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(Photo: ECU SID)
Last year he was nowhere
to be found. If he was, nobody noticed.
While his teammates
paddled through the hall of reporters gathered for East Carolina’s 2007
football media day, Patrick Pinkney was treading the undesired waters of
relative obscurity. He was the backup to the backup quarterback, a
distinction that carries with it little demand from the media or
attention from the fans.
couldn’t have been more hidden on ECU’s roster if he had been a special
teams lifer or equipment manager. It was the type of role that, if
you’re lucky, you’re entrusted with the tedious task of signaling
offensive plays to the teammates responsible for executing them.
That was Pinkney’s plight.
Caught somewhere between irrelevance and a fading memory, the
once-promising dual-threat quarterback seemed destined to have little
statistical impact on ECU’s football history, much unlike the career of
his father, Reggie.
But life threw Patrick
Pinkney a Hail Mary. An unfortunate incident that earned Rob Kass a
one-game suspension suddenly thrust Pinkney into the spotlight and onto
a stage bigger than anyone could have envisioned.
Kass’ suspension forced
Coach Skip Holtz to rewrite the Pirates’ offensive script, with Pinkney
finally finding himself in a major role. With only a week to prepare for
last season's showdown at ninth-ranked Virginia Tech, Holtz and his
offensive staff were forced to change their game plan and offered only
two hints about their revised strategy:
Brett Clay would start,
but Pinkney also would play. Beyond that, the number of snaps each took
would depend heavily on each player's performance and the flow of the
In a surprisingly close
17-7 loss, it was Pinkney who stole the show.
“It was a great blessing
for us to see how Patrick came to life in that environment, in that
atmosphere,” Holtz said. “He didn’t get big eyes, and wide-open mouth,
and you weren’t looking at the back of his head like a deer in
“He had a smile on his
face. He was into it. He was vocal. He was a leader. And then watching
him come back out here the following week against North Carolina and to
see how he performed out here was very encouraging.”
statistics against Virginia Tech didn’t shatter any records (115 yards
passing, 48 rushing), he showed a repertoire of improvisational skills
that kept the vaunted Hokies’ defense frustrated. He also did so while
protecting the football and leading the Pirates to their only touchdown
in his first series under center.
Pinkney also displayed the
type of mobility that eventually allowed offensive coordinator Todd
Fitch to expand the playbook. And though Fitch had the luxury of
tutoring Pinkney throughout spring and fall camps, even he admits to
have been somewhat surprised by the playmaking ability Pinkney displayed
against the Hokies.
“At this time last year, I
thought he had some personal characteristics,” Fitch said. “I thought he
had a great charisma about him, and the players liked him and were
attracted to him as a leader. So that didn’t surprise me.
"But the physical
performance that he turned in, I think we were a little bit unsure that
we had that kind of talent there.”
To be sure, Fitch was even
more surprised by Pinkney’s performance the following week against
in-state rival North Carolina. Having earned the right to start with his
play against Tech, Pinkney led the Pirates to a thrilling 34-31 victory
with a heroic passing effort.
The QB who carried with
him the stigma that often is associated with mobile quarterbacks – great
athletes, but average passers – showed that he could hurl his team to
victory with his right arm. He did so against the Tar Heels by
completing 31 of 41 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
It was the second best
passing effort in ECU history, second only to David Garrard’s 414-yard
effort against Memphis in 1998. Pinkney’s, however, was far more
significant than the record books could capture given the setting and
On many of his 31
completions that day, Pinkney displayed the poise and pocket presence of
a seasoned veteran. When the protection broke down, he utilized his
mobility to elude rushers and extend plays, often leading to huge gains.
“The thing that I talk
about all the time for all of our quarterbacks is to have the ability to
keep the play alive,” Fitch said. “The way that the defenses play
nowadays, the way that they are aggressive, you’ve got to be able to buy
that extra tick on the clock to let a guy open up as a receiver, to
maybe avoid the rush and make that scramble with your feet just to keep
“(Patrick) has that
uncanny ability right now to have a pretty good field awareness and
vision down the field with some of his throws and yet also be a decent
Though Kass eventually
took over the starting role when the Pirates faced Central Florida,
Pinkney didn’t disappear from the offense. ECU transitioned to a
two-quarterback system, a move that enabled the staff to exploit
opponents that struggled in specific areas defensively.
Pinkney provided a
much-needed boost when Kass struggled against UAB and Memphis, and it
was the win over the Tigers during which the Pirates heavily showcased a
spread look offensively. The Pirates would again use the spread during
their 41-38 victory over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, with
Pinkney registering 119 passing yards and 53 more rushing.
Pinkney rode that
performance to a strong showing in spring practice and eventually
grabbed the No. 1 spot at the close of camp. With fall camp now
underway, Fitch says smoothing out the peaks and valleys is the next
step for his senior QB.
“He needs to be more
consistent through the course of a ballgame, through the course of a
season,” Fitch said. “Not to have some of those highs and lows, and just
stay focused on getting better everyday.
“He and Rob have played a
lot of football now. We need them to step up their level of execution
and playmaking, but yet at the same time being fundamentally sound and
protecting the ball as well as they did a year ago.”
Though Pinkney enters the
fall atop the depth chart, he didn’t separate himself from Kass to the
point where the position can’t be taken away. Kass, too, showed his
ability to lead the offense last year, and he rescued the Pirates with
his clutch play against Boise State.
Pinkney recognizes the
challenge ahead and says he feels no insecurities because of it. In
fact, he seems to embrace the competition that he will face this fall.
“That’s what I came to
school for,” Pinkney said. “Football is all about competing. It’s about
having fun. That’s what I do. I keep a smile on my face and don’t let
the pressure get to me.
“Because at the same time,
everyone has one goal, and that’s to win. That keeps me going. I know I
have my teammates who believe in me.”
A year ago at this time,
that might not have been the case. It certainly wasn’t with those
outside of the East Carolina locker room who hadn’t seen Pinkney perform
in a live-game setting.
But now the perception of
Pinkney is much different. Not only do his teammates and fans believe in
his ability as a performer, they now expect him to succeed.