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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 18, 2007

By Al Myatt

Holtz & Co. shift gears from 2006 to 2007

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Skip Holtz is busy on the recruiting trail, seeing players who can help East Carolina continue the resurgence in college football so thankfully received by the Pirate fan base over the last two seasons.

Holtz was accompanied by defensive line coach Donnie Thompson as he made a series of stops to see potential performers in purple on Tuesday.

"The next three weeks are going to be a little bit crazy, traveling and doing all that stuff you have to do," said the Pirate skipper.

Holtz has had some time to gain some perspective on the 2006 season and the trip to the Bowl in Birmingham as well as plan ahead for the program's continued development.

Apart from a 24-7 loss to South Florida, Holtz felt the inaugural "Pizza Bowl" at Legion Field was a good experience.

"It was a first class bowl," Holtz said. "They did a great job putting it on, especially for being a first year bowl. It was a great opportunity for us to line up and play against a Big East opponent. It was a great reward for our seniors who had worked so hard and put so much into this for us to get to where we are right now.

"It was also a great building block for the future because of all the practice we got in. Probably the only regret that I have is that we didn't play better as a football team. I wish we had been able to put a little better foot forward. I don't think we put our best effort out there on the field. That's probably my only regret.

"Everything else I thought was a home run."

An early turnover appeared to set the wrong tone for the Bucs in the bowl matchup.

"I definitely don't think it helped us," Holtz said. "There was a couple of things that happened early. Obviously, the second play when you fumble ... then three plays run in the game and you're down 7-0. That's not the type of start we wanted. South Florida is a very good football team and they're not a team that you can spot a lot of points to."

Holtz isn't sure if his players may have had some jitters. None of the Pirates had ever played in a bowl. The Bulls got their first bowl experience in a 14-0 loss to N.C. State in Charlotte in 2005 and appeared to be motivated to atone for that defeat.

"Whether we were nervous, whether we were too tight, I don't know, but we made some uncharacteristic mistakes," Holtz said. "A bad snap. I mean, heck, I don't believe we've had a fumbled snap all year. All of a sudden you get in a bowl game and the second play, it's a bad snap and rolling around down there on the ground.

"We've had some bad snaps but we've been able to control it. This was one we couldn't even control. We made some mistakes. There's no doubt that affected us but not that play alone. We made a few mistakes in the first half and were in too big of a hole to climb back out of.

"We didn't play a very good game in the second half. We moved the ball around a little bit but we weren't very effective in the red zone. When you look at it — turnovers and red zone — if we could have held onto the ball and scored when we got in the red zone, that would have been a heck of a game."

One silver lining is that the quarterbacking situation of the future may have gotten some definition in Birmingham. Obviously, James Pinkney has led the program through some difficult times and he departs having gotten the Pirates turned around in his senior season with some great career numbers.

But Rob Kass, playing after Pinkney was banged up in the bowl game, had an effort that helped answer some questions about the void Pinkney's departure creates. Kass completed 10 of 19 attempts without an interception for 138 yards.

"Rob did a very nice job stepping in there and getting the most playing time he's had," Holtz said. "I thought he responded very positively. He went in there and he played very well."

The Pirates played in jerseys adorned with their names — just for the bowl game.

"We will not wear names on the back of the jerseys next season," said the ECU coach. "Those will remain off. When we win a bowl game, we'll wear (names) the next year."

The Pirates will have a degree of anonymity against a high profile schedule in 2007 that includes North Carolina and N.C. State in Greenville.

"It's going to be exciting," he said. "I mean I know the electricity in the atmosphere that was at home against West Virginia and the Virginia game, and even the Memphis and Marshall games and the way the Pirate Nation supported this program with the crowds that came out at home were awesome.

"We set a single season attendance record and it was really exciting to see the way the people supported the program. When you went to N.C. State, to see the electricity at N.C. State and to know that you're having that type of electricity — not once, but twice — at Greenville. It's a great opportunity for East Carolina, for its fan base, to really put on a big time environment and I'm really looking forward to it."

The Pirate Nation might not be as excited about a schedule next season that also includes trips to Virginia Tech and West Virginia as well as the demands of Conference USA if ECU hadn't gotten things turned around from a 1-3 start in 2006.

"We had talked about being more talented than we were a year ago, we just didn't know if we would be able to be a better football team than we were a year ago," Holtz said. "A lot of that was because of our youth and our inexperience. A lot of that youth and inexperience played early in the season against Navy, UAB, West Virginia.

"Playing in so many of those games early really was a huge asset. To watch 'em get better as each week went on just excites me for the future. As a football team it would have been real easy to kind of throw their arms up in the air and say, 'You know what? We're not doing very well. Boy, wait 'til next year.'

"The football team started to mature. They started to age. Some of the younger players stepped in and were a huge part of our success.

"When you look at the way that defense improved as the year went on, when you looked at the Scotty Robinsons and the Zach Slates, the C.J. Wilsons and so many guys who had not played previously — Rod Wilson, Nick Johnson, Quentin Cotton — a lot of those guys who had not played very much.

"To see them step up and to see the key role they played as the year progressed, they were a huge part of our success and to know that they come back is really exciting for me as a football coach."

And Holtz is working diligently to add to the talent pool in the ECU program.

"Recruiting has gone very well to this point," Holtz said. "The reception has been tremendous. We've got a phenomenal staff. They've done a great job of building relationships with so many of the players who we've been recruiting. When the players have had the opportunity to come to campus and get around our players and see the positive attitude and everything, I think it's infectious.

"Right now, it's really been rewarding. It's really been exciting and I'm excited to get to Feb. 7 (signing date)."

After the Pirates finalize the 2007 signing class, the focus will shift to spring practice.

"I believe we begin Feb. 28 and the spring game is April 14th," Holtz said.

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02/23/2007 12:29:03 AM


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