(Photos: ECU SID)
Generally, libraries are known for
strict policies reinforcing silence. That allows patrons to concentrate
on their reading and studying. Thursday afternoon was an exception at
Coach Skip Holtz and the Pirates'
premier defensive lineman,
C.J. Wilson, were on the air
from room 1418 of ECU's J.Y. Joyner Library in a
new, cost-cutting format for
Conference USA's football media day.
In past years, all of the coaches and a
couple of players from each of the league's programs have convened in
Memphis or another C-USA city and made themselves available for several
hours of interviews.
Holtz and Wilson answered questions
posed to them by a moderator as well as reporters who were on camera
from Marshall and Central Florida. When their 15 minutes were up, the
teleconference shifted to Houston. The reporter at Marshall was shown
eating his lunch on the video feed. The new approach probably saved
thousands in air fares and hotel accommodations.
"It was the first time I've seen that,"
Wilson said. "It was interesting."
Not all of the technical kinks were
resolved as Holtz and the league's preseason defensive player of the
year managed to maintain their train of thought and continuity in their
comments despite significant static in the audio system at the ECU
library that sounded like angry crickets.
"I understand the need for it," Holtz
said. "I wish we could do it the way we've always done it and take two
players to a site and have ourselves exposed to the media and also give
the media an opportunity to be exposed to every one of our opponents.
"I wish we could have done it that way
but I also understand the need for budget cuts and what we're all trying
to do to tighten our belt a little bit. ... It is probably the best
situation in giving everyone the opportunity to turn and conserve a
little bit of money so it can go where it's supposed to, which is to the
Wilson, who risked being late for
bowling class, and Holtz, whose focus now shifts from a little vacation
time to football for most of his waking hours, graciously moved down the
hall to answer a few questions from ECU media one week before the
players return for the start of preseason camp.
"I kissed my wife goodbye this morning
and told her I'd see her in a few months," Holtz said.
New role for ECU
have been designated as preseason favorites
in C-USA's East Division in voting by the media. It's the highest
projection for an ECU team in the Holtz era. In previous years, the
preseason predictions have been done by the coaches.
"It's a very different role," Holtz
said. "It's flattering. It's king of exciting to talk about it now.
Unfortunately, we have to line up and put the ball on the tee and back
it up. ... We played most of the season last year with a target on our
chest with the way we started (wins over No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 8
West Virginia). ... We played a lot of the season last year with those
same types of expectations on us.
"So going into this season I think
we're probably more prepared for that statement than we've ever been
since I've been here when I look at the number of juniors and seniors
and the experience that we have coming back on this football team. It's
going to be a challenge. It's going to be hard."
Holtz noted that no program has won
back to back C-USA championships since the league went to a title game
in 2005, Holtz's first season at ECU. ECU has nine starters back on
offense and eight returning on defense.
"There are some obstacles we're going
to have to overcome to be able to have the type of success that we want.
Obviously we again play a very difficult non-conference schedule
starting with App State on Sept. 5."
Both Holtz and Wilson expressed plenty
of respect for the first set of Mountaineers the Pirates will face over
the Labor Day weekend. ECU will also line up at West Virginia the
following week, travel to Chapel Hill for game three of 2009 and host
Virginia Tech in a Thursday night ESPN telecast on Nov. 5.
Wilson garners respect
The C-USA head coaches and media tabbed
Wilson as the league
preseason defensive player of the year.
The rising senior from Belhaven had 70 tackles during the Pirates' C-USA
championship season in 2008. He had 18.5 tackles for losses and 10.5
He's dealing with his preseason
recognition as a source of motivation.
"Receiving this accolade lets me know
the target is even bigger on my back," Wilson said. "It's good though. I
like it — being in the predicament I am — it makes me work harder. The
coaching staff has been doing a great job with me — Coach (Mike) Golden
(strength and conditioning coach) in the weight room this summer. I give
thanks to him helping me to get stronger and faster.
"It's good to get that accolade but I
know I've got to live up to them. It's going to be hard work."
Wilson is listed at 6-foot-4 and is
weighing 288 pounds.
"It's well-earned, deserved," Holtz
said of Wilson's preseason honor. "I was joking with him the other day.
I can remember on his recruiting visit when he was 215 pounds sitting in
the hallway. We were sitting there talking with his parents and his
brothers. You look at him now, he's like a freak — the way he can jump,
as fast as he is, as big as he is, his strength.
"He's a tremendous player but even
better, he's a phenomenal young man. He's extremely humble. He goes back
to go to church with his parents. He sings and plays instruments in the
choir at his church. He's a great young man, a fantastic young man.
"So many times in college football,
people want to write the story of somebody who may make a foolish
decision and yet you have somebody like this who is living his life the
way he is. What he's doing academically right now with over a 3.0 GPA,
I'm just really proud of him.
"He's done a phenomenal job. He's a
great young man and I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to coach
Visions of sacks
Holtz kidded Wilson that he was
admiring his own picture in the players' section of the new media guide.
"You've probably been thinking about
your sack dance," said the Pirates coach. "I want to see it about 18
times this year — just don't get a celebration penalty."
"I won't, Coach," Wilson said. "Two
steps. That's it."
More news on media day
The Pirates will have their football
media day on Saturday, August 8, and Holtz said he will make an
announcement on the status of some particular players at that time. He
indicated that summer school performances will be a factor in evaluating
whether some players will be returning to the program.
Running backs Norman Whitley and
Jonathan Williams are both profiled in the 2009 media guide with notes
that their inclusion going forward in the program is not a certainty.
An announcement on a proposed expansion
of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium may also be imminent. Holtz said he thinks the
7,000 seat addition at the south end will be done but added that his
viewpoint is not official.
"I'm the last one to know," said the
Pirates coach. "There's an old adage that says, 'Don't ask the monkey,
go right to the organ grinder.' I'm just the monkey dancing on the end
of the string out here."
A large painting of former U.S. senator
and East Carolina alumnus Robert B. Morgan hangs in room 1418 of the
Joyner Library where ECU's portion of the C-USA teleconference was
conducted. Morgan also served the state as attorney general and as
director of the SBI before going into private law practice in
As a state legislator in the 1960's,
Morgan led East Carolina's battle
for university status and was instrumental in getting a medical school
Morgan was given a plaque by the
Johnston/Harnett Pirate Club at its May meeting. Chapter president Perry
Hudson read an impressive list of Morgan's accomplishments and big Eddie
Crabtree, the father of former Pirate special teamers Eddie and Nicky
Crabtree, added a personal tribute.
The elder Crabtree, who played at
Western Carolina, encountered severe health problems while in Greenville
in the spring of 2008.
"My body shut down," he said. "My
kidneys were failing. If I hadn't been close to the hospital and gotten
the medical attention when I did, I wouldn't be here."
Crabtree regained consciousness after
eight days and was inspired by his first visitor, Coach Holtz.
"Robert Morgan saved my life by getting
that medical community to Greenville," Crabtree said.