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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, November 10, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Eskeridge redefines attributes of a quality LB

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Van Eskeridge came from a small high school with a big football attitude. So when faced with the challenge of being one of the smallest players in the East Carolina linebacker corps, he knew how to approach what looked like a disparity.

“When I first moved (from safety to linebacker), I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m too small, man, I’m too small,” said Eskeridge, a redshirt freshman from Shelby who has started four games for the Pirates this year. “But as I’ve played it more and more and gotten more comfortable with it, there are some things that I can do to kind of offset my size.”

His primary adjustments at linebacker have to do with the simple reality that he doesn’t have as much room to roam as he did in the backfield, he said. And his decision time has to be shorter now, because plays unfold so quickly for the front seven.

But Eskeridge’s speed is one of the features that, to opposing players, can make him appear larger than 6-feet tall and 206 pounds.

When he was recruited out of Shelby High School, Eskeridge was considered a safety because of his speed and size, but ECU defensive coordinator Greg Hudson started to think outside the box, initially moving Eskeridge up in special situations.

“We moved him there at first for nickel defense, because of the speed and coverage skills,” Hudson said. “Then we had some bumps and bruises, and we kept saying, ‘Van is one of our best tacklers.’ So we moved him there and turned the kid loose, and he’s done it.

"We can’t say enough positive things about how hard he’s worked and embraced the position.”

Eskeridge is third on the team in solo tackles, with 27, and has 41 total tackles, making him the fifth leading Pirate in that category. He has been a steady presence in the place vacated by the injury of sophomore Quentin Cotton, who was expected to be one of ECU’s most tenacious defenders this season.

And Eskeridge has earned his stripes on game days in real time, hitting players whose size and experience at the collegiate level exceed his.

“That’s the only way to really mature as a football player, is to play on Saturdays,” Hudson said. “Anybody can do it in April, or August, or on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But Saturday in the fall, that’s when it’s for real. And that’s when he’s played his best. He has played better than he’s practiced.”

Because Shelby is a small town where high school football is king and they annually compete against teams like Gaffney (SC) and Crest, Eskeridge hasn’t been as intimidated by the move to Division I as one might expect. And it helps that at kickoff of any given home game, there is a small army of Eskeridges that makes the expedition Down East from the foothills to watch Van make tackles.

“My mother and father, brother, sister, nephew, aunts, uncles, everybody, as many tickets as I can get, they all want to come,” he said. “I’m just glad I have their support.”

It was sound advice from his head coach at Shelby High School that first drew Eskeridge to East Carolina. He was one of the first athletes to be pursued by Skip Holtz and his new staff when they took over, and the potential of a fresh start was intriguing to him.

“My coach said that he thought Skip Holtz was going to be a good coach and that it could be a good move with everyone starting off on the same foot,” he said. “I just thought it was an up and coming program, and I could be a good fit here.”

He has found his place, and his team around him also seems to be getting comfortable — with the feeling of winning and playing up to its potential. Eskeridge considers it a privilege to be in sync with his teammates as they look toward win number six against Marshall.

“I just think the team as a whole took this season as a different approach,” Eskeridge said. “We came out more focused, more intense, wanting to get better, wanting to win, staying humble and staying hungry.”

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02/23/2007 01:13:26 AM

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