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View from the 'ville
Friday, August 7, 2009

By Al Myatt

Pirates built depth the hard way

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The extensive personnel losses through injuries and suspensions that beset East Carolina last season have become something of a blessing in terms of the depth the program bred out of the carnage.

"When you look at the guys now who are going to have to play a significant role, a Chris Mattocks, who got a chance to play so much more because of some of the injuries that we had," said coach Skip Holtz. "All of a sudden, he's one of your starting linebackers.

"It's like you're returning a starter because he started the last half of the season for you. We played a lot of young guys who gained a lot of experience. I'm really proud of what this team accomplished because of all the young guys who had to step in and what they went through to overcome the adversity to win the conference championship."

ECU returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense.

"It pays dividends for us this year because you're going to have so many more guys that got an opportunity to get their feet wet," Holtz said. "They got an opportunity to play a little bit. Now it's not about, 'I really want to play this year,' but it's like, 'What do we got to do to win?'

"That's the next step a lot of these young guys are having to take."

Momentum or motivation?

One might think that the Pirates would have a degree of momentum from winning their first league championship in football since 1976, but a 25-19 Liberty Bowl loss to Kentucky may have left the returning players with something to prove.

Holtz said the players have adjusted their expectation level.

"We're certainly not patting ourselves on the back and resting on what we accomplished last year," said the ECU coach. "The Conference USA championship was great but as soon as we came back to winter workouts, the battle cry of the seniors was like, '08's over, we're on to '09.' You know, 'What's next? What are we going to do here?'

"We put a big part of this program on the legacy that these seniors leave from their leadership role. That's the thing that so many guys like the C.J. Wilsons and the Jay Rosses and the Nick Johnsons understand — that this is their senior year and this is the one that they're going to remember. Our eyes have been focused forward, not backward.

"So many times when you have a chance to have some success like we did a year ago, guys are patting themselves on the back. I think the Liberty Bowl probably went a long way in humbling us from where we were and what we're going to have to do to take another step to overcome that hurdle a year from now."

This year's senior class has Holtz excited.

"We've been together for five years," he said. "We've watched them grow up and watched them develop. We've kind of been through steps in this program where they won five and then they won seven, and then eight and then nine.

"The thing that's motivated me and excited me so much is that they haven't become complacent. They're working as hard or harder than they ever have. They understand what's at stake and the expectations — not that everybody else has for them — but what they have for themselves."

Preseason emphasis changed

The last time Holtz was getting ready to open a football season at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was in 2005 when his first game as Pirates coach resulted in a 24-21 win over Duke. Back then, the new Pirate staff was still trying to learn names and teach its new systems after a span in which ECU was 3-22.

"It's nice," Holtz said. "We've had those things almost every year coming into it. You go back two years ago before Patrick (Pinkney) when we thought Rob (Kass) was going to be the starter. All of a sudden you're the week before the game (at Virginia Tech) thinking, 'Who are you going to play (at quarterback), what are you going to do?'

"Knock on wood that we can stay away from the injury bug as we get into fall camp. ... You look on the defensive side of the ball, I think we have eight seniors and three juniors that are going in as starters right now. It's been a long time around here since we played with that type of experience and upperclassmen.

"What comes with that is a maturity level, a physical development level, a mental development level — so many of those things that go into it. You're not dealing with guys who are still giggling and laughing in the back of the room and then counting on them as they go out on the field.

"You're dealing with those guys that are sitting in the front of the room, notebooks open, pens in hand, bug-eyed, looking at you like 'What do we got to do to get there?' For us, from a coaching standpoint, it's really exciting."

ECU's high degree of experience doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done before the season opener Sept. 5 against Appalachian State.

"We're going to need every day in camp before that first game because there are a lot of guys behind them that we need to continue to develop," Holtz said. "I know the seniors are going to take care of business and do what they have to do.

"But we're only one injury away — as we learned last year — from those (young) guys being starters."

ECU's first practice of the preseason is this afternoon.

Practice obstacles for Apps

About half of Appalachian State's spring practice sessions had to be held at the Mountaineers' indoor facility because of inclement weather conditions — not the ideal situation for the program to regroup after failing to win the football championship subdivision for the first time in four years.

There was more for Coach Jerry Moore's program to overcome this week as quarterback Armanti Edwards sustained a cut from a lawn mower that rolled back on his right foot as he was mowing the yard at his off-campus residence.

Edwards was treated and released at Watauga Hospital, reportedly sustaining no structural damage. He is expected to miss two to four weeks of practice but be ready for the ECU game. His absence from workouts will be a challenge for the ASU offense to overcome in terms of refining its timing in the preseason.

Appalachian has already sold out its allotment for non-student tickets for the game in Greenville. Its student tickets go on sale August 24.

Godwin on West Coast

ECU baseball coach Billy Godwin was in Long Beach, CA, on Thursday, checking out potential recruits in the Area Code Games which draw players from around the country.

The focus for next year's recruiting class will be more on middle infielders, catchers and hitters, according to Godwin, and less on pitching with a lot of strong, young arms already joining the program.

"It's a well-rounded class but probably not as heavy in pitching with what we announced in November," Godwin said.

Outfielder Mike Trout and infielder Walker Gourley signed pro contracts from the 11-member class that will join the Pirates when school resumes this month. The class includes six pitchers.

Godwin said it appeared that rising senior outfielder Devin Harris and classmate Kyle Roller, a first baseman and designated hitter, will refrain from signing pro contracts after being drafted in June.

Godwin said he hasn't observed any smog on his visit to the Los Angeles area.

"The heat index was over 100 in Greenville when I left," said the ECU skipper. "Out here, it's like 85 and no humidity."

Good surfing weather, perhaps.

"No," Godwin said. "I'm good on the surfing."

Celebrating Sonny days

Former Pirate football coach Sonny Randle will be one of five new inductees to the ECU athletic hall of fame on the weekend of the Central Florida game on Sept. 26.

He guided the Pirates to back to back Southern Conference championships in 1972 and '73, compiling a 22-10 overall record in three seasons.

Randle antagonized some of the Pirate faithful after accepting a new car as a gift from ECU supporters following a second straight 9-2 season in 1973. Randle soon loaded the vehicle up and headed for Charlottesville as the new coach at Virginia.

ECU exacted its revenge with a 61-10 road win over the Cavaliers in 1975.

Its taken some time for those feelings to subside and for Randle to take his place in ECU's hall. A group of his former players who have endowed a scholarship in his honor were no doubt influential in Randle being tapped for enshrinement.

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08/09/2009 02:19:42 AM


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