Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Put your ad message in front of 1,000's and 1,000's of Pirate fans. Call 252.637.2944 for flexible options & rates.





Pirate Notebook No. 363
Monday, November 17, 2008

Denny O'Brien


Harmonious bond in Music City

Editor’s Note: Denny O’Brien recently returned from a special assignment in Nashville, where he spent time with former East Carolina running backs Earnest Byner and Chris Johnson at the Tennessee Titans training facility. Look for that exclusive feature in the December Pirates’ Chest.

A cutaway section from the front cover of the
forthcoming December 2008 Pirates' Chest.

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Harris BCS Poll

For the third year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

A senior columnist for Bonesville and The Pirates' Chest Magazine, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. View a list of the Harris Poll panel members on this week's national polls page.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 11.16.08)

  1. Texas Tech
  2. Alabama
  3. Texas
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Florida
  6. Southern Cal
  7. Penn State
  8. Utah
  9. Boise State
10. Ohio State
11. Oklahoma State
12. Missouri
13. Georgia
14. Texas Christian
15. Ball State
16. Michigan State
17. Brigham Young
18. LSU
19. Oregon State
20. Oregon
21. Maryland
22. Cincinnati
23. Pittsburgh
24. North Carolina
25. Boston College

This Week's Harris, AP and USA Today Polls

This Week's Composite BCS Standings

Other Recent Items

BVL: Pirates dismantle St. Andrews
O'Brien: Harmonious bond in Music City
BCS Standings
Harris/AP/Coaches Polls
O'Brien: Harris Poll ballot
BVL: Pirates take Coker in hoops opener
Myatt: Challenge waiting at "The Rock"

Skip Holtz Game Week 10 Press Conference
Bailey: Pirates rule East Division — for now

If East Carolina ever constructs a Mount Rushmore of running backs, Earnest Byner and Chris Johnson are shoo-ins for enshrinement.

Byner, who starred for ECU from 1980-83, and Johnson, the Pirates' most recent rusher of national prominence, were featured weapons during East Carolina careers that prepped them for NFL stardom.

Byner went on to a 14-year professional career that was decorated with two trips to the Pro Bowl. Johnson, the AFC’s second-leading rusher heading into Sunday and a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, is destined for his first trip to Honolulu.

Few projected this type of output so early for Johnson, especially in an offense that was built around a plodding, between-the-tackles rushing attack. But Johnson has proven the perfect fit in a Tennessee Titans system that desperately needed a playmaker to complement its stable of bigger backs.

While the draft day pundits squawked at the Titans’ first round selection of Johnson, Byner, now his position coach at Tennessee, isn’t surprised by his output.

“What he did during the (2007) season really spoke volumes about the type of player that he had the potential to be, even on this level,” Byner said. “East Carolina did a lot of things with him, had him out in the slot, out wide, inside and outsize zone plays. So, he did a lot.

“I watched the Boise State game, the bowl game last year. What I saw was a guy who got more yards inside than I have seen before. It showed that he had power.”

It wasn’t until his senior year that Johnson truly shined. Previous to that point, he was characterized mostly as a speedster who couldn’t find a consistent niche in the ECU offense, shuffling between running back and receiver and from starter to afterthought.

Following his junior season, many inside the press box and in the stands felt Pirates coach Skip Holtz should permanently move Johnson to receiver to best utilize his open field speed. It proved frustrating for Johnson, who was intent on winning back his starting position in the ECU backfield.

“Back then, there was a lot of frustration,” Johnson said. “I had a turf toe injury, and that caused me to play a little bit of H-back and in the slot a little bit.

“Anytime when you’re a player, you know that a lot of people are supporting you. But a lot of the fans didn’t have my back. A lot of people really didn’t believe in me. Then the next year when my toe got better, people believed in me again. I used that as motivation.”

Johnson used that motivation to shatter many ECU records and propel himself from a mid-to-late round draft pick to the 24th overall selection. And you couldn’t have written a better scenario than to place him on a team with a proven complementary back, the NFL’s longest-tenured head coach, and a fellow ECU alumnus as his position coach.

For Byner, the opportunity to tutor a fellow Pirate has been special.

“It’s fantastic,” Byner said. “I’ve been enjoying him. We talk about so many things about East Carolina. He tells jokes to me. He cracks on me about breaking some of my records, that I don’t have any records anymore at East Carolina.

“Also, to be able to play the position that I played and do a lot of the things that I did in my career. I told him two weeks ago, ‘Man, you just don’t know, but you’ve got the perfect coach for you,’ just bragging to him a little about myself. But the reality is that I’ve done a lot of the things that he’s been asked to do. He’s from East Carolina, and there is nothing more special than that. It gives us an automatic bond as well.”

That bond has served Johnson quite well.

“It’s really special to have someone who went to the same school coaching you,” Johnson said. “He came from the same place that I came from. He knows how hard it is coming from a school that isn’t as high-profile as others.

"And as a coach, he’s been in the league for so long that he has a lot of great tips.”

It’s advice that Byner doesn’t dish out blindly. He speaks from experience. Now he hopes that Johnson can draw from that experience en route to a career that rivals his own longevity.

If Johnson proves as durable as his coach, he might just sprint his way to the Hall of Fame. And Byner is more than willing to help lead the way.

Send a message to Denny O'Brien.

Dig into Denny O'Brien's archives.

11/17/2008 12:53:12 AM

©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.