(Photo: ECU SID)
Steve Shankweiler can draw from a lot
of experience when he talks about East Carolina football. He's in the
midst of his third term on the Pirates' coaching staff, and his 15th
season at ECU starts in just a couple of weeks.
Coach "Shank" came to Greenville as
offensive line coach in 1987 when Art Baker was ECU's head coach. He
stayed on staff during the transition that brought Bill Lewis in to
guide the program in 1989 and was around for that remarkable 11-1 season
in 1991 that was capped by a 37-34 win over N.C. State in the Peach
Shankweiler, who played on the high
school level in Atlanta, went back to that city as a member of Lewis'
staff to serve as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech from 1992 to
1994. After a stint as a high school coach, he returned to ECU as
offensive line coach for Steve Logan from 1998 to 2002.
He spent the next season at Cincinnati,
following Logan's ouster. The John Thompson era as Pirates coach began
ominously with a
40-3 ECU loss on the road to the Bearcats in
The 2004 season brought Shankweiler to
South Carolina as a member of Lou Holtz's coaching staff at South
Carolina. The Gamecocks went 6-5. As ECU stumbled to records of 1-11 and
2-9 following Shankweiler's second departure from the Pirates, another
South Carolina assistant, Skip Holtz, became interested in the vacancy
created by Thompson's dismissal.
Skip Holtz's attraction to the Pirates
was heightened by what Shankweiler told him about the program's
atmosphere and tradition. When the younger
Holtz became head coach at ECU,
brought Shankweiler along.
Even during Shankweiler's most recent
absence from the Pirates, his son, Kort, was in the program as a
versatile player from 2003 to 2006.
Shankweiler has served as offensive
coordinator and co-offensive coordinator with Todd Fitch while working
with the Pirates' offensive line during ECU's resurgence under Holtz.
The Pirates have progressed from
5-6 in 2005 to
7-6 in 2006, to
8-5 in 2007 to last year's
championship season and a 9-5
Holtz's early recruiting classes placed
an emphasis on offensive linemen. That focus has helped provide a high
level of experience as ECU goes into its season opener with Appalachian
State at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at noon on Sept. 5.
Shankweiler has all starters back from
tackle to tackle as the Pirates are picked to repeat as East Division
champions in C-USA. That degree of experience reduces the stress level
of their position coach in preseason preparations.
"They know what to do," Shankweiler
said. "Now the job is to make them as good as they can be fundamentally.
We teach them things that obviously a first grader can't handle. They're
great guys. They've been playing together for three and four years.
"They're a group of young men now as
opposed to a bunch of boys. It's fun to be around them."
The blocking corps includes seniors
Terence Campbell, Sean Allen, Stephen Heis, Doug Palmer and T.J. Harper.
Palmer has been involved in rehab from shoulder surgery. Juniors include
Willie Smith, Cory Dowless, Doug Polochak, D.J. Scott and Travis Melvin.
Sophomore Steven Baker, at 6-foot-8 and 316 pounds, is the youngest and
one of the largest listed up front on the preseason depth chart.
Projected starters at the outset of
preseason camp were Smith and Scott at the tackles, Campbell and Dowless
at guards and Allen at center. That group averages 310 pounds.
The Pirates are experienced at skill
positions as well with nine starters back on offense, including
sixth-year senior Patrick Pinkney at quarterback.
"It's unbelievable," Shankweiler said.
"When you put our skill people on the field — the three or four running
backs we have, the receivers we've got — people can't just load the box
and dare you to run it. It allows you to do more things on offense,
spread the field more. Obviously, it makes (the offensive line's) job
That's not to say that ECU should take
anything for granted as it hosts an Appalachian State program that
proved its upset capability at Michigan to open the 2007 season.
"The first game, it doesn't really
matter how much experience you have," Shankweiler said. "Your first
game, there are so many unknowns about how your team is going to react
and the second team players that have to play. I think the challenge is
really us. Where are we right now?"
The football championship subdivision
Mountaineers will enjoy the same sort of role that the Pirates were in
faced Virginia Tech in Charlotte
to launch the 2008 season.
"They're the hunter and we know that,"
Shankweiler said. "That's what this program has been built on. We've got
the target on our chests for a change. On defense, they've got some
seniors up front. They've got a great middle linebacker. ... They'll
obviously play with an attitude because of who they're playing.
"They do have some kids that we
recruited. I mean some of those kids visited us so we know 'em and we
know they're good enough to play, but I really think we've got to focus
on ourselves and not so much on the opponent. If we execute and do what
we're supposed to do, I feel like we'll be in pretty good shape."
Opening at home has been a rarity for
the Pirates, who will play their first game in Greenville for the first
a 24-21 win over Duke
inaugurated the Holtz era in 2005.
"It's like I told my guys back in the
spring — getting to play at home the first game and being a defending
champion — we've not been in that position, at least not this staff and
this group of kids." Shankweiler said. "I don't think it's something to
worry about. I think it's something to be proud of.
"It's something that, hey, you work for
to be in this position. OK, we get to open up at home. OK, we're a
defending champion. It doesn't mean you rest on last year. It just means
you use that as a level of confidence that you as a team and as a
program have advanced to having the luxury of doing that.
"I wish it wasn't someone quite like
Appalachian State but that's the card we're dealt so we'll have to deal
with it. Any time you open at home to start the season, the fans are
excited, the kids are excited and you love being in that home
environment because it's the first time to step on the grass."
It has become a tenet of the Pirate
program to go 1-0 every week and keep the focus short term, but what
about the potential of this year's team to put together the sort of
momentum that characterized the 1991 team?
"You've got to wait and see how it
unfolds," Shankweiler said. "Some of the BCS opponents we're playing
this year — they're not having down years. Sometimes in the past, maybe
we've caught some people by surprise. Maybe they weren't having the best
year that they've been having.
"We're getting ready to face some
teams, the defending ACC champions (Virginia Tech), arguably the best
team in the Big East (West Virginia), maybe the divisional champ in the
ACC in North Carolina. We've got Southern Miss here and we always seem
"I don't know. In '91 we had a T-shirt
saying each week but the one we kept talking about was you have a target
and this is a one-game season. People think, 'Well, that's a trite
coaching saying,' but I really think if you look at it — if we just had
to play one game and that was it — there's nobody on the schedule we
"What you have to keep the kids focused
on is that it's just one game. Forget about the rest. This is the end of
the season, the beginning of the season. When you look at the 12-game
picture, it's too far down the road. That's where kids get deluded or
"It's hugely important to focus on 'How
good can we be?' on that day. Don't look at the day before. Don't look
at the day ahead. Just, 'How good can we be?' If we'll do that and just
try to achieve as many internal goals as we can, I think the external
goals will take care of themselves."
Basketball: Tigers' loss could be
The NCAA's ruling that Memphis will
have to forfeit 38 wins during the 2007-08 basketball season is under
appeal by the Tigers. If the NCAA's sanction stands, then the Pirates'
99-58 loss at Memphis on Jan. 9,
2008, would be wiped off and ECU would be credited with a victory.
The NCAA has based the penalty on the
use of an ineligible player by the Tigers. The player in question is
apparently premier point guard Derrick Rose. Another person is alleged
to have taken the SAT for Rose, who reportedly had failed on three tries
to make a qualifying score on the CAT.
Credit for a win against Memphis would
make the Pirates 6-10 in Conference USA for the
2007-08 season, an ECU record
for C-USA victories in a season.
Memphis also stands to lose its league
winning streak, which stands at 61 games, and its NCAA record for 137
wins over four seasons through the 2008-09 campaign if its appeal is not