East Carolina University football will check-off another big hurdle in building toward the 2020 college football season tomorrow when they put on helmets and conduct their first full-speed practice of the summer.
“The players are excited, the coaches are excited,” head coach Mike Houston said in a preseason camp preview video. “I think that we all want to get back to the way things were. I think we’ll all be a lot more appreciative of the old normal when and if it ever comes back. Playing football is what we all do, that’s part of it. I think everybody is excited to get started.
“It’s unlike any preseason camp we’ve ever had, ever. Just the protocols we’re having to follow and things we’re having to do just to logiciscally be able to operate are pretty daunting. The players have positive attitudes, a lot of people have worked extremely hard to try to get us to where we can function and get out there and practice. I’m just pleased with everybody pitching in. It’s been a lot of all hands on deck to get a lot of stuff done.”
An off-season that will not be soon forgotten is just 30 days from giving way to a match-up between Marshall and the Pirates inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Whether that game transpires as originally scheduled is anyone’s guess at the moment, as four of the Power 5 conferences have announced changes to their 2020 football schedules.
A decision on a scheduling model for the American Athletic Conference is expected in the coming days and weeks. Multiple scenarios have been floated, but the Big 10 and Pac-12 have already opted to suspend non-conference competition this year, with the ACC moving to a 10-game conference slate with one out-of-conference game. The SEC will play a 10-game conference-only schedule, beginning on Sept. 26.
That decision will knock ECU out of its Sept. 12 tilt with South Carolina, a game that would have netted the Pirates $300,000 as the visiting team. As things stand right now, ECU still has 10 of its 12 previously scheduled games on the docket.
While Houston and his coaching staff await a finalized schedule, the Pirates are pushing forward as one of the first teams to open formal practices as part of the NCAA’s Week 0 slate of games.
With all the negativity in the world stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston said a ramp-up in football activities will help his players clear some of it from their minds and focus on the task at hand, winning football games this fall.
“It gets their mind off of all the things that have bogged them down for four or five months now,” Houston said. “It gets them feeling more like what they are, which is 18-21-year-old college students. I think the comradery — it’s different — socially distant meetings, wearing a mask everywhere we go. It’s different, but even still, you’re still around your friends, you’re around your teammates. I think it means a lot to them.”
Things like Zoom meetings and socially distant team meetings will likely continue into camp, and even into the season. Players are being tested regularly in an effort to prevent an outbreak, and they will continue to be tested once a week in-season.
Nevertheless, Houston said the excitement level of his team during walk-throughs and other football-related activities in the last couple of weeks has been good. In his first couple of glimpses at some of the new recruits to the team, Houston likes what he sees and is ready to see his squad at full-speed beginning tomorrow.
“I think enthusiasm is probably at another high note,” Houston said. “I think the kids — they’re glad to be back, they’re glad to be out there doing something. I think we are a big, good-looking bunch. We may be green as all get out, but we have some size with some of our newcomers. We have some athleticism that I’m really pleased with. I’m excited to get to see them practice full-speed on Friday, to get to really see them in action. I like this group. I’m excited to see them get out there and play and improve, because they’re going to improve a lot every single day just with some of the inexperience we have.”
The Pirates return 16 starters (eight offense, five defense and three special teams) and a total of 41 lettermen this season.