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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 29, 2010

By Al Myatt

McNeill taps into Pirate generations

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

As a former East Carolina football player, new Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill values his experience as well as that of his fellow lettermen. He told them as much at a catered meal in the Murphy Center the night before ECU's spring game.

"We had a great visit," McNeill said. "It's special to see those guys, and I want all of them to come back. The key is under the mat for those guys."

It's not just a matter of backslapping fellowship. McNeill sees former players as an influential resource in the program.

"They're very special," he said. "They're very important for what I want here. I'm a letterwinner so that's a little bit different from normal. I have a lot of respect for what we are about.

"I want them heavily involved in the program. I want them involved in what I call the village raising of our football team. They know that they are welcome here any time."

Seniors from the 2009 Conference USA champions were special guests at the fete on April 16.

The former players strolled onto Bagwell Field of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at halftime of the spring game. The group included 90-year old Adrian Brown, who was in a wheelchair. He was a member of the 1941 team, which went 7-0.

Former Pirate linebacker and pro standout Roderick Coleman, who finished his career at ECU in 1998 and recently retired from the NFL, was among the intrigued witnesses of ECU's new aerial attack at the April 17 spring game.

Three quarterbacks combined to complete 40 of 71 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns at the Purple-Gold contest, although McNeill lamented dropped passes and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said that execution had not been on the same level as in earlier stages of spring workouts.

The new offense was going against ECU's defense, of course, which had achieved a degree of familiarity with the new attack in 14 previous spring sessions.

Coleman's take

"The offense is high pace," Coleman said. "It's a high scoring offense so the defense is going to be in shape going into the season. I think it's going to be a great system.

"You have to be in shape to defend against that system. You definitely have to be in shape to keep up with the pace of the offense. It's going to wear defenses down during the course of the season if they just keep the tempo going and the timing going.

"It's going to sneak up on a lot of teams early and it's going to be too late for them to come back."

Coleman has a daycare facility in Atlanta called Angels Academy. He works with the Rod Coleman Foundation, which has an expressed goal of helping young people become self-sufficient. Coleman, who brought his 10-year old son, Jashon, to the spring game, is looking to move to the Charlotte area and become active in supporting a new school in Mint Hill, Rocky River High School.

"I'm going to be over there helping them out," Coleman said. "I'm going to try coaching and see if I like it. Everything is centered around helping kids out, focusing on the kids and the next generation."

Coleman's son, Jashon, may take after his dad.

"Defense, all the way," Coleman said of his offspring's proclivities. "He likes to hit. It's tough when he plays with kids his own age because he's bigger than them. He has to play with the bigger kids. Most of his friends are 12 and 13. He's got to play with the big boys.

"He loves to hit and he loves to tackle. He's a tough little kid but he's nice and well disciplined."

Andrew Bayes, ECU's all-time leader in punting average for a season with 48.1 yards in 1999, was another interested observer at the spring game.

"I think Coach Ruff's doing a great job," Bayes said. "Looks like they're spreading it out, which is exactly what they're looking to do. They had some big plays and I think that's what that offense is geared towards — pick the defense apart and hope for a breakdown that might expose the defense for a big play. You saw that a few times today."

Effect of stadium expansion

The construction which will enclose the East end of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium provided a backdrop for the spring game.

"It will definitely make it louder," Bayes said. "With seven- or eight-thousand more fans in the end zone, especially if they put the students down there, I think it gives the defense an incredible advantage when the ball's on that end of the stadium.

"I think this stadium, which is already loud — you enclose that end zone — it creates more noise and a greater home field advantage."

With the Murphy Center at the west end, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be practically enclosed when expansion is completed. As a punter and a kicker, Bayes was well aware of the effect that winds could have at home games.

"This field has always been like a wind tunnel, just straight blowing west," Bayes said. "It's typically a problem. It's going to be interesting. I don't know if it's high enough to break down on that wind. I don't think it will create a swirl or anything like that but I don't know.

"This is a windy part of the country so it might not break it down a bit."

Kevin Miller, who scored 287 career points as a Pirate kicker from 1999 to 2002, shared his thoughts.

"This was a fairly tough place to kick, wind-wise, especially before the Murphy Center," Miller said. "Once the stadium is enclosed, I think it will probably be much easier to kick down on that end.

"Until it's fully finished and you're out there kicking, you don't really know, but I would anticipate that it would be a little bit easier, at least for field goals."

Special teams coach Mark Nelson will have to help his players adjust to any new wind patterns.

"As we learn it, we'll use it more," Nelson said.

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Al Myatt Archives

04/29/2010 01:26 AM


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