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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, March 23, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Hokies not the only spring motivator

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

It hardly feels like spring yet, so summer and fall are beyond imagination when the East Carolina football team takes the field for its annual rite of the season that should really be called “winter to spring” football.

The Pirates know their first opponent is Virginia Tech, but in reality that game is still nearly half a year away, and no one really knows what the team will look like by Sept. 1.

So what is the source of motivation for players who come out and run drills day after day in March?

It’s simple, coach Skip Holtz said. They’re competing fiercely for their positions on the depth chart.

“Everybody’s fighting for a job,” he said. “They understand what’s on the line every time they walk out here. They could cheat a practice and get through it, but it’s going to show up on test day when we get out to these scrimmages.”

When the coaching staff needs to impart a little more gravity to this four-week series of workouts, they remind the three classes of players on hand that when preseason ball starts in August, the new freshmen will be there too.

And those freshmen, the coaches remind the current Pirates, will be more than happy to throw their hats in the ring for starting roles.

“If they can’t earn it in the spring, the underclassmen are going to have an opportunity to step in," said Holtz. "And I say it all the time, that the underclassmen play because the upperclassmen give them a chance in the spring.”

Junior linebacker Fred Wilson seems headed for a top job on the 2007 defense, and he is trying to set the pace in spring by staying sharp and keeping the end in mind every day, he said. The more focused he becomes, the more the months between today and the season opener seem to evaporate.

“The time goes by real fast,” said Wilson, who was ranked fifth on the team with 56 tackles last season. “The first game against Virginia Tech, that’s a game that we’re definitely waiting on. We’re out here practicing like the game is next week.”

Josh Coffman is looking at a senior season in which he’ll be one of the offensive anchors for the Pirates after being named to the Conference USA All-Conference second team for his 2006 performance. As he sees it, spring practice is more about team progress than it is about individual development.

“I’m motivated by the drive to get better, to develop as a team and lay down the foundation for next year,” Coffman said. “We need to try to get everybody on the same page going into the season so that we can have a united front against Virginia Tech.”

Spring is also a time to try playing some unfamiliar positions, and every year the coaches seem to pinpoint at least one athlete who is not playing in his optimum place and would be better served by playing elsewhere. Of course, that’s a phenomenon that’s not out of the ordinary for the offensive lineman, Coffman said, since injuries forced many of them to play more than one line position last season.

“You have to be prepared for whatever is coming,” said Coffman, who played both guard and tackle last year. “Coach Shank (offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler) really pushes that in us, because one day he’ll come into practice and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this position?’ He really keeps us on our toes.”

If the offensive line is in a state of flux, it’s a microcosm of the entire team at this point, Holtz said. There are plenty of rough edges showing up every day on the field, some junior college recruits that are not in spring drills could contribute right away, and players like Pierre Bell, Terrance Campbell and Willie Barton are out with injuries.

But for the coaches, the slow molding process from individual football players to a formidable team is really what spring is all about.

“I keep looking at this thing,” Holtz said. “We have some talent, some speed. But we are very young right now. It’s very hard to put it all together. We’ve got to look at things in pieces right now. We’ll put it together as best we can with what we have to work with.”

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03/23/2007 01:40:42 AM

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