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No. 6

With Ron Cherubini

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 America.

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 positions.

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, Heather.

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 anything.

"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 his cheerleader.

“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 Overtons.

"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 graduated.

"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 family.”

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 succeed.”

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 cheerleader.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

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Pirate Time Machine Archives

Click here to read what
Pete Zophy has to say
about East Carolina's
complex offense.


Name (Nickname):

Pete Zophy (Zoph)





Years at ECU:


Position/Jersey No.

Wide Receiver/ No. 89


Fairfax, VA

Currently Resides:

Westminster, MD


VP e-commerce, Joseph A. Bank Clothier

ECU Degree(s)
  • BA Finance

  • MBA

Marital Status:


Significant Other:

Heather (O'Connor)

  • Daughter, Connor, 5

  • Son, Cade, 3



“When I was in high school, I told my parents that I didn’t want a high school ring. I told them that I would just wait until I was in college and get a bowl ring. And I got one (Peach Bowl)… that was pretty cool.”



1. Who is your favorite current Pirate and Why?

“Pernell Griffin. He gives 110 percent every game. (Griffin) and Leonard Henry. Both of their attitudes are right. Every Saturday, they play hard. Those two stand out big-time.”

2. What do you miss most about ECU?

“The college hours… the life. Football was hard, managing time between football, school work, and social life was tough, but school was great… being a college student.”

3. Where is your favorite spot on the ECU campus?

“Cubbies. Definitely downtown at Cubbies. We went there pretty much after every game during the season and after scrimmages during the off-season. I gotta tell you a Cubbies story. Remember how big those cheese steaks were? Well, we had a tight end, Kurt Seekford, and one time, he actually ate four Cubbies cheese steaks in one sitting. Yeah… he was a big guy.”

4. What was your dorm room and favorite dorm story?

“212 Scott with Anthony Brenner. Some of the other guys in the suite were Stephen Braddy, Ken Burnette, and Greg ‘Smitty’ Smith. Smitty – he was an offensive lineman – went home one weekend and some of the guys in the suite actually spent 1½ days taking newspaper, crumpling it up and filling his room with it. They filled it chin high then shut the door and finished filling the room up by throwing paper in through that opening over the door. Jeff Cooke (defensive lineman) and Tom Coleman (offensive lineman) were the masterminds, but I helped a little. Their hands were black from all of the ink. It took them another day to empty the place out after Smitty got back.”

5. Greatest Moment as a Pirate football player?

“Personally, I’d have to say the Virginia Tech game my senior year.  I had 10 catches for over 100 yards. It was nice to get that in a win over Virginia Tech. They had recruited me in high school, but when I went to visit the school, they basically gave me a cold shoulder. So, it was nice to play them each year. My senior year, I got that chance to sort of redeem myself there.”

6. Most disliked opponent?

“Virginia Tech, but not because of the recruiting thing. No, it was because they were a little bit arrogant there. Their fans were overly obnoxious. It does make it hard to win there, but it also makes it even better when you do win there."

7. Athletic Influences?

“No. 1, my parents because they hauled me around to all the different sporting events for 18 years. Then, once I went to college, I learned the most from a pair of senior wideouts my first year. Walter Wilson, who played for the Chargers, and Al Whiting both taught me a great deal about playing the position. I learned a lot from just watching them play. They were both very successful and they took the time to show me the ropes. When the older guys see potential in younger guys, you start talking to them and then you work together in practice. It is interesting because the older guys do take the younger guys with potential under their wings, because they know that someday the younger guy will replace them. It’s cool.”

8. Favorite coach?

“Definitely Coach (Steve) Logan. Just his coaching style all around. From being a wide receiver, his offense is one of the best to play in. It is so wide open and you know that you always have an opportunity to succeed in the offense. I remember when Coach (Bill) Lewis left and Dave Hart announced that Logan would take over, it was very exciting. As receivers, we were really excited. And, more, he is a players’ coach. His door is always open to you and he cares. It is a refreshing style.”

9. Best Lockerroom Story

“My best inside story happened on the practice field. If you know the practice field at ECU, then you know that there are hedges on the side that are kind of like the out of bounds area. Well, Ziam Cumulaj who was one of my roommates my senior year, was a big-time cheapshot artist. We all kind of called him Chris Zorich (Notre Dame/Chicago Bears) because he looked like him and played nose guard. Anyway, at one practice, he was running down the sideline, chasing Carlester Crumpler on a play. I was supposed to be blocking the safety, but I saw him and saw that I had a good shot at him. So I blindsided him and knocked him about three yards into the bushes. Flat on his back. I got up and started to run away because I thought he would chase me and he was a big guy. When I got back to the line all the offensive linemen were giving me hugs because Ziam was such a bully, a trash-talker. I really got him on that one. And what was even funnier was that coach Logan – who always tried to not pick sides – put his hand over his face because he couldn’t stop laughing and Ziam was there with scratches all over his face. It was one of my favorite hits of all time and it was against my roommate.”

10. Best Emerald City hangout?

“Sharkey’s was our place. Also, it was connected to the Sports Pad back then so we could play pool.”


Click here to read what Pete Zophy has to say about East Carolina's complex offense.

Click here to jump to the
Pirate Time Machine Archives

02/23/2007 02:07:34 PM

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