couldn’t have afforded such a move and Connors had some logistical questions about how the position and facilities would be administered with Whitten still on the staff.

Former ECU star linebacker Jeff Kerr, who has worked on Connors’ staff at UNC, was interested in returning to his alma mater and recently talked with Pirates head football coach John Thompson in regard to the newly-created position. According to a source, Kerr has since accepted a position with a NASCAR team.

Thompson was limited to an extent by uncertainty over specifics of the position, including available salary. Thompson, who was defensive coordinator at Florida during the 2002 season, obviously has personal knowledge of Grieco and confidence in him.

The role of the strength coaching staff in college football is vital and, to an extent, under-appreciated. Capable personnel can greatly impact the physical development of players. The football staff itself is limited in the coaching contact it can have with a team at times other than spring practice, preseason practice and the season itself. The rest of the time the players essentially report to the strength coach for conditioning, development, direction and training.

When a high school defensive back muscles up enough to become an outside linebacker or a team wins in the fourth quarter because it is in better shape than its opponent, there is a strength coach in the background who deserves much of the credit.

Another productive recruiting weekend

ECU secured three more football commitments over the weekend bringing its known total to 23. Signing date is Feb. 4 and, like last year, a gathering will be held at the Murphy Center in conjunction with official announcement of the incoming class of Pirates.

The latest group to board the Pirate ship includes outside linebacker/strong safety Demario Kelly of Norcross, Ga., tight end/defensive end Mark Robinson of Lyman High School in Longwood, Fla., and defensive end Zach Slate of Melbourne, Fla.

Leonard says Panthers in a close one

Former East Carolina running back Leonard Henry, who has been on the Miami Dolphins roster the last two years, favors the Carolina Panthers slightly over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Houston.

Henry, from Clinton, N.C., is second on the ECU career rushing list with 3,089 yards.’s first Carolinas player of the year in 2001, Henry will be going to Miami on Tuesday to discuss his status with the Dolphins. This weekend he watched the NFL conference championships.

“Carolina is playing real great and also has a little bit of luck, which teams need in a Super Bowl along with pure raw talent, which both teams have,” Henry said.

Henry, who ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns in ECU’s 40-27 win over Texas Tech in the Bowl in Houston to conclude the 2000 season, said the city should be a good host for the NFL’s showcase event.

“As a team we enjoyed Houston,” Henry said. “They showed us respect. They had everything laid out for us and treated us with a lot of love.”

As for his pick, Henry is going with the Panthers to prevail, 17-14.

“Neither teams’ offense really has a standout guy,” he said. “They both rotate running backs and wide receivers. They’re pretty much even there.

"Defensively, it’s going to be a stingy game. New England has great linebackers and a great scheme. Carolina’s defense is always around the ball and they’ve been making plays.”

Panthers defensive back Ricky Manning has given his agent the keys to Fort Knox with a series of huge playoff interceptions.

“He’s been in the right place at the right time,” Henry said. “The Panthers have had a spurt right when they needed it to happen.”

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02/23/2007 12:44:52 AM

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