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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Friday, August 14, 2009

By Al Myatt

Holtz loves/hates 2009 schedule

By Al Myatt
©2009 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

The unique challenges provided by the Appalachian State team that will venture into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 5 are certainly a departure from the typical season opener for East Carolina.

The matchup is consistent with ECU's quest to play a demanding and attractive schedule.

ECU has typically gone on the road to take on favored opponents. Since 1990, the Pirates have been cast in the role of whipping boys in some challenging venues such as Illinois, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. ECU has played WVU and the Hokies three times apiece in first games. None of those matchups have taken place in Greenville.

Strong programs often begin their seasons at home against opposition that is perceived to be beatable. That, of course, was the case when App State went to Michigan to open the 2007 season.

The Mountaineers went toe to toe with the Wolverines and came away with one of the most stunning upsets in college football history with a 34-32 win in the Big House.

ASU couldn't repeat the feat at LSU last season, losing 41-13 in opening the 2008 season on the road against the Tigers. The Mountaineers also missed on winning a fourth straight championship subdivision title as a 10-game winning streak was halted with a 33-13 loss to eventual playoff champion Richmond.

ECU's 2009 schedule features non-conference challenges at West Virginia, at North Carolina and at home against Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. Those matchups are in addition to the demands of trying to defend the Conference USA championship the Pirates claimed last season.

"Part of me loves the schedule," said ECU coach Skip Holtz. "Part of me hates the schedule. We have talked about wanting to be one of the better programs on the East coast. The only way to build it is from the inside out.

"You can schedule 12 wins, beat your chest and say, 'Look at us.' From the outside standpoint, you may be a really good program but yet once you walk into the house, it's not ready to turn and play at that level.

"I don't think you can understand what that level is until you step on the field and play it. It's been an eye-opening experience for our players to go to Virginia Tech, to go to West Virginia, to have the opportunity to play North Carolina and N.C. State and Virginia.

"The people that we've turned and played out of conference have been great measuring sticks for our program and it's given our players the goal to say, 'We just don't want to be the best in Conference USA.' We want to be able to line up and compete with everybody on our schedule, which is some of the better teams on the East Coast."

The challenges that the typical ECU schedule provides have permeated every aspect of the program from recruiting to practice preparations to summer workouts.

"It's been a great motivating factor," Holtz said. "One of the reasons that these players make the commitment that they make — I can remember at Notre Dame when we used to open the season at Michigan and it was unbelievable, the attention, the work habits — the way that everybody approached every single day, knowing you had to come right out of the chutes with a game like Michigan.

"It's the same thing for us, playing a team like App State that's won three out of four national championships (2005, 2006, 2007), who has a senior quarterback (Armanti Edwards). Coach (Jerry) Moore has done a phenomenal job with that program. I love the fact that we're playing them."

The Pirates are in the position of playing a highly-motivated in-state opponent which may have the same sort of mindset that ECU has taken into games with in-state ACC teams.

"It would be very hypocritical for us to sit here and ask N.C. State, North Carolina, Wake and Duke to play us if we said we weren't going to play Appalachian State. I think it's a great game for the state. I think it's great for both fan bases, for both App State's and East Carolina. This is a series that has a lot of history to it. This is not our first meeting between these two programs."

Sure enough, ECU is 10-19 against the Mountaineers in the games of the series played between 1932 and 1979.

"I'm excited about the schedule we play," Holtz said. "It's a hard schedule. It's a tough schedule, but at the same time I think it's one that kind of gets you excited. If you're a competitor, this is what you want. You want an opportunity to line up and play against the best."

Bryant still has work to do

When Holtz summarized changes in the status of his personnel at media day last Saturday, he was asked about Jamar Bryant, who was suspended in 2008 after playing in five games. Bryant had 19 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns in his abbreviated junior season after making 48 catches for 704 yards with six scores as a sophomore in 2007.

"At this point Jamar is not (on the active roster)," Holtz said. "There are still some things he needs to do in order to be able to do that (rejoin the program). At this point, he is not. ... There are some stipulations that he's got to turn and he's got to get done. At this point, he's done everything that he's supposed to do to this point but he still has some things that he has to get finished up before that suspension will be lifted or fulfilled."

Holtz said there was a possibility that Bryant would play in 2009.

"If he continues to do what he's supposed to do," said the Pirates coach.

The athletic Bryant, 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, originally signed with Georgia after playing for former ECU coach Ed Emory at Richmond County.

Parking changes for football

ECU officials are concerned about making football fans aware that there will be no public parking in the area around Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season. Those without reserved parking passes should plan on using remote parking on the Brody School of Medicine campus. Parking is free but the fare on the climate-controlled buses will be $5 per person round trip.

The shuttle service will start 2 1/2 hours before kickoff and continue for 1 1/2 hours after the game. Gates at the stadium are scheduled to open two hours prior to kickoff.

The parking situation is another sign that the ECU program is growing.

E-mail Al Myatt

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08/14/2009 04:32:59 AM
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