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Bonesville One-on-One:
In Step with Van Eskridge

A Few Minutes with the All-Conference Stalwart
Makes It Easy to See why He Is so Respected

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


(All photos courtesy of ECU Media Relations)

He is oft referred to as “Friendly Fire” by his teammates, a moniker that might infer a recklessness. But you won’t find that in Van Eskridge, East Carolina's soft-spoken, quietly-confident all-star safety. His fierce hitting is only one aspect of why this rising senior is considered one of the best at his position in the country, but there is much more to the man who will be relied upon to step into the role of passionate leader on the ECU defense.

Eskridge took the time recently to sit down with Bonesville for a one-on-one Q & A in which he shared his thoughts about the 2009 Pirates, their goals, and his future. It is obvious that Eskridge relishes his opportunity to lead this defense and he is quite clear about his feelings about his last go-round in Purple & Gold.

Bonesville: This is it, your final season as a Pirate. You have earned a lot of glory in the form of All-Conference USA recognition, bowl appearances and victory, a better record each season, and a conference. What does this team, what do you have left to prove this season?

Van Eskridge: The goals have always been set lofty for us. A lot of teams have not achieved what we have achieved and we are happy about that. The Conference USA Championship and nine wins were great last year. But we want more and hopefully, with the schedule we play, we can get to a BCS bowl game. That is what is left to prove.

B: The talk at end of last year was how great the team was defensively and it seems that the discussion about this team still focuses on a defense that could be dominant. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses and questions marks for this season?

VE: Looking at the guys alongside of me, I’d say that the camaraderie and togetherness of the team is its strength. We are out there playing hard for Coach (Greg) Hudson and as far as the defensive backs go, we love playing for Coach (Rick) Smith. He is a hard-nosed guy and expects a lot of us. The biggest thing is our experience… we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps. As far as question marks, well, we have to replace a safety, we had two seniors there last year. We have Derek Blacknall and Levin Neal, two guys who haven’t played here much but are both very talented guys. We also have to replace (LB) Pierre Bell who played a lot and was our team leader out there who played with great, great passion.

B: You have seen and been a big part of the evolution of a very good secondary. Take a look around at the guys in the unit and share your thoughts on a few of them.

VE: First, I look at Dekota Marshall. He is a very big, very physical corner. The thing about Dekota is that he is very, very fast with great closing speed. And then I look at the other side at both Travis Simmons and Emmanuel Davis. Both of these guys have great instincts at the corner position. They have that ability to really anticipate and know whether to come up or stick and they both make plays. Both of them will be forces to reckon with in the future, too. And the two guys I mentioned before, Derek Blacknall and Levin Neal are both very talented. I am looking forward to seeing those two guys step in at safety this season.

B: How has your relationship with Coach Smith evolved over the years? What are his expectations of you now that you are an unquestioned leader on the unit?.

VE: Me and Coach Smith have a great relationship on and off the field. He has made me not only a better football player, but also a better man. He uses football to teach you life lessons. He expects me to be the voice back there, the guy who makes sure people are taking care of business and doing what they are supposed to be doing. I need to ensure that guys are being accountable and responsible for their actions. Coach Smith expects me to take care of myself, help take care of the other guys and be a role model to the younger guys in the program.

B: What kind of leader do you see yourself being?

VE: Passionate. Pierre was our guy last year. Very talented who was vocal and passionate every single down. I am always talking to the defensive backs before and after plays and in between series… I did that last season. But this season, I need to keep everyone focused. I liked to lead by my play and I believe I am a very passionate player, but I understand that I need to be vocal and ensure that what the coaches have planned is happening out on the field.

B: You have been tagged with the nickname Friendly Fire. Can you tell me about that?

VE: Oh yeah… I am not sure there was a game or a commenter where I was given the name, but I guess they say I play a little reckless out there and sometimes I hit my own guys. I just want to make the tackle. I don’t really know where the nickname comes from. I guess it’s a good thing. I have had a lot of fun with it, though.

B: When you look around the team, can you name a player or two that really commands your respect with their abilities?

VE: There are a lot of guys on this team whose abilities and talent command respect, but one guy I really, really respect on this team is a guy who was a very talented part of our backfield two years ago with Chris (Johnson) and would have been last year if an injury didn’t hold him back and that would be Dominique Lindsay. He is a talented running back and he does everything the right way. He is passionate, a team player, hard working, a leader and this is his last go-round, too. I have seen how hard he has worked to get healthy again and I expect him to have a big impact on the offense this season. He is a great football player.

B: Last year was a great year, but it could have been a very special year had it not been for an unusual number of season-ending injures. Do you felt this team has that type of potential?

