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Henry's Highlights
Monday, December 5, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Holtz shifts focus to stiff challenges ahead


7:00-9:00 a.m.

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Season wrap-up
press conference


The 2005 football season is just nine days in the rear view mirror but Skip Holtz is already looking ahead to next year. What he sees is enough to excite him and possibly scare him to death.

There is little doubt the East Carolina football program is on the rebound under Holtz. After two dismal seasons under John Thompson, Holtz and his staff have breathed new life into the Pirate program.

Up next for ECU will be a 2006 season when expectations will have been raised. The honeymoon will be over when the Pirates take the field next September.

Holtz will need to use the strong finish from this past season as a catalyst to make his team believe they can compete with an upgraded schedule. Consecutive wins over Marshall and UAB could well give the returning players the confidence they need to build on a 5-6 season.

They will need confidence. There will be as many as 10 bowl teams on their schedule, including the Wolfpack, Navy, Virginia and West Virginia from out of the conference. Six Conference USA teams are headed to postseason play.

“As I told this football team, we are in December, and we certainly don't have time to get a pat on the back and take the month off and enjoy the holidays,” Holtz said Friday. “We have hit recruiting hard and we'll come back and get started in January, but yet, eight teams that we play next year are still practicing. Those teams that we play next season are still lifting and having a `spring practice' in the winter. It is really important right now because we started our weightlifting program on Monday after the UAB game.”

Holtz will have to replace some key players from the ’05 campaign particularly on defense. Looking ahead, however, ECU will have a lot of experience in the skilled positions.

The entire backfield of James Pinkney, Chris Johnson and Brandon Fractious will return, as will freshman Dominique Lindsay, who got some quality minutes late in the season.

Also returning will be a stable of wide receivers. Recent talk of Aundrae Allison leaving for the NFL has pretty much been put to rest in the wake of the announcement that the first-team All C-USA receiver sustained a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee in the UAB game.

"From my meetings with Aundrae, right now I do expect him to be back,” Holtz said. “We have met twice now on the issue, and I made him aware that if this was something that he wanted to do there were ways to test the waters. The NFL has some things where you can apply for the draft as an underclassman, and get a draft status back so that you are not making a blind decision."

"We talked about some of his weaknesses right now, and some of the things that he can come back next year and improve on," added Holtz. "He understands those areas of weakness. I think that it is important for him to finish strong academically right now.

"He is rehabbing an injury to his knee, which is another thing that would make that transition difficult for him."

If Allison does return as expected, he will be joined by the likes of Bobby Good, Jerek Hewitt, Robert Tillman and possibly Jamar Bryant. Bryant, a prop 48 transfer from the University of Georgia will find out in the next few days if he will be eligible in 2006.

If Bryant should qualify, East Carolina could well have one of the most exciting receiving corps in the entire nation next season. The former Richmond County High School star was recruited by nearly every college in the southeast before signing with the Bulldogs. Bryant spent last year at Hargrave Military and enrolled at ECU in August after obtaining his release from UGA coach Mark Richt.

The thought of a confident James Pinkney throwing bullets to Allison and Bryant is enough to increase season ticket sales next season even without the marquee names like Virginia and West Virginia that will invade Dowdy-Ficklen in ’06.

Holtz and his staff will most likely have to look to the junior college ranks to shore up the offensive line and some holes on defense that will be left by seniors like Chris Moore and Richard Koonce.

Speaking to the season's last organized meeting of the media, Holtz sounded optimistic about where the program is headed.

"The final games of last year were not only a send off for the seniors, but they were building blocks for Shauntae Hunt, Eric Graham, Kasey Ross, James Pinkney, Aundrae Allison and a lot of the juniors that are going to have to step up as next year's leaders," said Holtz. "It has really been nice to see those guys take a leadership role in the weight room for the last week, because they have been working hard and getting started. They understand the challenge that we have. We still have a long way to go, but it is something that we are extremely excited about."

Pirate fans are already looking back at the 2005 season as the year ECU got back on track. Holtz will now be challenged to keep his able and experienced staff together and get everyone focused on a much more difficult schedule ahead next season.

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04/21/2008 07:08:05 PM

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