ECU football will have two of its more experienced players back when it takes the field on Friday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Running back Darius Pinnix and safety Davondre Robinson were two of the five players to miss ECU’s game against Navy due to contact tracing from Holton Ahlers’ positive COVID-19 test result.

On Wednesday, head coach Mike Houston confirmed that both Pinnix and Robinson logged a full week of practice and “are ready to go” for the Friday night lights against Tulsa.

Ahlers will also suit up for the Pirates on Friday after clearing protocol.

The duo has made a combined 40 starts in purple and gold, with Pinnix getting the nod at running back in the Pirates’ first two contests of 2020. Robinson has yet to start a game this season, but fills significant reps at safety and is ECU’s most experienced defender with 25 career starts.

“Older players, both of them have key roles on each side of the ball and on special teams,” Houston said. “Just with the craziness of this year, you can’t have enough people. Especially guys that have been out there and have game experience and have been through the rigors of this conference.”

Robinson racked up 71 tackles in 2019 and finished second on the team in that regard. In a more limited role this season, Robinson has accounted for just nine stops in three games. Pinnix saw his workload decrease a bit after starting the first two contests of 2020, but has still found the end zone three times (two receiving, one rushing).

Deemed to have been in close contact with the one positive case ECU had leading up to its game against Navy, all four contact traced individuals were isolated for 14 days, per NCAA guidelines. In a different scenario, that would have knocked Pinnix, Robinson and others out of a minimum of two games. With the bye week, however, the Pirates were able to work some guys through the protocol and return them to the practice field.

“That’s the biggest advantage of having the bye is it got everybody back and got some practice and got our timing back,” Houston said. “Some of the guys were a little rusty after their quarantine, so it gave us a week to get them kind of dialed back in.”

Perhaps the biggest player to get dialed back in was Ahlers himself. During his quarantine, Ahlers jumped a bit ahead of his team and began preparing for Tulsa by watching film and staying up to date on his team’s practices, according to offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick.

After testing positive for COVID-19 a handful of days before the Navy game, Ahlers was able to rejoin practice in a full capacity last weekend to begin his preparations for the Golden Hurricane.

“He didn’t lose anything mentally,” Kirkpatrick said. “I thought when he came out Saturday — the first day he really was able to practice — he was a little rusty with his throws. He had reverted back to dropping his release a little bit from kind of the way he was doing before we got here. Just kind of had to get back into the groove of it.”

The second-most experienced player on ECU’s offense with 20 career starts, it did not take Ahlers long to start slinging the ball around practice once again. Once the rust was knocked off, the junior signal-caller bounced back with a good week of practice before the Pirates hopped on a plane to Oklahoma Thursday afternoon.

“I thought Holton was very sharp (this week) — and that’s just his experience,” Houston said. “When you have a guy that’s a high-level player like he is, and then they have so much experience like he does, it’s really irreplaceable.”

While the Pirates are getting back a slew of experience at critical positions for Friday night’s game, COVID-19 testing means ECU’s roster will once again be limited. Houston would not provide a specific number of players that would be out against Tulsa 

“It’s gone OK,” Houston said regarding COVID-19 testing this week. “We’ve had some glitches. We’re going to have some guys out, but I think Tulsa probably will, too. It’s what we’re all dealing with. Fortunately we’re not in the situation Wisconsin is in.”

ECU is scheduled to kick-off against Tulsa from H.A. Chapman Stadium on Friday at 9 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

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