As the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences were either outright canceling its fall sports schedules or postponing them to the fall, ECU’s football team was on the practice field for its first full practice following Saturday’s scrimmage.

“After Saturday, we tried to go Sunday. Had some lightning and stuff Sunday afternoon, couldn’t get the entire practice in,” head coach Mike Houston in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Tuesday. “Monday is our day off. Kids started classes on Monday, so today was the first day to get back out there. It went about like I thought it was going to go. The defense has been sitting around telling the offense how they kicked their butt on Saturday and so the offense had to listen to it for the last three days.

“The first drill that we did together today was a little pod work with the o-line and d-line. The first snap, one of our o-linemen pancakes one of our d-linemen and I knew exactly what kind of day it was going to be. Offense was a little pissed off over the weekend and they came out and practiced really well today. Still a little sloppy, still got a ways to go conditioning-wise, but we did see some of the big-play ability show up today that I didn’t see on Saturday.”

Despite two Power 5 conferences nixing football for the fall, and two other Group of 5 leagues in the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West coming to the same conclusion, American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has been pretty firm in his sentiment that his conference will continue forward as planned right now.

The SEC and ACC have also expressed interest in waiting before making a final decision on what their fall schedules will look like.

For the Pirates, with a green light from the AAC, Houston said his team has been unified in waiting to play this season and reaffirmed their willingness to play football this fall after practice today.

“The one resounding thing that they voiced to me at the end of practice is, they want to play,” Houston said of his players. “I told them, as long as that’s the consensus in that locker room, then we’re going to fight like hell to try to make sure we got a ball game here sometime in September.”

No formal announcement has been made about the Pirates’ season-opener against Marshall that was originally scheduled for Aug. 29 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Multiple reports have suggested the game will be moved back to Sept. 12, but ECU Athletic Director said last week a final decision will be made sometime this week.

While that decision looms, ECU is one of the select few teams in the country that has turned in a full week and a half of practice with a scrimmage. Marshall was not able to scrimmage on Saturday like the Pirates and others were not permitted to start at the end of July because of the date of their originally scheduled season-opener.

Hopefully ECU’s preparation will pay-off with a season in 2020, but Houston said even if his team does not play this year, each practice is allowing them to improve as a program.

“As young as our team is, it’s critical because everyday we’re out there, we’re improving,” Houston said. “Instead of potential, we’re seeing what guys can actually do. You see the defensive scheme actually being run. You see the new players actually going and doing stuff. It’s just incredible. That’s why everyday is so critical, so important. You can sit around and Zoom meet and you can sit around and draw stuff up, but until you’re actually out there doing it, you don’t really know what a player can do, you don’t really know what something is going to look like. Everyday is — for a coach, especially one that had to sit around for ever how many months and do nothing — right now everyday is just a dream. It’s back to enjoying every moment that you have in this profession.”

Nine practices and a scrimmage into preseason camp, Houston said he has already noticed better speed out of his team compared to last year, something he attributes to multiple factors. The Pirates’ energy level and excitement to be back on the field has also impressed Houston thus far.

“Some of it is personnel, some of it is development, some of it is knowing the system going into year two offensively,” Houston said. “But it was pleasant to see some big plays made out there on the offensive side of the ball today. I thought the defense responded and the latter part of practice competed really well. Still a long ways to go, but the kids are very enthusiastic, had a lot of energy.”

ECU is scheduled to practice again tomorrow as university administrators and athletic directors from the remaining conferences attempting to play football this fall meet to discuss a potential way forward. Houston said he was not surprised by today’s announcements regarding the Big Ten and Pac-12 and that if the AAC and other leagues map out a safe way forward to play this fall, he will be on board.

“Player safety is always at the top of the list,” Houston said. “If we can play in a manner that the kids are going to be safe, then I’m all for playing and committed to that. Still a lot of stuff to be discussed, but I do feel like our medical advisors are still feeling really good about our chances.”

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