East Carolina University football is around a month and a half from returning as fans, players and coaches alike in Pirate Nation cross their fingers for a full 12-game slate. […]
East Carolina University football is around a month and a half from returning as fans, players and coaches alike in Pirate Nation cross their fingers for a full 12-game slate. Tabbed to be one of a select group of schools participating in Week 0 action, ECU is only days away from entering the walk-through phase of the NCAA’s updated preseason model.
Already, the coaching staff has gotten a chance to observe its team during player-led practices and other drill work. What Mike Houston and the other coaches have seen is much of what Pirate Nation will see when ECU takes the field sometime this fall, a young, inexperienced football team.
“You’re going to have young kids on the field playing this year,” Houston told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Monday. “You have to, we have a young football team. When we first looked at returning players, we have a very small senior class, we have a small junior class. We have an enormous freshman and sophomore class.
“So you’re going to see a lot of young guys out on the field. I like the ability of our young players, I like the roster itself. You’re going to see some exciting things. You’re going to see some mistakes made, but you’re going to see some guys that should give us a lot more energy in all three phases.”
A quick count of ECU’s online roster reveals about 19 graduate students and seniors combined with a class of just 16 juniors. In the past, Houston has cited the health of a program being, among other things, the amount of redshirt players on the roster. In that department, the Pirates are lacking, with no redshirt juniors or sophomores, but a pretty solid class of redshirt freshmen.
With only his second recruiting class as the Pirates’ head coach under his belt, Houston has already accomplished the task of enfusing the roster with exciting, young talent. The only problem is, as he alluded to above, inexperience breeds mistakes, but it is the starting point for what should be really good Pirate teams in a year or two.
Houston’s recruiting class this year focused heavily on defense, and rightly so with the turnover ECU experienced following last season. However, one of the more exciting players to commit to and end up attending ECU came in the form of Carolina Forest quarterback Mason Garcia.
While he will not compete for a starting job this summer, Holton Ahlers has that sewn up, he does come to Greenville, North Carolina as a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com and with over 4,200 passing yards between his junior and senior prep seasons.
“You hope that he’ll be able to serve as a solid back-up for us this year, we’d like to redshirt him,” Houston said of Garcia. “Holton, obviously, is one of the better quarterbacks in this league in my opinion. There’s no question he’s (Ahlers) our starter….It’s a deal where we would really like to have Mason be able to learn from Holton and just kind of grow slowly here on the front-end of his career.”
Houston said he has already had conversations with Ahlers about the junior taking Garcia under his wing and assuming something of a mentorship role for the rising freshman.
While Ahlers and Garcia sling the football with different arms, both of their play styles are similar. In his Pirate career, Ahlers has rushed for 951 yards and 12 touchdowns while racking up over 5,100 yards through the air, including 3,387 yards last season.
Garcia, who is listed as an inch taller and 20 pounds lighter than Ahlers at 6’4”, 218, eclipsed the 700-yard rushing mark in each of his final two prep seasons. As a senior, Garcia rushed for 761 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding 2,149 yards and 19 scores through the air.
“He sure does pass the look test,” Houston said of Garcia. “You don’t have to look around very long to find him out there because he looks the part of a big-time quarterback.”
There is no doubt Garcia possesses the arm talent that could make him one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at ECU. That is one of the main reasons why Houston and his staff identified him as a top recruiting target early on and spent so much time making sure Garcia ended up pulling on purple and gold this fall.
Now, it will be up to Garcia to emerge from a young group of quarterbacks that includes Bryan Gagg and Alex Flinn, among others.
“Behind Holton, they’re all freshmen or redshirt freshmen, but there is solid talent in that quarterback room,” Houston said. “Really, we’ve been able to prepare that room so that for the foreseeable future we’re very solid at the quarterback position.”
Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Mike Houston that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Monday below:
Photo Credit – Stephen Igoe of Hoist The Colours/247Sports.com.