Insights and Observations
Monday, December 5, 2005
By Henry Hinton
Holtz shifts focus to stiff
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The 2005 football season
is just nine days in the rear view mirror but Skip Holtz is already looking
ahead to next year. What he sees is enough to excite him and possibly scare
him to death.
There is little doubt the
East Carolina football program is on the rebound under Holtz. After two
dismal seasons under John Thompson, Holtz and his staff have breathed new
life into the Pirate program.
Up next for ECU will be a
2006 season when expectations will have been raised. The honeymoon will be
over when the Pirates take the field next September.
Holtz will need to use
the strong finish from this past season as a catalyst to make his team
believe they can compete with an upgraded schedule. Consecutive wins over
Marshall and UAB could well give the returning players the confidence they
need to build on a 5-6 season.
They will need
confidence. There will be as many as 10 bowl teams on their schedule, including the Wolfpack, Navy, Virginia and West Virginia from out of the conference.
Conference USA teams are headed to postseason play.
“As I told this football
team, we are in December, and we certainly don't have time to get a pat on
the back and take the month off and enjoy the holidays,” Holtz said Friday.
“We have hit recruiting hard and we'll come back and get started in January,
but yet, eight teams that we play next year are still practicing. Those
teams that we play next season are still lifting and having a `spring
practice' in the winter. It is really important right now because we started
our weightlifting program on Monday after the UAB game.”
Holtz will have to
replace some key players from the ’05 campaign particularly on defense.
Looking ahead, however, ECU will have a lot of experience in the skilled
The entire backfield of
James Pinkney, Chris Johnson and Brandon Fractious will return, as will
freshman Dominique Lindsay, who got some quality minutes late in the season.
Also returning will be a
stable of wide receivers. Recent talk of Aundrae Allison leaving for the NFL
has pretty much been put to rest in the wake of the announcement that the
first-team All C-USA receiver sustained a torn medial collateral ligament in
his knee in the UAB game.
"From my meetings with
Aundrae, right now I do expect him to be back,” Holtz said. “We have met
twice now on the issue, and I made him aware that if this was something that
he wanted to do there were ways to test the waters. The NFL has some things
where you can apply for the draft as an underclassman, and get a draft
status back so that you are not making a blind decision."
"We talked about some of
his weaknesses right now, and some of the things that he can come back next
year and improve on," added Holtz. "He understands those areas of weakness.
I think that it is important for him to finish strong academically right
"He is rehabbing an
injury to his knee, which is another thing that would make that transition
difficult for him."
If Allison does return as
expected, he will be joined by the likes of Bobby Good, Jerek Hewitt, Robert
Tillman and possibly Jamar Bryant. Bryant, a prop 48 transfer from the
University of Georgia will find out in the next few days if he will be
eligible in 2006.
If Bryant should qualify,
East Carolina could well have one of the most exciting receiving corps in
the entire nation next season. The former Richmond County High School star
was recruited by nearly every college in the southeast before signing with
the Bulldogs. Bryant spent last year at Hargrave Military and enrolled at
ECU in August after obtaining his release from UGA coach Mark Richt.
The thought of a
confident James Pinkney throwing bullets to Allison and Bryant is enough to
increase season ticket sales next season even without the marquee names like
Virginia and West Virginia that will invade Dowdy-Ficklen in ’06.
Holtz and his staff will
most likely have to look to the junior college ranks to shore up the
offensive line and some holes on defense that will be left by seniors like
Chris Moore and Richard Koonce.
Speaking to the season's
last organized meeting of the media, Holtz sounded optimistic about where
the program is headed.
"The final games of last
year were not only a send off for the seniors, but they were building blocks
for Shauntae Hunt, Eric Graham, Kasey Ross, James Pinkney, Aundrae Allison
and a lot of the juniors that are going to have to step up as next year's
leaders," said Holtz. "It has really been nice to see those guys take a
leadership role in the weight room for the last week, because they have been
working hard and getting started. They understand the challenge that we
have. We still have a long way to go, but it is something that we are
extremely excited about."
Pirate fans are already
looking back at the 2005 season as the year ECU got back on track. Holtz
will now be challenged to keep his able and experienced staff together and
get everyone focused on a much more difficult schedule ahead next season.
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04/21/2008 07:08:05 PM