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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, October 13, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Pieces of running game puzzle falling into place

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There was a time, not too long ago, when Brandon Fractious would flip on the Weather Channel and look to the west side of the big map to get his forecast.

But this California boy — East Carolina's second most productive running back so far this season — is officially feeling like an East Coast transplant these days. Likewise, the running back corps he belongs to is finding a home in the backfield.

“We already knew we could run,” said Fractious, who has 188 yards this season to Chris Johnson’s 190. “We knew as a team, an offensive staff, we knew we could run the ball. It was just going out there and really showing it.

“We’re taught these techniques every day, all day. It just clicked, I guess, for us.”

The people in Greenville have embraced him, said Fractious, a native of Rancho Cucamonga and a transfer from Chaffey Community College in California. And his teammates, who he calls “my boys,” have helped create a bond of unity on this Pirates team that has helped make every mile of his cross-country trip worthwhile.

In the Pirates’ 31-21 victory over Virginia last week, Fractious and freshman Brandon Simmons were the two primary contributors for a season-high 208 rushing yards. It was the best ground outing of the season for a unit that has been depleted by injury and discouraged by criticism.

When first Dominique Lindsay, then Norman Whitley, and then Chris Johnson went down with injuries, the remaining backs knew that the challenge before them was amplified. But even so, they had seen the pieces fit together in practice enough times to keep their confidence intact.

“Back to minicamp, we felt that we could have the same effect that we displayed in the last game,” said Simmons, a sophomore transfer from Elizabeth City State. “It was just putting all of the pieces together.

"Hearing everybody talk about how we can’t run the ball or whatever, quite naturally due to the fact that myself and the rest of the running backs put so much energy into practices, it was kind of heartbreaking.”

The dynamics in the backfield will change this week with the slated return of Johnson, who has missed two weeks with a turf toe sustained in the West Virginia game. Johnson, a junior, has been back to mostly full speed in practice this week, head coach Skip Holtz said, but time will tell whether Johnson’s foot is healthy enough for him to reclaim the starting job he held when the season opened.

“Right now it’s Brandon’s job,” Holtz said, speaking of Fractious. “Chris is doing well, but we don’t want him to take two steps forward and one step back. I didn’t want to start moving everybody around and all of a sudden he comes out here gimping around a little bit.”

The running back corps is close-knit, Simmons said, and they are glad to have Johnson back just as they look forward to the return of Lindsay and Whitley.

“We really can’t wait to have everybody back so that we can be the complete corps that we want to be,” said Simmons.

The two Brandons know that more firepower equals more opportunity to produce against Tulsa, the 4-1 defending conference champs and an opponent that will sorely test the Pirates’ newfound mettle. Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice sessions, always the most intense of the week, were sparked by the knowledge of the worthiness of the Golden Hurricane, Holtz said.

“It hasn’t been hard to motivate them this week, obviously, with the conference champs coming in, and the Liberty Bowl champs, and the team that’s 4-1 right now, and the team that beat us 45-13,” Holtz said, alluding to the score of Tulsa's pasting of the Pirates last season.

“They understand how good this football team is," Holtz added, "and they understand the challenge that we have.

“This is the best in the league right now.”

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02/23/2007 01:13:22 AM

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