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Henry's Highlights
Monday, May 30, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Football edging back toward center stage


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Happy Memorial Day! It’s the unofficial first day of summer, which means thoughts can turn to some of our favorite pastimes — swimming, fishing, golfing and wondering how the Pirates will do this fall.

While Randy Mazey’s team may still have some baseball left (depending on the announcement of NCAA pairings today), most people begin to think about football Saturdays in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium about now.

In our state, there is a great opportunity during the summer to compare notes with some of our friends to the west about which of our schools will have the best football program.

It wasn’t that long ago when East Carolina fans could stick out their chests with pride and make the claim that the Pirates were the “best in the Carolinas” … remember that? Seems like a long time ago. Could the program get back to that lofty status again?

The Wolfpack has not fired a shot since the departure of Phillip Rivers two seasons ago and the Tar Heels are still trying to “find themselves” in the shadow of a rebuilt basketball powerhouse.

Duke and Wake Forest can also play the game. Jim Grobe has turned the fortunes of the Deacons around in Winston-Salem and the Blue Devils may also be on the verge of something good.

Ted Roof has a very strong nucleus of skilled players returning to Durham this fall, and if he can find an offensive line the Devils might generate the most noise they've made since Steve Spurrier left town.

In fact, ECU must open with Roof’s Devils on Labor Day weekend in Dowdy-Ficklen. The second-year head coach was in Greenville this week for golf with some area Iron Dukes and an after-dinner speech. He was giving the expected pre-season spiel about how the Pirates were going to be much better and very tough this season.

But does he really believe it?

The truth is that Skip Holtz is still trying to find a way to put together a high-powered spread offense with no quarterback. He does not have an active player who has taken a snap in a real college football game. How that turns out in fall practice will determine everything about East Carolina’s season.

There is still some hope that last year’s starter, James Pinkney, will return after flunking out in the spring. However, Pinkney will have more than his poor performance in the classroom to overcome if he is going to play for a new coaching staff.

He will also have to earn the coaches' trust and make them believe he truly has turned a new leaf and can be counted on to attend class and redeem himself for his rocky off-field performance of last year.

With Pinkney, ECU could be competitive this season. Without him, it will be mid-season before one of the other young QB's will have the chance to blossom. That will clearly mean Holtz will have to re-build the program more slowly.

With the offensive-minded philosophy Holtz has employed in the past, having a young, inexperienced quarterback grasp a difficult offensive game plan will take time.

Remember when David Garrard took over as the starter at ECU in the mid 90’s? Going through the progression of finding five different receivers took time. Then, all of a sudden after several games, he seemed to get it.

The same will be true for any of the quarterbacks in Holtz’s new system. Having Pinkney back could speed that process simply because of his on-field experience and his talented throwing arm.

So, enjoy the summer. September 4th will be here before you know it. Just be careful what you say to your ACC friends this year. The incubation period on the changes Terry Holland has made in the Pirate football program is just beginning. Making any claims about how ECU football is back may be a bit premature.

Maybe next summer.


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02/23/2007 10:16:21 AM

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