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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, August 30, 2007

By Al Myatt

Lions' den awaits in Blacksburg

By Al Myatt
©2007 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

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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 teams.

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 before kickoff.

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 life.

"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 now."

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," Holland said.

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 overmatched.

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 practice.

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 September.

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Talk 1070 Audio: Al Myatt on Talk of the Town...
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Talk 1070 Audio: Denny O'Brien on Talk of the Town...
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Bonesville Audio: Skip Holtz game week press conference...
O'Brien: Game shouldn't be exploited
Bradsher: High seas spectacle on the way
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O'Brien: Schedule generates rare opportunity
Bradsher: TE position takes on new meaning
Myatt: Kass approaches season with poise
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Bailey: Kass a natural in high-profile position
O'Brien: Coffman thriving in leadership role
Bradsher: Winning 'em over in back country not easy
O'Brien: Coaches sound off on 'Mid-Major' label
O'Brien: Expansion not on C-USA radar

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 field.

"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 relatively quick."

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

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08/30/2007 03:27:46 AM
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