College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Thursday, July 10, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
It’s less than a month until East Carolina starts football
practice and then it’s less than a month to the season opener. Practice
starts Aug. 7 and the John Thompson coaching era opens three weeks and two
days later at Cincinnati with
a noon kickoff on ESPN.
It’s easy to look at the Pirates’ 2003 schedule and possibly
underestimate the date with the Bearcats. After all, ECU has a commanding
12-2 lead in the series.
The games that seem to jump off the page on this year’s
schedule are the trip to meet national power Miami in the Orange Bowl on
Sept. 13 and the first ever appearance in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium by North
Carolina on Oct. 11.
Despite the glitz of matching up with Miami in
a Saturday night game on ESPN2
and the depth of feeling involved in hosting the Tar Heels, the Bearcats
represent a huge opportunity for ECU to make some important statements.
— National television on a national holiday (Labor Day)
means significant exposure, which has potential rewards in recognition and
— It’s a Conference USA game so the winner moves atop the
— Cincinnati beat the Pirates 42-26 to end the 2002 season,
which was followed shortly by Steve Logan’s dismissal as football coach. A
win at Cincinnati immediately validates a turnaround in the program under
— Winning breeds confidence and ECU would gain some needed
momentum for its first home game with West Virginia just five days later.
— In some expansion models for the Big East, Cincinnati and
East Carolina are on a rung below Louisville in terms of perceived
desirability. A win would have value in the big and fluid picture of
potential conference affiliation.
“I mean that’s a big game for so many reasons,” Thompson
said. “With everybody coming in here, everything that we’re doing — that’s
in the back of our mind. It’s a big game. It’s not going to make or break
our season but it’s an important game. It’s real important.”
furor over conference affiliation
has concealed the approach of the upcoming season. That’s not the case on
the second floor of the Ward Sports Medicine Building where the football
offices are located or the nearby facilities where players have been going
through summer workouts while the temperature and humidity readings look
like the score of an NBA game.
quarterback Gino Guidugli,
who threw for 3,543 yards and 22 touchdowns during a 7-7 season in 2002. The
Bearcats went 6-2 in C-USA.
“Probably the best quarterback in the league,” Thompson
said. “Their offense revolves around him. That’s where you start when you
begin to attack an offense. You start with what the quarterback can or can’t
do. He’s got a good arm and he knows how to win.”
The Pirates may need a quick refresher course on how to win
but Thompson said he has been impressed by the capacity for work by the
program’s personnel this summer.
“I’ve never been around a better summer,” Thompson said.
“Our guys have organized their workouts. They’ve been out there. Jim Whitten
(strength and conditioning coach) has done a great job. It happens all
across the country but they were telling me our guys — one day last week —
there was a storm coming and they were supposed to work out at 5 o’clock.
"... A couple of the guys said we got to cancel our passing
drill. We still had 40 guys that said we’re going out there. They moved it
up an hour and went out there and did it.
“Those guys are getting better. There’s some leadership that’s evolving.
They’re out there getting better every day. They’re out there playing the
game. They’re competing. They’re doing it 100 percent on their own. I know
people will raise their eyebrows at that and say, ‘Yeah, yeah sure.’ It’s
100 percent on their own.”
Thompson also feels he has two good quarterbacks at ECU.
Paul Troth and Desmond Robinson will enter preseason practice with the issue
of who will start at quarterback still unresolved.
“We didn’t come out of there with a clearcut winner in the
spring,” Thompson said. “Both of those guys separated themselves from the
rest of the pack. Sakeen Wright — we’re going to move him to wide receiver.
He may really help us there. We’ve got 29 practices before we play
Cincinnati and we’ll just see what happens.
“We’re not necessarily saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be a two
quarterback team,’ but right now it wouldn’t be fair to our team or either
one of them to say, ‘All right, you’re the guy.’ Neither one of them have
done anything to fall behind. They just haven’t separated themselves. So we
just keep on going. We’re going to need both of ’em throughout the course of
the year, no doubt.
“Both of them are going to play. ... At this point I’d say
both of ’em would play against Cincinnati. How much, who’ll start — will all
work itself out in August.”
And then, Sept. 1, the Pirates hit the springboard into the
2003 season at Cincinnati.
“If we play well and we execute, good things happen, then
obviously the confidence level goes up,” Thompson said. “If we don’t (win),
that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be a good team. It just means we’ve got
a whole lot more work to keep doing. That’s just where we are. I understand
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