A Pirate Couple: The Wide
Receiver and the Cheerleader
A young football player with no Division
I-A football scholarship offers shuns smaller schools, walks on to a
big-time football program, and before it is all over, against all the
odds, he wins a bowl championship, starts his senior season, and walks
away with the cheerleader on his way to a successful life in corporate
Though it sounds like the makings of a 20-something
sports fantasy film, it is the real story – more or less – of former
Pirate wide receiver Pete Zophy.
Zophy, who donned the Pirate gear from 1988-92, was
one of a long line of ultra-talented receivers at ECU.
He learned the trade from the likes of Walter
Wilson and Al Whiting, honed his skills alongside Dion Johnson, Clayton
Driver, and Hunter Gallimore, and laid the foundation for the talents of
Larry Shannon and Mitchell Galloway.
Yet, among that elite group, Zophy’s contribution
to the ECU program was a bit different. He was the quintessential role
receiver in an offense so complex that, to learn one wideout position
well is considered an accomplishment in itself.
For Zophy, learning all three positions was his
only way to engineer himself an athletic grant-in-aid.
“I had really good hands,” he said. “I could catch
everything within reach and I pretty much had to.
"I had to be able to play all three receiver spots
so that I could go right in, no matter who was hurt or had to come out.
That is how I was able to earn a scholarship. I learned to fill a role
on the team.”
As a player in Fairfax, VA, Zophy was being looked
at by primarily Division I-AA schools like James Madison and William &
Mary, the latter being the only team to offer him a scholarship.
“You know, I would have gone to William & Mary,”
Zophy said. “But, they called me and told me that I didn’t meet the
academic standards. Basically my SAT score was not high enough.
"My high school coach (Nick Hilgert) had played at
ECU, I think in the ‘60s (1958-61), had some contacts at ECU. The
running back coach at ECU, Coach Driesbach, told me that ECU would give
me a shot to walk on and earn a scholarship, so I jumped on it.”
An All-Region selection in the brutal Northern
Virginia area, Zophy was certain he could play Division I-A football.
“I was hoping for a Division I scholarship,” he
said. “And it ended up working out for the best. My goal was to get a
bowl ring and that would not have happened at William & Mary.”
He took his 6-0, 175 pound frame – and
blazing 4.8 speed – to ECU.
But it was his sure hands, his ability to learn the
complex Pirate offense and his willingness to play a role that endeared
him to the coaching staff and, ultimately, put him on the field. During
his junior season, he was the first receiver off the bench for all
Pete Zophy flips the ball to the referee
after a TD.
“It was about playing time for me,” he said. “My
junior year, we had incredible wideouts with Dion, Hunter, and Clayton.
I think I had maybe 19 catches and a touchdown, but everyone had a role
on the team and I cherished my role.”
Zophy has heard all of the comparisons between
himself and Gallimore and he takes it as a compliment.
“People don’t realize it, but Hunter was very fast,
deceptively fast,” he said. “I was more a possession type. Hunter also
played the X position and I played all three. I was more multi-faceted
and certainly did not have the speed, but I definitely take the
comparisons as a compliment.”
The Peach Bowl ring came in his junior season, but
it was in the summer preceding that wonderful season when Zophy received
his greatest inspiration. It was that summer that he met his wife,
A cheerleader from 1988-92, Heather arrived on
campus early with the cheerleading team, and she and the wide receiver
met before the general population returned to school.
Pete's greatest inspiration, an ECU
cheerleader named Heather.
“I met her the summer of Peach Bowl year,” he said.
“I was in camp for football and she was with the cheerleaders. We
started going to lunch and talking and then started dating that year. It
was pretty cool and, because we were winning, no one really said
"We actually got to sit together after games on the
plane ride home. Some of the guys would get on me, but really, it was
really cool that we got to travel together since she was cheering.”
It was a relationship that took.
“We both went on to graduate school together,” he
said. “I got an MBA and she was in Health Education. We ended up...
getting our Masters degrees together and in our last semester of
graduate school, we got engaged.”
And, Zophy got
“I remember one game, against Syracuse, I caught a
pass right by the cheerleaders and when I was out of bounds, I gave her
a high five. It was great to have her so close by at games.”
After eight years at Overton's in various marketing
positions, Zophy has moved on and up in the corporate world.
Today, he is the Vice President of E-Commerce at
Joseph A. Bank Clothier in Westminster, MD, and his wife, who spent
eight years as a Health Educator at ECU, now has settled in to raising
their two children, daughter Connor and son Cade.
“I owe part of my success to football. Football
brought me my first job in the business world,” Zophy said. “My
marketing professor (Jeff Barnell) was Vice President of Marketing at
"He was… is… one of the biggest ECU fans and we
would talk football after class. So, when I was in MBA School, he
offered me a marketing internship. Then, Jeff hired me full-time when I
"I worked there for eight years and moved up to
Director of Marketing. Then Joseph A. Bank called with a VP job, so we
made that move. It is nice to be back up here and be close to my
Another thing football taught him was that he has
never worked so hard for something he wanted.
He takes solace in drifting back to those days when
life gets tough today. When he recalls how tough it was at ECU, it makes
things much easier to deal with at work.
“Football was such a hard five years for me,” Zophy
said. “Basically, you’re fighting for your job every day, working hard
every day. When I have a bad day, when things are tough, I think about
practices then and it makes things easier.”
Life is good for Zophy these days.
“I have a great time with my kids,” he said. “In
the fall, we get season tickets and get to all of the home (ECU) games.
And in the summer, we vacation with family.”
Zophy with his wife, Heather, and children
Cade and Connor.
But, Zophy also is still an athlete.
“You know, the competitiveness and desire do not go
away,” he said. “I lift weights, but I mainly put (the energy and
desire) into business.”
Zophy, who grabbed 44 catches as a senior with five
TDs, thinks that there is something to learn from each player that comes
through the program.
His lesson to younger players:
“For the guys just entering the program, hopefully,
they can look at careers like mine and see how perseverance and finding
your role on the team and being the best you can be at that role can
allow you to earn that scholarship.
“For me, it helped me earn a scholarship, get that
bowl ring and meet my wife. That is what ECU was to me.
“I know it is kind of clichéd, but when coaches
talk about how football is like life, it is true. All the trials and
tribulations that you experience on the football field are similar to
those that happen in life. Working hard and persevering is the way to
Zophy keeps a 1991 picture of a group of Pirates,
including himself, holding the Peach Bowl trophy and a purple can of
Pirate Cola on his desk.
It reminds him of his hard work and his dreams… and
nothing seems impossible.
After all, Zophy got the ring and he got the
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