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Henry's Highlights
Monday, July 18, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Fortunes on the rise for reenergized program


Replay the 07/14/05 archive of Talk of the Town with Henry Hinton, featuring an interview with Skip Holtz:

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Just as the end of the John Thompson era seemed to coincide with a flurry of bad news relating to attrition, it appears Skip Holtz is starting his run with a string of positive happenings.

The new Pirate head coach will need all the help he can get and it appears some help may be on the way.

Just back from vacation, Holtz appears refreshed, renewed and ready to take on the mammoth task of rebuilding a once-proud East Carolina football program. Phoning in last Thursday on Talk 1070’s Talk of the Town, Holtz sounded like a guy itching to get going with the turnaround.

After some family beach time, a visit with his famous parents in Florida and an anniversary trip to the Bahamas with wife Jennifer, Holtz returned to Greenville to learn he may have some players he wasn’t expecting to have that could have an impact on the program this season.

Coach Holtz says the pre-season will begin in about a week with what he calls “hideaway meetings,” a period of daily sessions during which his staff will be unavailable from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to take phone calls, talk to the media or even meet with players. It will be here that Holtz will set down the guidelines for every piece of the rebuilding effort with his staff.

Players will report to camp on August 4th and practice begins in earnest the next day.

It now appears Holtz will have last season’s starting quarterback James Pinkney at his disposal. While Holtz is not allowed to discuss anything specific about Pinkney’s academics, he is able to elaborate on what everyone is hoping — the prospect that Pinkney will be eligible on September 4th when ECU starts the season at home against Duke.

”James is doing everything he’s supposed to do and as long as he continues to do that — now this is kinda like a work in progress — he can do great for 11 of the 12 weeks, but if throws in the towel in the 12th week it doesn’t matter,” Holtz said.

“Right now he is doing everything he’s supposed to do and I’ve been very pleased with the responses I’ve heard about what he’s doing academically and his attitude and the way he is working with everything, so I’m encouraged right now. I think if he continues to do what he is supposed to do he has a chance to be back with us.”

In total, nine players who were injured either during or before spring practice will make making implementation of Holtz’s new offensive schemes a challenge when fall practice starts. The returning wounded include senior tight ends Shawn Levesque and Sean Harmon and last year’s leading receiver Bobby Good.

Holtz recently got great news about another tight end when a new NCAA ruling allowed Guy Whimper to have another shot.

“Guy played quite a bit a year ago,” said Holtz. “This is a big break for him. I know he is excited about coming back and maximizing his second opportunity. From all the positive things I’ve heard about him I’m really excited to get with him on the field.”

Another huge shot in the arm could come from a group of players picked up after the February signing date for new recruits. While Holtz can’t talk about those still considered recruits, it appears in one key instance that Georgia’s loss will be ECU’s gain. Jamar Bryant, rated the number 7 prospect in the state in 2003 by SuperPrep magazine, reportedly will play for the Pirates this season.

Bryant, a quarterback and receiver from Richmond County, was recruited by Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State and Tennessee before signing with Georgia last year. But he failed to qualify academically and spent the academic year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia with intentions of suiting up for the Bulldogs this season.

However, the NCAA Clearinghouse reportedly did not clear Bryant to enroll in Athens in the fall. The way it is working out it appears ECU can get him in to play this year while UGA could not, so Bryant will become a Pirate.

There could be others in the same situation and it appears the high profile Holtz name may be drawing them to Greenville.

Coach Holtz explained it this way: “Everybody goes through their signing date in February and everybody commits where they’re going. But all of a sudden one school will fill up or academically someone will not do what they were suppose to do to be able to get into a certain school and there are some players who are available out there right now."

"You try and keep that search close to home,” said Holtz. “You don’t want to scour the country at this point and there a couple of guys that will be joining us that I’m excited about. I can’t comment on them at this point because they are still classified as recruits but I hope everything is going to work out.”

Even with the unexpected shot in the arm the new and returning players should give the Pirates in the fall, Holtz is quick to caution that expectations should be tempered — even in the case of Pinkney.

“Just because they are available doesn’t mean they will be impact players’ warns Holtz. “We really have some challenges ahead of us in terms of putting the team together because we’re probably going to have to spend the first week or two installing the offense and trying to bring some of these new guys in and we have to find out how quickly they can pick it up.”

Holtz says the speed at which the players can pick up the new schemes will be the determining factor of how much of the offense can be installed in August. That is going to be complicated by the fact that three key offensive linemen — Hunter Wood, James Myrick and Lance Neisz — were injured in the spring.

“If a player is good enough to win with but he can’t learn everything, then you have to cut your offense down so you can get a guy like that on the field”, said Holtz. “So a lot will be predicated on can we do everything we wanted to do? We may have to be a little more conservative in order to get some of our better players on the field.”

Holtz seems to fit the Greenville community like a glove. An avid outdoorsman and golfer, the new head coach says all the members of his staff are enjoying their new surroundings.

“It’s been incredible” said Holtz. “Greenville is a great place to live and I say that and I’ve only been here for six or seven months now. Everybody you run into couldn’t be nicer. The people in the area, the community, the size of the town, the way they support the university, the closeness in the neighborhood… it’s a great part of the country to live in.

"I think Greenville sells itself. I think people who have been here (like assistant head coach Donnie Thompson) understand it and appreciate what a great place it is. But I think people like (defensive coordinator) Greg Hudson — I mean he hasn’t put a shirt on since he’s been here coming out of Minnesota (laughs). He’s just excited to be in the warm weather.”

Listening to Holtz you can hear the excitement, and every ounce of that enthusiasm will be needed to bring the program back to respectability. Ever the positive thinker, Holtz is choosing to see the glass half full instead of half empty.

“When you walk into a program that has won just three games in two years you probably look for everything to be broken — and everything is not broken” he says. “We’re a long way from being where we want to be but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the attitude of these players and how hard they’re working and the togetherness as a group. So that probably has been my most pleasant surprise.”

With a new challenge and a set of recharged batteries, Skip Holtz seems to be ready for what lies ahead. He also knows that the September 3rd opener will be before you know it.

He jokes that it's easy to be positive when he is undefeated. But if the positive news of the last few weeks is any indication of what is to come, perhaps there will be some real cheering in Greenville in the fall.


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02/23/2007 10:16:29 AM

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