Courtesy of ECU Athletics

When ECU football takes the field at noon on Saturday against Tulane, an alum of the program will be helping bring the call on ESPN+. Former Pirate tight end Jay Sonnhalter was announced earlier this week as the color analyst for the streaming services’ call of the game along with play-by-play man Evan Lepler.

Sonnhalter graduated from ECU over 10 years ago with a bachelor’s degree in Health Fitness and a master’s degree in Sport Management, according to his website. He got his start in broadcasting with 94.3 The Game doing pre- and post-game shows for Pirate football.

Earlier this week, Sonnhalter returned to his roots and spoke with Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game about returning to Greenville to call the game on Saturday.

“I remember when I first started and what fun it was to be broadcasting down at ECU and then just how it’s grown so much, you and I, what we’ve been able to do, to do games together and stay friends,” Sonnhalter told Johnson. “It’s been awesome. I’m really excited to be down for the game.”

Since getting his broadcasting career off the ground more than a decade ago, Sonnhalter has called a variety of high school and collegiate football and basketball games. He has spent a lot of time as a football and basketball color analyst for the Big South and has appeared on ESPN3 and SECN+ in recent years.

Saturday will be Sonnhalter’s first time calling an ECU game and has no doubt already begun running through the memories of his four seasons with the program from 2004-2007. The game will also represent the 300th football game played at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in its storied history, a place where Sonnhalter helped the Pirates navigate back-to-back bowl eligible campaigns in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s changed so much, that stadium,” Sonnhalter said. “When I was there the bowl wasn’t filled in, the end zone, and obviously Townebank Tower wasn’t there. So the facility upgrades, just the amount of people that can be in the stadium under non-COVID times — it’s just a really cool stadium, it’s a nice stadium — but it’s a special place most importantly.”

In three active seasons for the Pirates, Sonnhalter caught 11 total passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. He was also a significant contributor on special teams, racking up 12 tackles spanning those same three years.

After a 2-9 campaign in 2004, Skip Holtz was tabbed as ECU’s new head coach, replacing John Thompson. Across the next three seasons, the Pirates won a combined 20 games, culminating in a 41-38 victory over Boise State in the 2007 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

To get to that point, Sonnhalter said a shift in culture had to take place, not unlike the one currently in progress under head coach Mike Houston.

“It was really kind of special because when I first got there coach Thompson was there,” Sonnhalter said. “Obviously that second season, it was tough times and I was redshirting, but tough times, and he was eventually let go and coach Holtz came in. I was eligible that year, but you could see the culture change and everything changing. I think there’s a lot of similarities with coach Houston getting the culture changed and the team improving week-by-week. Game-by-game you can see how the team is getting better.”

With Sonnhalter on the call Saturday, the Pirates will once again attempt to get over the hump. Following a blowout win against USF, ECU has put itself in position to win back-to-back contests, coming up just short both times.

While a certain sense of impartiality is expected from Sonnhalter despite the purple and gold in his background, that does not stop him from enjoying the sights and sounds of returning to his roots in Greenville and getting to interact with those that helped launch his career.

“I’m very lucky to have such great friends and (was) very lucky to learn and start my broadcasting career with such great people,” Sonnhalter said. “You’ve been such a great mentor and friend for me, so I’m very lucky. It’s going to be a great game Saturday and so much fun. I’m just very thankful for the opportunity.”

ECU and Tulane are scheduled to kick-off at noon on Saturday from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. You can catch Lepler and Sonnhalter on the call on ESPN+.

Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Jay Sonnhalter that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Thursday here.

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