Holtz’s Most Talented Class Yet Moves On

Bonesville says “Thanks for the Memories”
to East Carolina's Graduating Seniors

By Ron Cherubini
©2009 Bonesville

Without hesitation, Skip Holtz will tell you that from top-to-bottom, last season's senior class was the most talented bunch to come through the program during his tenure as head football coach. And though he won’t say it specifically, you get the sense that the team’s 9-5 record was merely a shadow of what could have been had the Pirates not endured an insane number of career-ending and season-disrupting injuries that occurred during the campaign.

“If everybody stayed healthy, far and away this was the most talented class since I have been here… it’s not even close,” Holtz said, his words tailing off as if he were thinking about what may have been. “When you talk about (Marcus) Hands, (Khalif) Mitchell, (Zack) Slate, (Quentin) Cotton, (Pierre) Bell, (Davon) Drew, (Brandon) Setzer – you can go through all the names – they were the most talented senior class we have had. But the unfortunate part is that eight of them were not able to finish the season.”

Add to that eight, losing Dwayne Harris, Jamar Bryant and Jonathan Williams for two thirds of the season, and you can see why Holtz finds it hard to contain his feelings about the type of season it could have been had the team that lined up and put beat downs on Virginia Tech and West Virginia in back-to-back weekends could have stayed intact for all 14 games.

“Yes, it was a very talented class,” he said. “A very frustrated class and a very frustrating season.”

Still, beyond the pain Holtz feels for the guys who saw their Pirate careers cut short in what should have been their blaze of glory, the coach zeroed in on what this class meant to the program going forward.

“The standard of what we are trying to do and the productivity of these guys is what, I think, will be missed the most,” Holtz said. “This group taught us about teamwork and that it is not about individualism even when you are individuals with a lot of talent. Instead, it’s about giving up individualism for the team. I think this class was a great example of that. I told them, ‘When you lose football games, you have to deal with problems, but when you win football games you still have to deal with problems, they are just different problems.’

“This senior class really has gone a long way in teaching us how to handle some of the highs and lows when you look at the success we had coming out of the shoot at 2-0 with the two teams we beat. It speaks volumes for their talents but it speaks even more to their personalities the way they competed in the second half of the season to win the championship.”

As hard as it was for many of the injured seniors to watch the team go on without them, for the most part, these leaders stay engaged with the team, trying to help in any way they could despite the personal pain they were feeling for not being out there themselves.

“These young men were very supportive (after their injuries),” Holtz said. “But the hard part is they know they can’t play and being around the guys was painful. It just about killed Quentin to be there and deal with that (void). Like the other seniors, he was very supportive but it was very hard on them. Stanley was there every day, too, but it is hard to be vocal – even when you have been in the past – because you don’t feel like you are paying the same price as the guys on the field.”

This class and its leadership were hard to miss. Clearly, losing your defensive heart and soul in Cotton was tough, but then another senior, Bell, stepped it up to carry on the torch. When the team needed an offensive identity, Simmons would put his body on the line and at times, would will his way to a first down when it was needed. When Lee was lost for the season, Drew basically took over the entire pass-catching responsibility for the Pirates down the stretch. The seniors left their mark as leaders without question.

While Drew and several others will make runs at the NFL, most of the seniors have played their last football. Holtz sees some football in the future, though, for a few others, should they opt for an alternative route.

“There are some young men in this class who would be tremendous coaches,” Holtz said. “Guys who could give back an awful lot and bring quite a bit to a team.”
And while he was very close to this senior class, the coach admits that some of them really bonded tightly with him.

“There are some kids that get close to your heart and it is really unfair to single guys out, but when I look guys like Davon Drew, T.J. Lee, Zack Slate, Quentin Cotton and J.J. Millbrook, I would say there are a lot of special players, but to see those five and the way they have grown as men and football players, they have really touched my life,” Holtz said.

Reflecting on the rash of injuries that cut down the senior class in a way not seen before in his coaching career, Holtz looked for the silver lining in the sadness.

“I have never had a year like this one before from an injury standpoint,” he said. “I know it is part of this game, but when seniors are getting injured and having their careers cut short, it is hard to deal with, it really is. Not only for the young man but for the football program because you are replacing a guy who has been in your program and playing for four or five years with a guy who is just starting out. (All of a sudden,) we are calling names like Daryl Freeney and Joe Womack, guys who are new to the program.

“It does benefit us for this coming year, when you talk about the guys getting injured like Khalif Mitchell, Marcus Hands, and Brandon Setzer, so guys like Scotty Robinson are playing more. Then Hewitt goes down and that gave a guy like Emanuel Davis an opportunity to step up. When Cotton goes down, ... a young man like Chris Mattocks makes the transition from safety to linebacker and a young man Cliff Perryman gets the chance to step up. To see Terrance Campbell and D.J. Scott step up at tackle for Stanley Bryant and then to see those wide receivers we mentioned… this will pay big dividends in the future. But you do have to wonder if some of these seniors could have stayed healthy for the season.”

It goes by fast for a coach who must focus on the future, not the past. Still, Holtz says this class was indeed a special one, one that he saw from its arrival to its departure.

So, to the young men who were the main contributors in the resurrection of the ECU program, thanks for those 29 victories, the three bowl appearances, the Hawaii Bowl championship and the Pirates first-ever Conference USA title! Thanks for giving us back Pirate football!

Use the drop-down menu at the top of the page to review each senior's career.