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View from the 'ville
Thursday, June 24, 2010

By Al Myatt

Ruff gets breather before preseason camp

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

There has been little down time for Ruffin McNeill since he became East Carolina's head football coach on Jan. 21, but he will get a bit of a break before preseason camp starts for the Pirates on August 5.

"You never get away from it mentally but right after (summer) camp, the coaches have a vacation plan in place where there are coaches in the office and coaches getting away from it," McNeill said. "I'll have to carve out some time soon. I want to make sure our freshmen who came in (Wednesday) get settled.

"They have that calf looking at a new gate look — their first day on campus. They're taking their first college courses in the next few days. That's important and I want to make sure I'm here for that but we've got to get away from it just to recharge the battery.

"It's been so non-stop since the 21st of January, really going back to the Alamo Bowl through accepting the (ECU) job and recruiting. There was spring ball and speaking engagements and now summer camps, so it's been sort of non-stop for all of us."

What will "Ruff" do when all the activity associated with his position slows for a brief respite?

"I don't have anything really big planned," he said. "Just really going home to visit my Dad in Lumberton and maybe going to the beach a few times, which now we can do on an easier basis. You don't have to plan so much as coming from Texas or California or Las Vegas or somewhere out there.

"We'll just get away from it to recharge the batteries."

Summer camp report

Summer football camps at East Carolina, which were geared for a variety of young players, wrapped up this week. There were sessions for kickers, junior Pirates (grades one through eight), offensive and defensive linemen, individual skill development and the fifth annual Beast of the East passing tournament.

"I thought it went very well," McNeill said. "We had close to 1,000 campers come through the backyard here at ECU. It was very exciting. We had some very good athletes come through and some very good football teams."

There is added interest in the team passing competition since ECU converted its offense to a spread passing attack during spring practice.

"We had 24 teams at our seven on seven Beast of the East passing league camp," McNeill said. "That's going to happen when folks know what we do here. That went great. Our prospect camps averaged over 150 and the last one was over 200.

"At this stage in college football, summer camps are very important. At the prospect camp, you're able to work them out and get around them. That's very valuable because you get a chance to evaluate right here on campus. You can't offer them while they're on campus but you get an idea if a guy is a close-to-offer guy. You can find out if he's ready or things you like about him.

"I was very pleased with camp. The participation was great and the coaches did a great job, too."

No home night games

The recently-released kickoff times for ECU's home football games this season do not include a night game among the six dates. That's something of a departure from Pirate tradition. Night games and ECU football go together like purple and gold.

Television, of course, is the driving force regarding the starting times. All six home games are scheduled to be telecast.

Here's the home schedule with date, TV network and game time, as released by the ECU athletic media relations department:

Sept. 5 Tulsa (ESPN2), 2 p.m.
Sept. 11 Memphis (WITN/CSS), Noon
Oct. 16 N.C. State (CBSCS), Noon
Oct. 23 Marshall (WITN/CSS), 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 6 Navy (MASN), 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 26 SMU (CBSCS), 2 p.m.

McNeill likes night games but kickoff times aren't his call.

"Television does dictate the starting times," said the Pirates coach. "I'd love to play at night here in Greenville. That would be a special place and a special time but TV dictates that."

ECU fans seem to be adjusting to the schedule without significant objection as it was announced this week that over 20,000 season tickets had been sold.

Bigger will be better

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium's capacity will increase by 7,000 seats to 50,000 for the 2010 season. Work continues to enclose the East end.

"The construction is going great," McNeill said. "Everything seems to be on schedule. They're also adding the jumbo screens at each end of the stadium. There will be a smaller one on (the Murphy Center). That's on the way, too.

"The impact of putting 50,000 family members and raving fans on top of that will be great. It will give our team momentum. It's going to be a very exciting atmosphere for everyone. It just shows the progress of our program.

"When you come on campus, you see a lot of dump trucks, cranes, people wearing hard hats and orange vests. There are beeping sounds going on all time, which means there's a lot of progress going on.

"It will be a great addition. It just shows the commitment that our alumni and fans and support people and administration have as far as making sure we have one of the top facilities in the country."

Potential realignment

The dominoes appear to have stopped tumbling for the moment in terms of conference realignment. The Big Ten appears to have stopped short of a raid on the Big East that might have opened a slot for the Pirates in the Big East.

Football stadium expansion is just one enhancement that would increase ECU's appeal to a power conference.

"Any conference, if it does happen, would be blessed and fortunate to have our people, our Pirate Nation a part of it," McNeill said. "The stadium is second to none, now. I've played in a lot of 'em and coached in a lot of 'em.

"Our excitement — I know and have been told and have seen on TV from afar — is second to none. The support and excitement we have here, the big-time game day atmosphere we present here makes it a great facility.

