A week can make a big difference sometimes. With a young football team like ECU currently has, every single day is an opportunity for players to gain experience.
While each of the Pirates’ first two games of the season were losses by multiple scores, a slew of young student-athletes only began getting their feet wet at the college level. Against UCF to open the season, 13 true freshmen found the field in purple and gold, with another two taking the field for the first time last week against Georgia State.
Twelve times already this year a first-time starter has earned the nod from ECU’s coaching staff, five on the offensive side of the ball and seven defensively. For context, the Pirates employed 15 first-time starters the entire season a year ago.
“A lot of those guys that were getting their first college start last week have a game under their belt, so the nervousness is not there,” head coach Mike Houston said. “All those freshmen that were taking their first plane flight last Friday, they’ve got the experience of a road game under their belt. That experience will be valuable this weekend.”
ECU will hop right back on a plane and travel to Tampa, Florida this weekend for its first road American Athletic Conference game of the 2020 season. Through their first two games, the Pirates struggled to find enough offense to combat a rather leaky defense.
Still searching for their first win of the campaign, and looking to avoid going 0-3 for the second time since 2017, the Pirates have added some intensity and urgency to practice this week in preparation for Saturday’s game.
“I just think that I saw some more urgency this week,” Houston said. “It’s one of those things where everybody wants to win. I don’t care what school you’re at, I don’t care what level you’re at, everybody wants to win. Winning is hard, it’s not easy. Sometimes I think that I’ve been at some places where we’ve done it a lot and people get complacent. But you forget just how hard it is to build those programs.”
Houston is known in many circles for being a coach that can turn programs around and restore them to their former glory. ECU has plenty of pride for its football program and Pirate Nation has witnessed great teams grace the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
While the Pirates have fallen on hard times of late, Houston is the man that can get the Pirates back to their winning ways. That begins, of course, with recruiting and bringing in a group of players that will buy into what is being built in Greenville.
“We’ve got a bunch that are passionate about East Carolina football and about playing at a high level,” Houston said. “I think I probably saw more of that this week than maybe I saw last week. Hopefully we see it Saturday night.”
While that passion is present within the roster, it is still a team that possesses more than its fair share of youth. It is largely that inexperience that has cost ECU in some critical situations through the season’s first two games. With each snap, however, those players are gaining the necessary experience and learning what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level.
“We’re in the middle of a complete rebuild and that is what it is…We have so many new players, we have so many young players,” Houston said. “Even our old players are young. Holton, who you consider an old player, he’s got this year and two more years after this and he’s one of our old guys. You have all the development stuff. So the challenges are just getting the guys on the same page — whether you’re talking about offensive line, secondary, the defense as a whole, the wide receivers and Holton, a couple of new running backs, whomever it is — it’s getting everybody on the same page.”