College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Thursday, May 9, 2002
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer
The theft heard 'round the league
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Dwight Henry made a play and possibly redirected the future of Conference
Henry, a former East Carolina player, is a defensive specialist for the
Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League. He has 11.5 tackles, one
interception and one pass break-up for the Storm, which hopes to get off the
slide of an 0-3 start as it hosts the Chicago Rush on Friday night.
The AFL is a variation of the game played on a field 50 yards in length,
not counting the end zones. It’s essentially eight-man football with six
players going both ways. Each unit has two specialists.
It’s fun football with lots of offense and final scores often on the
order of those in basketball — or ECU’s 2001 trip to the GMAC Bowl. Chicago,
for instance, is coming off a 71-59 victory over Grand Rapids.
Henry’s team played in Raleigh on Saturday night, losing in a relatively
low scoring affair by a 46-36 margin to the Carolina Cobras at the
Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The AFL’s most-celebrated alumnus is quarterback Kurt Warner of the St.
Louis Rams. The ownership of the Cobras includes Roddy Jones, a 1958 East
Carolina graduate, and his children Rob, Christi and Russ.
The elder Jones has been a big roller in construction and real estate.
His construction interests were vital in the addition of the upper deck at
Henry is the only ECU player in the AFL, according to C-USA officials.
Cincinnati has the most players in the league with eight.
Henry, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. is no relation to Miami Dolphins
draftee Leonard Henry, who completed his eligibility in 2001 by rushing for
1,432 yards for ECU in his senior season.
Dwight Henry was a speedy free safety for the Pirates, running a
4.36-second 40-yard dash. He also used his ability in track, in which he was
a member of the Colonial Athletic Association’s 4x400 meter relay champions
Henry played from 1993-95 for the Pirates in football and sat out in 1996
as he recovered from a knee injury. He had a shining moment in a 45-31 win
at Louisville in 1997, a game in which ECU trailed 31-14 at the half. His
98-yard interception return for a touchdown was a huge swing in the game.
The Cardinals were in position to score in Louisville’s final game at
Redbirds Stadium. But Henry blunted the drive with his pick of a Chris
Redman pass and drastically pivoted the game’s momentum as he raced down the
sideline in front of the Pirates’ bench.
ECU used the spark to score 31 unanswered points.
That return may have changed the face of Conference USA football. It was
the turning point as the Cardinals lost a game they were poised to win in
their exit to Papa John’s Stadium, which was under construction at the time.
Some Louisville fans were livid over the Cardinals’ collapse in the
aftermath of the game, verbally blasting coach Ron Cooper on his way to the
locker room following the loss.
The Cards finished 1-10 that season and 0-6 in C-USA. The frustration of
that defeat and the disclosure that topless girls had appeared at a golf
function that Cooper had organized for boosters resulted in his dismissal
following the 1997 season.
The Cards hired John L. Smith from Utah State to initiate their
rebuilding effort and Louisville has become the premier program in the
league under his direction. Louisville has had four straight winning seasons
and won the last two C-USA championships under his guidance.
With quarterback Dave Ragone returning to lead next season’s team, the
Cardinals will likely be the team to beat again in 2002.
The power structure of the C-USA in football today might have been a
different story if a Redman pass on Nov. 1, 1997 hadn’t wound up in Henry’s
clutches. Cooper might have bought some time with a win over ECU. The
program might not have hired Smith, who signed a long-term contract with the
Cardinals last season.
Things might have been different.
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John Manuel of Baseball America said that East Carolina has put in a bid
to host a baseball regional in the NCAA Tournament.
Wilson’s Fleming Stadium proved an exceptional site last season. But even
if the Pirates aren’t rewarded with a bid, it’s possible that ECU would be
placed at a regional in the state.
Manuel noted that Wake Forest and North Carolina have also submitted
bids. The Deacons would use Ernie Shore Stadium adjacent to Groves Stadium,
Wake’s football facility, because Hooks Stadium on campus doesn’t have
The success the Pirates experienced as a host last season could possibly
earn them a host role even if ECU isn’t a No. 1 seed for the fourth straight
year. The NCAA would like the aspect the Pirates present in terms of
generating gate receipts.
There’s still some work to be done for ECU in terms of enhancing its
post-season status in its remaining regular season games. There are key two
league series — at Southern Miss this weekend and at home against Louisville
the following weekend, plus a midweek game at UNC-Wilmington on May 15, that
are big opportunities for the Pirates to pump up that very important ratings
LeClair notes... Sources say that ECU baseball coach Keith LeClair has
been released from Pitt Memorial Hospital where he was admitted in mid-April
for symptom’s relating to Lou Gehrig’s disease. A tracheotomy was performed
on LeClair, which allows him to use a portable ventilator.
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Let’s preface the following by saying that it is unconfirmed rumor at
this point and that efforts to confirm or dispel it have not been
That said, word has it that former ECU defensive coordinator Paul Jette
has returned to Greenville after one season on the Baylor coaching staff.
Supposedly, he is working for prominent Pirates booster Walter Williams.
The speculation has it that Jette will return to the ECU coaching staff
and work with the secondary, a move that will be accommodated by some
shifting of assignments among those presently on staff.
Again, that’s all strictly rumor at this point. It may be utter nonsense
or it may be the genesis of an attempt to remedy the poorest pass defense in
C-USA last season.
Even fancier digs
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ECU offensive tackle Brian Rimpf, a first team All-Conference USA
selection in 2001 who is on the 2002 Lombardi Award watch list, had an
opportunity to visit the Pirates’ new strength and conditioning facility
“It’s awesome in there,” Rimpf said. “It will be nice to work out in
there and see out on the field. That will let you see what you’re working
for — to play your best out there for the hometown crowd.”
Rimpf visited North Carolina’s weight room when he was in high school and
was impressed, but...
“Ours is going to be a lot bigger now,” he said. “And I think it’s
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