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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, August 1, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Plush digs link past, present Pirates

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Dwayne Ledford isn’t sure exactly how many football locker rooms he’s passed through in his long and eventful career, at East Carolina in the mid-90's, through seven years in the NFL and, finally, as an assistant coach in NFL Europe.

But Ledford is sure about this: The new ECU football locker room is the nicest one he’s ever walked into. And when the 2008 Pirate squad walks in today to open preseason practice, he’s sure their eyes will get a little wider.

When the Pirate Club asked Ledford to donate a locker to the new space, he willingly invested in the program that helped launch his football career years ago. And now that he’s back in purple and gold as a graduate assistant coach, Ledford will have plenty of chances to enjoy the room that seems to symbolize new and promising frontiers for Pirate football.

“I think the direction that East Carolina has been going toward, with the facilities upgrade, the coaching staff, they’ve got a lot of things going right for them,” said Ledford, who signed with the 49ers out of ECU in 1998 and went on to play or practice with the Jaguars, Panthers, Browns and Saints. “It feels really good to come back and be able to contribute to East Carolina once again.”

Because of his donation to the locker room project, a $375,000 venture that was fully funded by private donations, Ledford will get to see his name imprinted on one of the new wood-grain lockers. He doesn’t know which player will use the locker this season, he said, but he requested that it be an offensive lineman like him.

“Being able to jump on board and sponsor one of the lockers felt good, “he said. “I see how the program is just continuing upwards. It will be nice to be able to go see my name along with a lot of former Pirates, the guys that I remember looking up to.”

After a generous lead gift from Raleigh businessman David Bond, the Pirate Club turned next to former letter winners like Ledford.

The response, according to Matt Maloney, has been heartening. Former Pirate greats Earnest Byner, Vonta Leach, George Koonce, Guy Whimper and Jeff Blake have either sent in or pledged donations, and one former player even gave an anonymous gift in memory of Morris Foreman, a former standout linebacker at ECU who died of an apparent heart attack three years ago at the age of 32.

“The response has been tremendous,” said Maloney, the assistant athletic director for major gifts. “People are really excited, and this is going to be some of these guys’ first gifts.”

The features of the new locker room include details like separate lockable compartments in each player’s locker and dramatic touches like the Pirates’ head logo in the middle of the rug, a sacred symbol with a tradition already — no Pirate cleat or tennis shoe is to walk across it.

The lockers, which like every other aspect of the room were designed and constructed locally, were made of a unique form of imported bamboo wood. The doors have Pirate head logos inscribed in the wood, and the shelves are even lined with a special material designed to combat mold and other moisture.

“We really tried to step this up first class,” said assistant AD for operations J. J. McLamb, who oversaw the project for the athletic department.

The room also includes eight flat-screen televisions — six with regular TV reception and two designed as a communication system for the players. Any university employee who needs to convey information to the team can do so using those sets.

Another memorable touch is the huge wall mural depicting Dowdy-Ficklen stadium, McLamb said, which is designed to remind the players, each time they walk in, that game day is the ultimate goal every time they get outfitted in that room.

And one more significant symbol, requested by Bond when he made his lead donation, is a special locker — always left empty — standing out on its own. The sign on the locker reads, “Stay Humble, Stay Hungry.”

It’s the kind of motivation that can become implanted in a player’s psyche and surface when the players start to weary and the game is on the line.

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08/01/2008 04:31:46 PM

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