College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, December 1, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Seniors refused to bow to
John Thompson is no longer a first-year football coach at
East Carolina. The Pirates finished a 1-11 season on Saturday but were a
team that made progress during 2003 despite the won-loss ledger.
“We are not what we wanted to be in terms of success with our
record but there’s been a lot of positive things with this football team,”
Thompson said. “ ... We all grew from this situation. Now, I don’t want to
grow like this ever again — it’s not something that you want to go through.
But we’re going to look back and it’s going to make us all better. It
“We’re a tougher team. We’re better people because of what
we’ve been through.”
ECU’s seniors kept the team from fragmenting under adversity.
“The people that need to be commended on that are the
seniors,” Thompson said. “They’re the ones that went through the toughest
changes, the toughest transition and they’re the guys that held this team
together and kept fighting. They kept doing it every week.
“Instead of them backing off and saying, ‘You know what? This
is really not for me. This is not how I envisioned this. This is not what I
wanted.’ They kept fighting and kept going. Instead of going to practice and
just getting through it, they went out there and got better. That says so
much about what went on.”
The seniors indeed kept their focus on football rather than
“I’m going to look back and say we stuck together,” said
senior Terrance Copper, who finished the season with a school record 87
catches in 2003. “The biggest thing is that this team stuck together through
the controversy and the coaching change. I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed being
around this team.”
Copper said the team’s cohesion went back to Thompson’s
preseason camp when the players stayed at the City Hotel in Greenville and
went by bus to practice on campus.
“That made us bond a lot more and even though we did a lot of
losing, we’re still real close together,” Copper said. “I don’t know how we
managed to do that but we did. That’s a big accomplishment to me. The
coaching staff — they’re very exciting. They’re a pleasure to be around.”
Defensive lineman Damane Duckett had a unique perspective on
the Pirates’ plight.
“I say, ‘I played for the best team with the worst record,’
because every game we’ve gone out and gotten better,” Duckett said. “We
don’t let teams run over us. We just go out there and strive to get better.
... Once the young kids learn that you’re going to keep pushing it — they’re
not going to give up just because the season isn’t going well.
"That’s just leading by example. You keep doing that and
it’ll just be known as a tradition.”
Offensive tackle Brian Rimpf experienced highs and lows
during his ECU career. His first three seasons in the program the Pirates
went to bowl games. The last two years, ECU was a combined 5-19.
“It seems like a couple of weeks ago, I was a redshirt
freshman,” Rimpf said. “It really has gone by fast. I enjoyed every minute
of it. I’ve got no regrets. I’ve had a great career — made some great
friends, played for some great coaches.
“This season obviously we don’t have the record we would like
to have. It’s not the record I would like to have my senior year but this
team has really come together. I made a lot of great friends and we really
are like a family. I’m going to keep in contact with a lot of these guys.
You know, remain friends.”
Receiver Richard Hourigan was almost mystified by the team’s
“I think it’s really almost unbelievable that we can be such
a tight unit here and stay together like we have and only win one game,”
said Hourigan, who walked on and earned a scholarship before the 2003
season. “I don’t really understand completely why it’s like that but we
really looked forward to every single week and every single game and felt
like we had a chance to win. It was something special.”
Fullback Vonta Leach said, “It ain’t gonna be no fun when the
rabbit gets the gun,” before his senior season.
“The rabbit didn’t ever get the gun,” Leach said as the
season ended. “We had a lot of hopes and high aspirations for our team.
Obviously we didn’t get the job done as far as winning as a team. But this
team came out here every week and we competed week in and week out. I think
we grew a lot with the team coming together. The coaches got to know the
players better. ... I think the program is headed in the right direction.”
With Art Brown returning from a knee injury next season, ECU
will have two 1,000 yards rushers with Brown joining Marvin Townes, who ran
for 1,128 yards as a junior this season.
Patrick Dosh, who transferred from Florida, will enter the
competition at quarterback in the spring. Paul Troth would not comment on
the possibility that he will not return as a player in the Pirates program
after a 38-21 loss to Southern Miss on Saturday.
But Troth, who would be a senior next season, has probably
figured that he doesn’t fit into future plans at ECU. He fell behind junior
Desmond Robinson and freshman James Pinkney on the depth chart this year. He
would clearly have to win the job in the spring to play — something he
didn’t do last spring. If everything were to be even in the quarterback
evaluations, he no doubt figures the staff would go with the younger player.
The Pirates also have some significant voids to fill on the
offensive line before the 2004 season opener. Unless television intervenes
with schedule changes, ECU will open at West Virginia and play the first
home game the following week against Wake Forest. There will be a matchup
with N.C. State on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Charlotte in addition
to eight Conference USA games.
Now Thompson will turn his attention to recruiting and
evaluating his first season at ECU before spring practice opens Feb. 24.
“I want to get more involved, football wise,” Thompson said.
“I didn’t manage my time as well as I would have liked to. I was doing too
many things non-football related that I felt like had to be done.”
The program will adjust, move on and, hopefully, improve. The
contributions of this year’s seniors shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Vonta said for us not to feel sorry for the seniors,” said
Townes, who ran for 89 yards on 17 carries against Southern Miss. “They’re
the only ones leaving. We’re still here and we can do something about it.”
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