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Henry's Highlights
Monday, August 8, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Holtz applying his mark, sizing up his assets



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The Skip Holtz era has begun at East Carolina with the opening of fall practice.

The new Pirate skipper met with the media on Saturday and addressed a number of topics of more than passing interest.

Holtz explained why you won’t see players’ names on jerseys this season, talked about the return of James Pinkney and made note of the excitement some of the incoming freshmen are bringing to the program.

Holtz spoke to a group of approximately 50 members of the press on Saturday during the annual ECU media day event.

“We’ve waited for this a long time,” Holtz said, alluding to the official start of preseason camp. “Everything we’ve done for the last nine months, with the exception of 15 days of spring practice, has been without a ball.”

Holtz has been particularly impressed during the first few days of drills by a select group of newcomers to the program. He singled out former West Brunswick track and football star Jereck Hewett.

As defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and secondary coach Rick Smith attempt to strengthen a porous defense from the last several years they are hoping Hewett can step in at cornerback and have an impact on the turnaround.

Hewett just captured the individual national championship title in the 100-meter dash at the USA Track and Field Championships last week with a time of 10.43. He was also part of a national champion 4x100 relay squad which finished with a time of 40.00.

But it’s not only Hewett's speed that has the coaching staff excited about what they have seen in the first few days of camp.

"He has a combination of size, speed and athleticism,” said Holtz. “I’m still anxious to see him when we put on pads, because as athletic as he is I want to just make sure he is not allergic to leather before we take him out there and say that we’re going to play him a whole lot.”

The only other true freshman Holtz mentioned by name in his opening comments was quarterback Rob Kass, a 6’4" 240-pound newcomer from Longwood, FL, who reportedly has turned some heads in early drills.

Holtz said many other incoming rookies have been impressive but stopped short of saying they will make a huge early impact.

“There are quite a number of these freshmen that are going to play for this football team and have a chance to help us win,” he said. “I don’t want to turn everybody loose and throw them to the wolves right away. I would love to red-shirt them all but if they have a chance to help this football team as freshmen then we’re going to play them.”

Perhaps the biggest break for Holtz has been the return of quarterback James Pinkney, who missed spring practice due to academics. After finally getting a chance to be side-by-side on the field with last year’s starter, Holtz likes what he sees early.

“He (Pinkney) paid a price during the spring semester by working here in town. He bussed tables,” said Holtz. “I told him when this thing happened that he had two choices. He could stay here and try to stay focused on what he had to do or he could go home. He said he wanted to be here. He wanted to stay in Greenville and wanted to be around this team.”

“He came back and did a phenomenal job this summer,” said Holtz. “I’m really pleased with the commitment he has made to be where he is right now. He’s been given a second lease on life and I certainly hope he makes the best of it. On the football field James Pinkney can make us a better football team. You can see his talent, the way he carries himself on the field.

"I’ve said from the beginning until he turns and earns it I can’t give it to him right now, until he learns it mentally. But I definitely think he has the chance to make us a better offensive football team and I’m certainly glad that we have him.”

One difference fans will notice when ECU opens with Duke on September 3rd is the absence of players' names on the backs of the jerseys. Holtz indicates he believes the team is “buying in” to what the coaches are trying to sell in terms of a new culture and attitude much more quickly than when he was involved in starting turnarounds at UConn and South Carolina.

The removal of individual names is making a statement that Holtz wants the team to understand.

“One of the players said, 'Coach, we’ve always had our names on our uniforms,' ” said Holtz. “I said no, we’ve got the one on the front. That’s the only one we need to worry about right now. Until we’re proud of the one on the front I don’t care about the one on the back.”

With 26 days remaining before the season opener with Duke at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Holtz seems cautiously optimistic about what he has seen in the first few days of practice.

How good does he believe this team can be?

“I’ve said all along that I don’t know how good we can be because I haven’t played anybody on our schedule, but I look at it and realize that there isn’t anybody on our schedule that we have beaten in the last three years,” he said. “So I don’t know how we compare to everybody, but the way this team is working I think they have a chance to be competitive. I’m anxious to see how we grow as a football team as we go through camp.”

The first full week of practice is in full swing and the coaches will continue to evaluate their personnel. For the moment Holtz sounds like a guy who believes there is a lot to build on after just being on the field with the players for a few days.


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02/23/2007 10:16:32 AM

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