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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Friday, August 21, 2009

By Al Myatt

'Shank' and crew long on experience

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

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 Bowl.

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 2003.

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, he 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 Conference USA championship season and a 9-5 record.

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 easier."

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 when they 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 time since 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 to struggle.

"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 can't beat.

"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 lose focus.

"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 Pirates' gain

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 validated.

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

08/21/2009 02:49:18 AM
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