East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz is
big on players stepping up when their opportunity for playing time
comes. Quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass have done it this
Quentin Cotton waited and worked for his opportunity just to be a part
of the program.
Cotton spent a school year in football
limbo as he brought his grades up to NCAA eligibility standards prior to
the start of preseason practice for the 2005 season.
Not being able to play was a trying
time for the Kernersville Glenn High School product.
"It hurt me," Cotton said. "I came to
all the games and saw my friends play. Wanting to get out there and be a
part of it drove me to do the right things. I got in the weight room.
When I came out of high school, I was kind of hard-headed and I had to
learn some things the hard way but I worked hard my freshman year."
Cotton didn't exactly burst onto the
college football scene as a freshman in 2005. He played in two games and
made two tackles.
"I didn't play much," Cotton said after
practice on Wednesday afternoon. "The coaches wanted me to learn the
playbook and they were developing depth, but it got me ready."
Cotton had 36 unassisted tackles in
2006 and was in on 34 more stops. His 68 tackles ranked second on the
team behind Jamar Flournoy and made him the leading returning tackler on
the 2007 team. He had eight tackles for loss, made one interception and
caused one fumble.
He did all that in 11 games as a
sophomore, missing the win at Southern Miss with an ankle injury and
sitting out of the bowl game with a shoulder ailment that required
surgery. Cotton doesn't dwell on injuries.
"It's part of the game," he said. "It's
a contact sport. That's football. You have to suck it up and play
Cotton actually finished ECU's 37-35
win at Houston with a bruised knee. He was on the field for a missed
37-yard field goal by T.J. Lawrence of the Cougars with three seconds
"I had containment," said Cotton, an
outside linebacker. "I didn't see the ball but when I turned around, I
saw everybody jumping up and down and I knew that he had missed it."
Earlier, the Pirates had blocked a
49-yard attempt by Lawrence and capitalized on the turnover with a
"I think their kicker was kind of
shook," Cotton said. "We had blocked one and I think that got in his
head. That might have helped us. Things like that factor into it."
The miss helped make for a more
enjoyable trip home for the Pirates.
"It was still a long trip home," Cotton
said. "I got to bed about 6:30 that morning but it was still better than
Cotton and ECU's defense held Houston
scoreless in the fourth quarter to help the Pirates even their
Conference USA record at 1-1 going into a big test at home this Saturday
night against Central Florida.
"It came down to who had the guts,"
Cotton said of the win at Houston. "It was what you run sprints for.
That's what you run that last sprint for. That's what it came down to
who was going to last."
Cotton and his colleagues on the ECU
defensive unit face a huge challenge as they face Kevin Smith of Central
Florida. Smith is averaging 178.25 yards per game rushing, which leads
the nation. Overall, UCF is averaging 252.75 yards per game on the
ground, which ranks seventh nationally.
"They've got a great back," Cotton
said. "They lost last year but it's not the same team. They're doing
some great things and we've got to step it up. Coach (George) O'Leary is
a great coach and they'll have a great game plan.
"We'll have to stop the run and hold
them to a low pass efficiency. We need to get the ball back for our
offense and try to give them good field position."
On stopping Smith in particular, Cotton
said, "We have to get people to the ball and control him a little bit.
We have to carry over on what we've been working on in practice. We've
been getting a good look from the scout team and the coaches always talk
about flying to the ball."
The Pirates return to Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium after trips to West Virginia and Houston.
"It's great to come back home," Cotton
said. "I love to play in front of our fans. We have to play for
ourselves first and handle what we can handle, but it's always great to
play in that atmosphere at home."
An opposing perspective
Central Florida also is looking forward
to playing in Greenville, but for different reasons, according to Golden
Knights offensive coordinator Tim Salem.
"We have talked to our offensive
players about being road warriors," Salem said. "We should be playing in
a very fun environment. I think that is one thing that our players are
looking forward too that kind of an `us against the world' (type
atmosphere) up there and a very critical Conference USA football game."
Salem sized up the ECU defense.
"Those guys in the purple jerseys, I
think play fast, they are structured on defense and very sound, he said.
"They have given up some points, but they have given up some points to
some quality teams. I think that there have been some hidden yards that
they were disappointed that they gave up, but I think they have some
stoutness to them and we are looking forward to the challenge."
Salem paid compliments to the defense
he will try to exploit on Saturday night.
"I think they are very stout on defense
and they have good size," Salem said. "They play their gaps and they
play with good knee bends and leverage. They run to the ball like a
defense should. In the opening game of the season, I think that Virginia
Tech rushed 31 times for 33 yards. They stopped a team that has some
stoutness to them and they have played fairly well in their other games.
They have played some pretty good competition with West Virginia. We
have our work cut out for us. They have good players and good coaches.
We are looking for a battle to go up there and give it our all to see
what is going to happen."
Southern Miss stumbles
Seven turnovers helped
previously-winless Rice stun Southern Miss in a nationally-televised
game from Hattiesburg on Wednesday night. The Golden Eagles had cut a
31-7 lead to 31-29 in the fourth quarter before USM's final turnover
sealed the outcome for the Owls.
The loss dropped preseason East
Division favorite Southern Miss into a
tie with East Carolina and Memphis
at 1-1 in league play, leaving Central Florida (1-0) in sole possession
of first place heading into its Saturday night bout with ECU in