made Wishbone fly
Though small in size, Leander
Green was big in the whole of
(Photo: ECU Media Relations)
he quickly points to Jeff Blake as the marquee member of the East
Carolina quarterback continuum, Leander Green likes to think that maybe,
somewhere on that growing list of quality signal callers, there is a spot
who watched Green direct Pat Dye’s Wishbone offense from 1977-79, there
is no question that the smallish speedster from Down East belongs among
what has become a legendary line of QBs at ECU.
know, I’m glad that I did a decent job of it,” Green said, reflecting on
his place in Pirate lore. “I don’t ever remember Coach Dye commenting on
where I fall (in comparison) with other Wishbone quarterbacks. But, I
know he gave me the chance to play and I was fortunate to have had some
success with that chance.”
clearly a different era in the landscape of college football, but at
ECU, the era that featured a prolific running attack is highlighted
clearly in contrast to the complex passing game the offense has
emphasized for more than a decade.
requirements at quarterback were simple. In practical terms, though, it
was quite hard to find a
guy who could do it well. The Wishbone was predicated on speed of foot
and of mind. And the triggerman had to be able to make multiple reads in
split seconds while never allowing his eyes to give away what his mind
was processing. In Green, Dye found another Mike Weaver… except with
exceptional speed. And Dye found him by seeing what others didn’t see.
the Wishbone at Jacksonville High School,” Green said. “And, they ran it
at East Carolina, so it was a good match for me. Wake Forest, Virginia
Tech, and others were interested, but not for quarterback. Appalachian
State ran the Wishbone then as well and I probably would have been a
quarterback there, but of the big schools, East Carolina was the only
one that saw me as a quarterback.”
Pirates linebacker coach Frank Orkle saw Green play at Jacksonville, he
told Dye that they had a quarterback prospect.
Dye came to our home and he was sincere with us,” Green said. “I felt
like he would give me an opportunity to play. We talked about the
Wishbone and he said that he felt that I could fit into his program very
well. He was pretty candid and that was a good fit for me.”
had to rely on his gut instincts during the recruiting process. His
biggest source of football support, his father Lander, passed away late
in his high school career, and his mother, Agnes, wasn’t very vocal in weighing in on
his decision on where to go — though later she would admit she wanted
her son closer to home.
my dad my senior year,” Green said. “He had always wanted me to go to
Georgia Tech and, before he passed, he had called an assistant coach
there and they wanted me to come down and walk on to the team. My mom
wanted me to be happy, but she stayed out of those types of decisions.
Losing dad made ECU an easier choice for me because I wanted to stay
close to my mom and home. I have two younger brothers (Roderick and
Lamont) who were at home then. East Carolina was the right fit for me
not only as a quarterback, but also with what was going on at home.”
decision was made more obvious at practice for the Shrine Bowl and the
East-West All-Star games. He and Jacksonville teammate Billy Ray
Washington (Split End at ECU from 1977-79) were close friends and wanted
to go to the same school. At the practices, the two met a bunch of
players from around the state that just clicked. The group then
Ray and I had played together since midget ball and he was trying to
make a decision on a school and we wanted to go to the same school,”
Green said. “When we went to the Shrine Bowl and the East-West game, we
met a bunch of guys and we all became (fast) friends. We all decided on
East Carolina. For Billy Ray, who was a receiver, it probably wasn’t the
best fit. But for me, it was. For some of the other guys, it was more
about all of us getting together and becoming friends. So, we all
decided to go to ECU, together.”
importantly to Green during preparations for the East-West all-star
game, were some words from his future coach. On the East roster along
with Green was another quarterback and ECU-signee Tony Tripp. Tripp was
a standout from Havelock High School for legendary coach Frank Ciamillo.
That year, Ciamillo was the coach for the East team in the all-star game
and he played his quarterback for most of the game, leaving Green to be
mostly an observer on the sideline.
ECU vs. William & Mary (Submitted Photo)
Dye, the coach, was the same as the man that signed me,” Green said. “He
was pretty straight up with me from when I signed to when I finished (at
ECU). In the East-West game, for some reason Coach Ciamillo didn’t see
much in me and did not play me much. After the game, Coach Dye came down
and said, ‘I know you’re upset and that both of you are coming (to ECU).
You both are going to get a shot to see who is the better quarterback.’
That meant a lot to me and I won the job and Tripp moved to linebacker.
I felt good about that. Again, it was the fairness of Coach Dye to let
you line up and do your job and may the best man win.”
official visit to ECU only furthered his belief that he was heading in
the right direction.
say, I am a small time guy and had not seen a lot of big universities
since they weren’t recruiting me,” he said. “I was not being wowed much.
