(All photos courtesy of ECU Media
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.
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
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
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
B: What kind of
leader do you see yourself being?
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
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.
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
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.
how has your perspective changed over the seasons going into this
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?
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?
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
B: Last season,
the defensive backs produced an awful lot of turnovers. How big a
part of everything you guys do is creating turnovers?
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
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
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
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.