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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 4, 2007

By Al Myatt

'Guts' the key for Cotton, defense

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz is big on players stepping up when their opportunity for playing time comes. Quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass have done it this season.

Pirates linebacker Quentin Cotton waited and worked for his opportunity just to be a part of the program.

Cotton spent a school year in football limbo as he brought his grades up to NCAA eligibility standards prior to the start of preseason practice for the 2005 season.

Not being able to play was a trying time for the Kernersville Glenn High School product.

"It hurt me," Cotton said. "I came to all the games and saw my friends play. Wanting to get out there and be a part of it drove me to do the right things. I got in the weight room. When I came out of high school, I was kind of hard-headed and I had to learn some things the hard way but I worked hard my freshman year."

Cotton didn't exactly burst onto the college football scene as a freshman in 2005. He played in two games and made two tackles.

"I didn't play much," Cotton said after practice on Wednesday afternoon. "The coaches wanted me to learn the playbook and they were developing depth, but it got me ready."

Cotton had 36 unassisted tackles in 2006 and was in on 34 more stops. His 68 tackles ranked second on the team behind Jamar Flournoy and made him the leading returning tackler on the 2007 team. He had eight tackles for loss, made one interception and caused one fumble.

He did all that in 11 games as a sophomore, missing the win at Southern Miss with an ankle injury and sitting out of the bowl game with a shoulder ailment that required surgery. Cotton doesn't dwell on injuries.

"It's part of the game," he said. "It's a contact sport. That's football. You have to suck it up and play through them."

Cotton actually finished ECU's 37-35 win at Houston with a bruised knee. He was on the field for a missed 37-yard field goal by T.J. Lawrence of the Cougars with three seconds remaining.

"I had containment," said Cotton, an outside linebacker. "I didn't see the ball but when I turned around, I saw everybody jumping up and down and I knew that he had missed it."

Earlier, the Pirates had blocked a 49-yard attempt by Lawrence and capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown.

"I think their kicker was kind of shook," Cotton said. "We had blocked one and I think that got in his head. That might have helped us. Things like that factor into it."

The miss helped make for a more enjoyable trip home for the Pirates.

"It was still a long trip home," Cotton said. "I got to bed about 6:30 that morning but it was still better than not winning."

Cotton and ECU's defense held Houston scoreless in the fourth quarter to help the Pirates even their Conference USA record at 1-1 going into a big test at home this Saturday night against Central Florida.

"It came down to who had the guts," Cotton said of the win at Houston. "It was what you run sprints for. That's what you run that last sprint for. That's what it came down to — who was going to last."

Cotton and his colleagues on the ECU defensive unit face a huge challenge as they face Kevin Smith of Central Florida. Smith is averaging 178.25 yards per game rushing, which leads the nation. Overall, UCF is averaging 252.75 yards per game on the ground, which ranks seventh nationally.

"They've got a great back," Cotton said. "They lost last year but it's not the same team. They're doing some great things and we've got to step it up. Coach (George) O'Leary is a great coach and they'll have a great game plan.

"We'll have to stop the run and hold them to a low pass efficiency. We need to get the ball back for our offense and try to give them good field position."

On stopping Smith in particular, Cotton said, "We have to get people to the ball and control him a little bit. We have to carry over on what we've been working on in practice. We've been getting a good look from the scout team and the coaches always talk about flying to the ball."

The Pirates return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium after trips to West Virginia and Houston.

"It's great to come back home," Cotton said. "I love to play in front of our fans. We have to play for ourselves first and handle what we can handle, but it's always great to play in that atmosphere at home."

An opposing perspective

Central Florida also is looking forward to playing in Greenville, but for different reasons, according to Golden Knights offensive coordinator Tim Salem.

"We have talked to our offensive players about being road warriors," Salem said. "We should be playing in a very fun environment. I think that is one thing that our players are looking forward too — that kind of an `us against the world' (type atmosphere) up there and a very critical Conference USA football game."

Salem sized up the ECU defense.

"Those guys in the purple jerseys, I think play fast, they are structured on defense and very sound, he said. "They have given up some points, but they have given up some points to some quality teams. I think that there have been some hidden yards that they were disappointed that they gave up, but I think they have some stoutness to them and we are looking forward to the challenge."

Salem paid compliments to the defense he will try to exploit on Saturday night.

"I think they are very stout on defense and they have good size," Salem said. "They play their gaps and they play with good knee bends and leverage. They run to the ball like a defense should. In the opening game of the season, I think that Virginia Tech rushed 31 times for 33 yards. They stopped a team that has some stoutness to them and they have played fairly well in their other games. They have played some pretty good competition with West Virginia. We have our work cut out for us. They have good players and good coaches. We are looking for a battle to go up there and give it our all to see what is going to happen."

Southern Miss stumbles

Seven turnovers helped previously-winless Rice stun Southern Miss in a nationally-televised game from Hattiesburg on Wednesday night. The Golden Eagles had cut a 31-7 lead to 31-29 in the fourth quarter before USM's final turnover sealed the outcome for the Owls.

The loss dropped preseason East Division favorite Southern Miss into a tie with East Carolina and Memphis at 1-1 in league play, leaving Central Florida (1-0) in sole possession of first place heading into its Saturday night bout with ECU in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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10/04/2007 02:18:39 AM


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