Virginia Tech had nice facilities but it was so far away. East
Carolina… as far as I was concerned, they had a football program and
facilities didn’t mean a whole lot to me. The people seemed friendly and
I was paling around with guys like Zack Valentine and they were
welcoming me in the family. They all talked about trying to start
something big at East Carolina and that appealed to me.”
course to be a big part of something big, requires that a player start
as a little part.
just like the other freshman,” he recalled. “Everyone starts out as a
bug-eater on scout team. To me, it was just jumping out there and
playing football. It was where it all starts. As far as (college players
being) bigger and faster, nothing really registered to me. Except maybe
Cary Godette. Cary was there and he was a household name… he was the man.
I never had to run into him much, and that was very good for me.”
he showed many glimpses early on of the quarterback that he became while
at ECU, Green is the first to point out that he had a long way to
go before he ever felt like he was good.
first got there, Mike Weaver was the quarterback,” Green said. “Watching
him, I did immediately find out that I had a lot to learn. In high
school, every play was predetermined… you know, you hand it here, or you
keep it. In college, it was all read with nothing except the snap
predetermined. I learned an awful lot from Mike Weaver, watching him.
Mike had the greatest mechanics for a Wishbone quarterback than any
other I’ve ever seen, including all of them… at Oklahoma, Arkansas,
whatever. He was an outstanding quarterback. Weaver was one of those
guys who you would watch and just say to yourself, ‘hmmmmmm!’”
he had hoped to get some playing time as a freshman, after watching his
predecessor, he knew it wouldn’t be at quarterback that year. It would
be his sophomore year before he got the chance.
Weaver graduating, that left me and (senior) Jimmy Southerland to battle
for the position and I saw my opportunity to make it at the position,”
Green said. “My sophomore year was probably my favorite year. Me and
Jimmy formed a great partnership and we actually alternated that year.
It couldn’t have worked out any better. If I was not having a good game,
he would come in and give us a boost. He was a little better in the
passing game and I was a better runner. We got along great and it was a
good system for us.”
was 8-3 using the dual quarterback system, and then, his junior season,
Green took over full-time, leading the Pirates to records of 9-3 and
7-3-1 respectively. Looking back, Green admits that he evolved a lot
wasn’t that comfortable (in the offense) until my senior year,” he said.
“My sophomore year, I was decent but had a lot to learn. My junior year,
I honestly stayed beat up pretty much the whole season. We opened with
the State game and they had a good team and they beat me up pretty good.
From that point, I stayed broken up most of the season. My senior year,
I felt pretty good. We had a lot of seasoned guys so we could have a
couple of plays called in the huddle and it was easy to check off at the
line of scrimmage. We were pretty good but we lost a couple of key games
that kept us from a bowl game. The offense scored a lot of points but we
still lost to Duke when we should have beat them and we lost to Wake by
a field goal. Those games cost us (a bowl).”
of course, attributes the success to those around him.
fortunate to have guys like Theodore Sutton, Anthony Collins, Eddie
Hicks, Mike Hawkins, Sam Harrell, and Willie Hawkins to give the ball
to,” Green said. “When you have that type of talent, it’s a lot easier
to be a good quarterback.”
appreciation for his offensive teammates is evident, but it pales in
comparison to how he sounds when he recalls some of the guys on the
other side of the Pirate line of scrimmage.
Valentine,” he recalled. “I don’t think I ever saw anyone ever beat him
in practice. His technique was so good, he just didn’t get beat. And the
other end, Fred Chavis… he was not real big, in fact sometimes he played
defensive back, but he could run like crazy. Gerald Hall was a super
quick defensive back and as good a punt returner as I have ever seen.
And Doug Smith… I have had rarely had a player wow me like Doug. We used
to call him ‘Bam-Bam’ because this guy was a bad dude. He was big, fast,
strong and when he came in his freshman year, he was obviously something
Bam-Bam got a little punished his freshman year by the defensive guys.
Man, Zack and his (defensive) crew were something very special at ECU.”
though by nature unassuming, deserves the recognition he gets from the
ECU faithful. He made the Wishbone look easy, with the fluidness of
water… fast moving water, of course.
“It is a
difficult position to play,” he said. “Once the snap comes, your
mechanics need to be good. You have to force yourself to stay on the
line (of scrimmage) and not drift into the backfield. You have to ride
the fullback and you can’t look at him, you have to feel him back there.
And when I say ride him, it really is a ride because my eyes are fixed
on the (defensive) tackle, linebacker, or end depending on what the
alignment is. There are multiple reads on every play and it all happens
to decide to pull or give based on a sequence of reads that have to be
made internally. If you make a bad read, you’re dead.”
yes… Green made it look easy and in the Dye era, the Pirates rolled to a
48-18-1 mark with the smallish quarterback from Jacksonville
orchestrating 24 of those victories.
good on his promise to give Green a shot at the position and Green
delivered. Though his mechanics and speed were clearly visible, it was
the intangibles of being a Pirate that made the difference for Green.
