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Pirate Notebook No. 365
Monday, December 1, 2008

Denny O'Brien

Youth movement bodes bright future

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 11.30.08)

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

This Week's Harris, AP and USA Today Polls

This Week's Composite BCS Standings

Other Recent Items

O'Brien: Youth movement bodes bright future
BCS Standings
Harris/AP/Coaches Polls
O'Brien: Harris Poll ballot
BVL: Pirates reverse fortunes against Winthrop
BVL: ECU, Tulsa to Tangle for Title
Game Center: ECU 53, UTEP 21
Box Score / Statistics
BVL Audio: Replay Skip Holtz post-game
Talk FM: Replay Post-game Call-in Show
O'Brien: Seniors raised the bar
Myatt: Pirates hit stride for C-USA final
Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the Game
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule
ECU Schedule, Scores, Attendance
Myatt: ECU counts injuries... and blessings
BVL: Pirates foil VCU in overtime

It’s no big surprise that East Carolina is representing the East Division in Saturday’s Conference USA championship game. Many preseason forecasters projected a title game appearance for the battle-tested Pirates.

But that was before Pitt Memorial Hospital opened a new orthopedic wing exclusively for the East Carolina football program and serviced many of the Pirates’ frontline performers.

The active roster of Pirates that will arrive in Tulsa Saturday would have been picked no higher than third in C-USA’s East division, if that. On paper the current depth chart would have looked more like a five or six-win bunch – not one that has gone 5-1 since the midpoint of the season.

Truthfully, today’s Pirates probably wouldn’t have been competitive with Virginia Tech or West Virginia to open the 2008 campaign. The group that defeated that celebrated duo was filled with veterans who have experienced spotlight games against high-profile opponents. Many of those seasoned stalwarts were sidelined when ECU pounded Texas-El Paso 53-21 on Friday.

Yet it is the no-name backups who have done most of the heavy lifting during the bulk of the conference schedule.

“There is a lot of talent in place in this football program right now, especially with a lot of the underclassmen,” ECU head coach Skip Holtz said. “They just don’t have a lot of experience.

“I just hate that so many of the seniors have been injured. You do senior day out there and you look at how many guys are in street clothes. We came into the (UTEP) game with 17 players out who have started a game for us. What it is doing is giving these underclassmen an opportunity to get in there and play. I think it speaks volumes for the future of this program.”

It’s a future that is brighter than anyone could have expected coming into the season. With so many upperclassmen lining the Pirates’ early season depth chart, East Carolina would have headed into the 2009 season with too many unknowns to be considered a serious title contender.

Not anymore. The Pirates’ long list of casualties has forced an early unveiling of many of the program’s future stars, and slowly they are beginning to showcase their talent.

It should be noted that Holtz has been mindful over the past several weeks not to give them too much to digest. That conservative approach has limited mistakes and assured the Pirates of an opportunity to win games late.

“We’ve been talking the last couple of weeks about the fact that we’ve been playing really close to the vest,” Holtz said. “We’ve been playing conservative and the young guys have been feeling their way a little bit.

“They’ve taken a lot of steps now. You talk about Darryl Freeney and Joe Womack. They are both freshman. They’ve been playing now for about four or five weeks. They are starting to gain some confidence. You can see them growing up as this year has gone on.”

Weeks ago Freeney was a role player who provided spot duty to relieve ECU’s most touted offensive superstar, Dwayne Harris. Saturday against UTEP, he emerged as a legitimate playmaker that will seriously push Harris and Jamar Bryant for playing time next year.

Unless you closely follow recruiting, you probably never heard Womack’s name until his redshirt was lifted prior to the Virginia game. In six weeks the freshman receiver has emerged as a serious deep threat that is a mismatch for almost any corner in man coverage situations.

That goes without mentioning the impact of running back Norman Whitley – fourth on the depth chart when the season began – or the emergence of offensive linemen Steven Baker and Willie Smith. That trio wasn’t a part of the equation early but now factors greatly into the Pirates’ offensive success.

The future is no less bright on defense. Underclassmen Emanuel Davis (freshman), Travis Simmons (sophomore), and Cliff Perryman (freshman) all have cracked the starting lineup, while several other freshmen have worked their way into the regular rotation.

When East Carolina makes its first appearance in the C-USA title game, it will do so as a shell of the team that was predicted to make it there. That the Pirates made it there is largely because ECU’s staff has proven resourceful in reshuffling the deck to compensate for injuries.

It’s also because those same coaches were astute with their decisions along the recruiting trail. Their investments are showing some unexpected early returns – and paving the way to a profitable future.

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12/01/2008 02:25:24 AM

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