VE: Yes, without a doubt I do, maybe even more than last year. Not only if we stay healthy, but also because of all the experience we gained last season, especially in the first few weeks. Having that in our minds gives us a layer of experience that we didn’t have when it was happening last year. We know the price for losing focus for even a week. I think if we use what have learned, we will be able to do more than we did last year.

B: Did you get a sense that your teammates feel the same way in the spring?

VE: This was one of the better springs we had since I have been here. There were a lot of battles between the offense and the defense. Everybody is committed to this season and the goals. Not just committed to doing what we did last year but to be better.

B: Personally, how has your perspective changed over the seasons going into this year.

VE: I am more mature as a person and a player. As a freshman you just want to play and you do not understand what it takes to work each week for that game. When you realize it is your last dance, you want to do everything, everything possible to be the best player you can be.

B: To that point, you name is starting to pop up around pre-season All-America lists and is mentioned among Top 10 in your position in the country and on NFL radar screens. Does it provide any extra motivation for you?

VE: You know, my time is winding down here at East Carolina. There is no place I would rather be. Of course, making it to the next level has always been a dream of mine, too. Talking about or thinking about it is not my main thoughts. While I am at ECU, my main focus is on helping ECU win football games. The recognition does motivate me some, honestly, because it makes me work that much harder to show that it is deserved and I can live up to it.

B: Do you believe that everyone on this team believes they can line up with anybody on the schedule and play them straight-up?

VE: I do… absolutely. Each one us believes that. Not only anyone on our schedule, but any team in the country.

B: From your perspective, what is the biggest key for the team to be successful and reach its goals?

VE: The key to me is that we come out every Saturday and play our best football game. We don’t necessarily have to play perfect every weekend, but we must come prepared and take no one lightly?

B: What indicators will you look for in the Appalachian State game that will cue you in to the fact that the team is focused and good?

VE: The results. If we are 10 points better than them, then at the end of the game, we should have won by 10 points. If we are 30 points better, we should win by 30 points. That will show me we are for real.

B: Last year, often times, the defense had to step up and carry this team. Do you believe this defense can do it again this season?

VE: We do what is asked of us and what needs to be done. If our offense scores 16 points, then we hold the opposing team to 15 or less. That is our job. But I expect our offense to be much more productive this season.

B: Last season, the defensive backs produced an awful lot of turnovers. How big a part of everything you guys do is creating turnovers?

VE: Creating turnovers is the biggest thing we talk about as a defense. We get everyone breaking to the ball and have a lot of chances for big hits and turnovers. In practice, any ball hits the field, we are there to pick it up and have the habit of having a football in our hands. It is very much a focus for the defensive backs.

B: This defense has garnered a reputation for being ultra-physical. Where does that attitude come from?

VE: I like to think it comes from how we practice. We tackle every day in practice, not just when we are working against the offense, but in drills also, full gear or just in shoulder pads. We tackle and I think it is one of the biggest reasons why we are so physical. More than that, it is just in the nature of each guy on this defense to want to hit. Coach Smith will tell you right away, even during recruiting. If you can’t tackle, you can’t play in his backfield.

B: Think back to when you made your decision to come to East Carolina. Did you have any dream of how it would have unfolded for you?

VE: I didn’t really think that far down the road back then. I knew Coach Smith was coming in and that he was a great coach. My high school coach told me it would be a good fit for me and he was right. It has been a great experience for me at ECU. I know I have learned a few things while here.

B: Talk to me about your relationships with Coach Skip Holtz and Coach Hudson?

VE: Coach Holtz, you know he is a well-respected coach. He is a real player’s coach, too. Every time he talks to us, he tells it straight. Coach Hud… we have a good relationship. He likes to joke around but is serious when he needs to be. We definitely have his personality on the defense.

B: You seem very much in control of your life on and off the field. Does it frustrate you when players spin out of control and get into trouble off the field?

VE: It is frustrating, particularly when you have a few players who know better and know you are counting on them. You can’t hold a guy’s hand and you can’t make them do things right. The only thing you can do is try to support them and help keep them up and put your trust and depend on those guys who are there and doing things right.

B: When you need to get away from football and clear the mind,,. what do you do?

VE: When I need to clear my head, I typically sit alone and listen to music that is relevant to what I am experiencing at the time.

B: What is your hope in terms of the legacy you leave at ECU?

VE: Whenever I leave here, I would love it if the ECU fans, when they think of me, think of a player who played with great passion and put it all on the line every single time the ball was snapped. That I was guy who loved his time at ECU and that it showed in how I played the game.

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08/30/2009 02:28:32 AM


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