“Coach Dye ingrained in us,
that sense that we were all outcasts of some sort,” Green said. “He used
to call us the skinny-legged guys that nobody else wanted. We were the
mediocre guys that turned out to be pretty good football players. We
weren’t Carolina or State, we were just little ol’ East Carolina… but you
didn’t want to play us.
“We were a bunch of walk-ons
and not-highly-recruited guys that turned out to be pretty good. Guys
like Sutton, Harold Randolph, Hicks… we were a bunch of guys nobody else
wanted. But we came together as a team, committed to building a
Green takes great
satisfaction when he sees the Pirates as a program today.
Green at work
“I absolutely feel a part of
the program’s success,” he said. “Zack and the (Les & Kenny) Strayhorns
and (Carlester) Crumpler, they all started it and we carried it on.
Coach Dye carried it on and we all ensured that it kept going in the
right direction. I think we all take some satisfaction there. I know I
like to think that I had a little to do with that growth.”
Green left East Carolina and
went into a career at Carolina Telephone, where he has remained for
20-plus years. He has worked through all of the buyouts and mergers that
have him now as a manager at Sprint.
Green is married, to Denise.
no children and he spends his free time like many former athletes, on
the links, where he is working down his handicap — which is a
respectable 6, for the record.
If he has any regrets, it is
only that he didn’t give the NFL a shot. Otherwise, he is happy at home
in North Carolina.
“If I regret anything after
college, it was that I did not make an attempt on my own to play in the
NFL,” he said. “I had the feeling.... that I was always too small to
play (in the League), but I always had the feeling I was too small to
play football period. But, I did it in junior high, high, and at the
college level, so I regret not giving the next level a shot. It would
have certainly not been at quarterback in the NFL, but I feel like I
might have competed at the receiver spot.”
He will always wonder, ‘what
if,’ but it doesn’t dominate Green’s being.
“Really… I can’t complain,” he
said. “I can put food on the table and a roof over our heads. I can’t
say that I ever aspired to be CEO or something like that. I guess I
really ‘like calling North Carolina home (pause for giggle).’ I
wanted to hang out here and was able to do that in the
telecommunications industry, which is having some tough times now. So, I
can’t complain, I’ve been with them for more than 20 years.”
On the golf course
And he gets his competitive
“I am a golfing fanatic,” he
said. “I really do enjoy it. I got into it, probably, in my early 30s.
At first, I dabbled a bit until some of the guys who I play with started
to pick at me and got my competitive juices running. So, I said to
myself, ‘I can do this.’ Been getting better ever since. I really look
forward (to the golf tourney at) Lettermen’s (weekend) each year.”
ECU has remained important to
Green, but like many football players, his deepest connections are
really not memories of being on the field. And he is really not a good
watcher of football these days.
“Probably strange, I guess
people don’t understand it, but I really enjoyed playing it, but not
really watching it,” he said. “When I do go to an ECU game, I don’t sit
in the stands focusing on a position or what the coaches are trying to
do on the field. I’m just sitting there trying to take the whole game —
not too deep. I like the big plays!”
Though he is not a big
watcher of the games, he is completely hooked into his memories of ECU,
the campus, the people, and his teammates.
“ECU was an absolute great
time for me,” he recalled. “I would choose it over and over to do over
again, if I had to. The people and associations were great. I enjoyed
everything about East Carolina — the football guys, the campus, the
classes. I had some good professors. I was there to learn and got a lot
out of the business school. It was the place for me.”
And his favorite golf
partners are his long-lasting friends from ECU.
“Actually Willie Holley,
Thomas McLaurin, Joe Godette, James Freer, and Theodore Sutton — that
group — we all stay in touch and get together about twice a year,
usually around the Fourth (of July) and then at one of the ECU games. I
should also mention Jeff Hagans, he was center, and recently he has been
joining in our get-togethers. Those guys from ECU will always be
important to me.”
The "12" crew (L-R): McLaurin, Green,
Sutton, Holley, Freer.
Not pictured, Godette. (Submitted photo)
Green cannot put a fix on
where he believes he belongs in ECU quarterback lore, but in hindsight
he hopes his is a name fans will remember when they reflect on the
Pirates' long line of prolific signal callers.
“It is hard for me to know
where I fit in (among the greats at ECU),” he pondered. “We all did
things differently. Blake was so good and obviously stands out the most
and (David) Garrard was a strong kid. He and Jeff are passers and I was
an option quarterback, Mike (Weaver) was an option quarterback. For me,
it is difficult to compare myself to (the passers). I hope that my
contributions, though, are comparable.”
For a quarterback that finds
it rare to be wowed by others, Green certainly ‘wowed’ those who watched
him produce for the Pirates. And, in doing so, his era under center
certainly established one of the milestone
markers on the ECU quarterback spectrum.
Green was a winner in many
ways, but most importantly in terms of his legacy, he was a pure winner
on the Pirate football field.
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