"I'm looking forward to getting into the Fick."

Coach McNeill and the university as a whole would welcome a BCS conference affiliation for all of the enabling revenue and prestige it would provide.

"The one thing I can control is what I can control," McNeill said. "Right now we're in Conference USA. We've got a great non-conference schedule and a super conference schedule as well. I have my hands full with what we have now.

"It's not any secret as we see teams jumping conferences that East Carolina would be an asset (to a BCS league)."

He was referring to more than just the merits of the football program.

"I also put East Carolina University as being an asset as well as Eastern North Carolina would be an asset to any conference if it were to happen," McNeill said. "Those things are beyond my control and I try not to think about them much because of what we have at hand."

McNeill was involved on Wednesday with getting the incoming true freshmen settled in for summer classes and workouts.

Tribute to 'Rock'

Rock Roggeman
(ECU SID image)

Former Pirate assistant coach Thomas "Rock" Roggeman will be laid to rest in Indiana on Friday. He took a medical leave of absence during ECU's run to its second straight C-USA football championship in 2009 and succumbed on June 14.

"It's a loss, a physical loss and a selfish loss but God just got another angel," McNeill said. "I've known Rock since 1987. We met when he was first coaching at Murray State and I was at Austin Peay State University. It was my first fulltime job. We all got into it about the same time.

"Rock was a special, special man. He had a lot of passion. He cared about the program. He cared about us. He cared about me personally and not just me but our team, our school and what we stand for. I had a chance to spend time with Rock the first night when the (ECU) job was offered and we accepted. I spent some time with Rock that night.

"We talked before he went over to have all the procedures done and he said, 'I'll be back,' and I had no doubt. Now, physically he won't be here but he'll be watching over us."

Roggeman played at Notre Dame but he died a Pirate.

"I know he's got the Notre Dame ties but we're going to pull some of that spirit over here with us here at East Carolina," McNeill said. "He'll be missed beyond words that can explain that. The love is still here. We love him and we miss him.

"It's been a tough deal. It's been a tough deal for all of us. God works in mysterious ways. He called for Rock to come up and coach his football team upstairs. He'll be a great coach in heaven and he'll also be watching out for the Pirates — I have no doubt."

Another 'Ruff' gets second chance

Running back Giavanni Ruffin was arrested in downtown Greenville in late March and was indefinitely suspended from the program by Coach McNeill. Brandon Jackson was dismissed from the program at that time because of multiple violations of team conduct policies.

McNeill had procedures for Ruffin to rejoin the program and the big back has gone through that process.

"He's been through the counseling and the meetings," McNeill said. "He's been through those and now has the opportunity to earn a slot back on the team. He's in summer school. Giavanni and I have talked four to maybe six times this summer. He comes by and that's a continuing thing.

"He's doing well according to (strength) Coach (Mike) Golden. I'm praying that he learns from it and he moves on. He's able to be back on the team now."

Ruffin is ECU's top returning rusher with 84 carries in 2009 for 308 yards and five touchdowns.

Dominique Davis finally aboard

The Pirates had anticipated signing former Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis out of the junior college ranks in Kansas in February but the connection was missed. That left McNeill to read a prepared statement in compliance with NCAA regulations that didn't mention Davis by name on signing day.

"Dominique is enjoying the first session (of summer school) now so we can officially talk about him," McNeill said. "I've had to give that statement so many times I had it memorized but he's doing a great job. He's a great young man, which we knew, and I got a chance to find out during recruiting.

"I went to his home and met his parents. Matter of fact, that was the first home visit that Lincoln (Riley, offensive coordinator) and I made that night. Davis has done a great job of adjusting. I know the strength coach says in passing that he's doing a great job in the offseason training. I'm anxious to see him get around Lincoln on August 5th, which will be our first time the team is turned back over to us and have a chance for him to be a part of Lincoln's training and teaching.

"So far, he can watch film on his own, which we're not able to be part of and he's doing a great job of that, and he's doing a great job working out with Coach Golden. I'm anxious to see when we can get around him on August 5th."

The McNeills have a home

Some of Coach Ruff's wisdom was evident at his signing day news conference when he said he had learned enough to leave the choice of a home up to his wife, Erlene. McNeill was staying in a hotel at the time.

"I'm very excited about that," he said with a chuckle. "Yes, she found one. She gave me a place to sleep and keep my clothes. We have found a home and we're settling in now. There's still some boxes. I didn't know I had so much as she calls it 'what nots.' I call it important stuff.

"We're in our home. My daughters (Olivia and Renata) are happy. I'm happy. Our family dog, Samantha, we got her flown over here from Texas about a month ago so we're complete."

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06/24/2010 07:09 AM


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