There will be a unique atmosphere at Lane
Stadium on Saturday as Virginia Tech continues its healing from the
April 16 campus shootings that left 33 dead. East Carolina will share
the national stage with the Hokies on ESPN.
The season opening football game between
the Hokies and the Pirates will bring national focus back to Blacksburg,
Va. Intentions are for this to be a positive experience in contrast to
the circumstances that drew attention to Virginia Tech last semester.
Virginia Tech realizes that helping
hands reached out from many directions in the aftermath of the tragedy
last spring and Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver wants his
university's supporters to show their appreciation by welcoming visiting
In a letter to Virginia Tech supporters
earlier this week, Weaver urged respect for opponents and urged the
Hokies fans to applaud visiting teams before the games. ECU will
contribute $100,000 to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund in a presentation
Sources have said that the two teams
will run on the field together, an expression of the unified support
that helped Virginia Tech deal with the devastation generated by a
crazed outcast who coldly murdered fellow students before ending his own
"The sports world has grieved with us
and also helped us heal," Weaver said. "I ask that you remember the
kindness, generosity and support."
The Pirates must tread a fine line
between giving the occasion the respect it deserves and being ready to
play a football game.
"Obviously, this is the tribute game,"
ECU coach Skip Holtz said. "All the people there have an opportunity to
get together there for the first time and it's going to be an
unbelievable emotional event. I don't want our players to run out of the
tunnel with cameras around their necks.
"We're going there to be part of the
football game. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to be part of
these festivities. I just don't want to lose our focus. I don't want to
go out there and get caught up in all the events that are transpiring
around the football game because when those are all done, we have a very
young football team that has to get ready to put the ball on the tee and
play one of the best football teams in the country."
Virginia Tech, ranked ninth in the USA
Today coaches poll, has eight starters back from a defense that led the
nation in 2006 for fewest points allowed. The Pirates face some huge
challenges within the overall matchup. The Hokies have earned national
notoriety for their success in blocking punts and kicks.
"When you look at 'em from their
defense and all of our inexperience on the offensive side of the ball,
and then when you look at what they've done from a special teams
standpoint," Holtz said. "We have a punter and a kicker that have never
really played before.
"This is going to be a heckuva
challenge for us and we just need to make sure that we stay focused on
the task at hand and why we're going up to Blacksburg. At the same time
we're very respectful of what they're going through as a family right
The Pirates have talked a lot in
preseason camp about what it will take to be properly prepared.
"I don't want them to get so caught up
in everything else going on around them," said the Pirates coach. "These
players are going to remember a lot of the tributes and a lot of the
things going on around the game for the rest of their lives but we're
not going just to be part of the tribute. We are part of it because
we're going to be on the football field.
"I'm sure the Christians stood on the
floor of the Roman Coliseum and said, 'Wow, look at all the flags and
how beautiful this all is' and the chariots rolling around but at some
point the doors opened up and the lions came out.
"That's kind of where we are. We need
to go up there and keep our focus on what we're going up there for but
we are very respectful for the terrible tragedy that that community and
that Virginia Tech family has been through."
ECU has had to deal with some adversity
of its own this week, albeit mild in comparison. Holtz's focus was
diverted from football as he had to deal with a disciplinary situation
involving projected starting quarterback Rob Kass, who was arrested for
driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 on Saturday.
Holtz suspended Kass for the Virginia
Tech game after conferring with athletic director Terry Holland. The
suspension lets the other players know that there are consequences for
breaking team rules and laws.
Kass endangered himself and others by
driving while intoxicated. He put the program in a bad light and damaged
perceptions of himself as a leader.
"There is an expectation of conduct
associated with being a member of this football program," Holtz said in
a statement released by the university. "I regret anytime we are put in
a position to take disciplinary action but we take the responsibility of
representing East Carolina University seriously."
Kass completed 14 of 30 passes for 184
yards last season. His best effort came in the 24-7 bowl loss to South
Florida in which he connected on 10 of 19 pass attempts for 138 yards.
"Suspensions are reviewed by the
athletics administration to ensure that departmental and university
policies are applied consistently for similar violations in all sports,"
Brett Clay, who has been No. 2 on the
depth chart, would appear to be the likely starter. There is speculation
that ECU will adjust its game plan by putting more emphasis on the
running game on offense. The Pirates' defense faces the prospect of
having to keep the game within reach of an offense that appears to be
Clay is a conscientious worker who saw
action in the fourth quarter of the Marshall game last season as a
redshirt freshman. He didn't attempt a pass. Junior Patrick Pinkney, the
son of former ECU defensive back Reggie Pinkney and no relation to
former Pirate quarterback James Pinkney, has also been getting reps in
The Hokies, who have national title
aspirations, are just the first challenge in a demanding schedule for
the Pirates. Virginia Tech goes to LSU next week while the Pirates will
host North Carolina. ECU hosts preseason Conference USA favorite
Southern Miss in week three before venturing to West Virginia. Then the
Pirates travel to Houston, the defending C-USA champions, to close
ECU salvaged a bowl berth after a 2-4
start last season. Holtz hopes the Pirates can find better traction a
little earlier in 2007.
"We have to make sure with the quality
teams that we're facing at the beginning of the year that we're ready to
play now," Holtz said. "Every football team has a life expectancy of one
year and this football team is different from last year's team.
"We had different leaders. We had
different people in different positions that we've lost to graduation.
Some people are going to have to pick up the slack so to speak. With
where we are, we have an awful lot of inexperience and we're gonna have
some bumps and bruises along the way. We're gonna take three steps
forward and one step back as we continue to try and build this program.
"We're still a very young program when
you look at the growing stages of it
only going into our third year. We have a lot of young players that we
redshirted when we first got here. Now they're redshirt freshmen or
redshirt sophomores and just getting the opportunity to step on the
"We've got a heck of a challenge in
front of us right now and we've got to learn to play at a high level