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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, September 14, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

New stalwarts emerging for ECU

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

A football game unfolds with numerous drives and scores of plays, and each one can be like a window opening for any player.

With each snap, a player can help propel his team to victory and himself to renown in his team’s corner of the world.

Saturday’s North Carolina game was an unforgettable team win for East Carolina, and the immediate spotlight fell naturally on place-kicker Ben Hartman and quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

But in the afterglow there was plenty of time for other standouts to emerge, young men who are enjoying the sensation of everything coming together in the dawn of the season, with the potential for countless big plays ahead. Two such pacesetting Pirates are wide receiver Jamar Bryant and defensive end Zack Slate.

After an outstanding high school career under Ed Emory at Richmond County High School, Bryant signed with Georgia but was forced to spend a year at Hargrave Military Academy because of academic considerations. Things fell apart with Georgia, and he ended up at East Carolina.

So Bryant came in saddled with high expectations last season, but a string of injuries kept him from getting in the rhythm of the offense, and in the end he only caught 11 passes for 108 yards.

He has already surpassed those totals in the Pirates' first two games, with 10 catches for 113 yards. Bryant is turning in the types of performances that were foreshadowed years ago, wide receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick said, but his talent and athleticism have finally converged with good health and confidence in the system and players around him.

“Last year we wanted to use him more, but he kept getting hurt and he never really understood the offense,” Kirkpatrick said. “This year, he seems to know what to do.”

The top wide receiver in the N.C. Shrine Bowl who also played quarterback, running back, linebacker and defensive back in high school, Bryant has exceptional toughness for a wide receiver and the kind of magnetic attraction to the ball that makes quarterbacks want to find him, Kirkpatrick said.

“Jamar is one of the toughest football players, no matter what position, that I’ve been around,” he said. “He’s got great courage, he doesn’t mind going over the middle, he doesn’t mind jumping for the ball knowing he’s going to get hit afterwards. He has great hands. He can catch anything that’s around him.”

Bryant says he is having a great time so far, especially in the emotion of starting his first home game before a lively sell-out crowd on Saturday. And his confidence in the player on the other end of the football is growing with every outing.

“Pat (Pinkney) threw the ball, I caught it,” Bryant said of ECU's playmaking QB. “Perfect balls, I had no choice but to catch ‘em.”

When Bryant isn’t on the field, Zach Slate is likely to be on his way to the line of scrimmage. With six tackles against UNC-Chapel Hill, 11 for the season and two sacks, Slate has provided solid confirmation of the ECU coaches’ feeling that he was better suited for the defensive line than linebacker, his original Pirate position.

“We moved him last year, because we just felt like we needed more athleticism on the edge,” defensive line coach Thomas “Rock” Roggeman said. “He had a good year last year, and he’s having an excellent year this year. He just gets better and better.

“He’s got great work ethic. He goes full speed all the time, he’s 100 miles an hour from the first whistle to the end. He gives us great athleticism and speed and effort every snap.”

Slate can hardly even recall his linebacker days, he said, so fulfilling is his current role stirring things up on the line. His personal play so far is a microcosm for the team as a whole, which he believes is stepping it up in every area.

“Each year we make a point that we’re going to raise it to another level, so that’s what we continue to do,” he said. “And I think that’s what people are seeing. The whole team’s bought into it, it’s just a matter of correcting mistakes now.”

A junior from Melbourne, FL, Slate is an important part of the ECU defensive strategy to rotate strong players in and out of defensive positions. Specifically on the line, Roggeman is trying to groom eight starters for four positions — athletes like Slate, Linval Joseph, Mark Robinson and Marcus Hands — so that the momentum never lags if a player gets tired.

“Hopefully next week we’ll be talking about somebody else who had a great game,” Kirkpatrick said.

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09/14/2007 02:09:09 AM

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