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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Holtz seeks to harness team's psyche


The ability to fight back from trials is a measure of toughness on any football team. But Skip Holtz is a little concerned that his team might go out and look for adversity to battle.

“It’s almost like we get a mindset as a football team when we get down by 10 or 15 points, ‘OK, now, let’s play,’” Holtz said. “I wish we could take that mindset going from the opening whistle. When you look at our scores, we’ve been outscored very badly in the first half, yet we’ve outscored almost all of our opponents in the second half.”

With two-thirds of his inaugural season as East Carolina's head coach in the books, Holtz is evaluating the group of players that have carried the team to this 3-4 juncture and considering the alterations that will give them the best chance of bringing the program its first winning season in five years.

Holtz and his fellow coaches are pleased with many aspects of this squad: their work ethic, their perseverance and their quick adaptation to a new system. But Holtz, offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler and defensive coordinator Greg Hudson each have items on their wish list for the current Pirates.

For Hudson, the final four games would be perfect if they came packaged in an impenetrable wall of rushing defense, allowing them to avoid a scenario like the 226 yards tallied by Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams in Saturday’s 24-21 loss.

“I didn’t anticipate that we would play four of the top 30 rushing teams in the country this year,” Hudson said. “I think excluding some big plays, that’s probably hurt us the most in the rushing defense.”

Shankweiler’s preferred adjustments would be on the mental side, he said, since he sees a correlation between the Pirates’ recent history of losing and their inability to produce in crucial situations.

“Any time you’re building a program, one thing is learning how not to lose,” Shankweiler said. “Sports is kind of like life. If it’s kind of been bombarded into you that you’re not very good it’s hard to overcome that initially, but it’s even harder to develop the expectation of winning and really believe it.”

Hand in hand with the habit of winning, Shankweiler said, is a team’s ability to be the initiator on the field, to make things happen rather than just responding to the circumstances. Players who routinely make plays out of nothing reach a point where they expect good things — like victories — to happen.

“I don’t think it’s always the talent, I don’t think it’s always the coaching, I think it’s the mental makeup of the kids,” Shankweiler said. “They want to do it, they believe they can, but now go do it. We’ve shown spurts of that all year, but we just need to continue to find ways to get in their heads.”

As Holtz sees it, the senior leadership has set the tone for all of the intangibles that show on the practice field, factors that he expects to be catalysts for years to come as the program gains velocity under its new leadership.

“I’m encouraged with the direction,” he said. “I wish some of the results were different, but I’m encouraged with the direction and with the attitude these players are developing.

“This has been a season so far of ‘almosts’ and ‘what-ifs,’” he said. ‘Everybody that we’ve played with so far and lost to, I think this team believes, ‘You know what? We could have won that game.’”

Astros: The Ties That Bind

Growing up in Houston, the summer soundtrack of my young life was the nightly broadcasts of Astros games. Most nights during baseball season, my family ate our dinner on TV trays as we watched players like Jose Cruz and Mike Scott and dreamed that this might be the year. Major Houston sports milestones are memorable to my family in the same way that Disney World vacations might be to yours.

So last week, when that elusive National League pennant finally came our way, my phone rang three times in five minutes. First my Dad, then my sister, then my brother, called to celebrate and even to shed a few tears talking about my mom, a wholehearted Astros fan and the one you always wanted on the couch next to you when the stakes were high. She died of cancer 12 years ago, but the gaping hole in our lives seemed bigger than usual as we said, “She would really love this.”

I’ve heard all about football widows and I know that at times sports can have a fracturing effect on families. But in my family, this magical October, the opposite effect has grabbed us and pulled us together, as the four of us lose sleep in front of the TV in three different states with our phones by our sides.

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02/23/2007 01:11:47 AM

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