Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
New East Carolina head coach Mike Houston didn’t shy away from transparency throughout his first spring with the Pirates.
When ECU had a bad practice, like the team’s first day in pads shortly into the spring season, Houston wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was. That’s why East Carolina fans shouldn’t be afraid to have some hope following the conclusion of the team’s annual Purple-Gold game.
Houston, who has won everywhere he’s coached, intends to do the same at ECU, but he knows it won’t happen overnight. Still, the Pirate coach was pleased significantly with the progress his team made from the start of spring to the finish in multiple areas.
“I think we’ve really kind of turned the first corner,” said Houston, who went 37-6 and won the Football Championship Subdivision national championship during his three-year stint at James Madison. “We’re learning how to compete better. We’re not having to stay on them about effort much. We still have a few hiccups where we’ve got to keep correcting behavior and stuff like that. But I think we are starting to trend in the right direction.”
While the installation of he and his coaches’ schemes are of the utmost importance this offseason, so, too, is the implementation of his winning culture. A few players learned the hard way early in spring camp following his arrival. When players showed up a few minutes late to 7 a.m. meetings, they spent the next few hours running outside until the team meeting concluded.
Some returning starters that didn’t abide by the new standards set forth by Houston’s staff spent the spring running with the second- and third-team instead of the first. Those players will have to earn their way back up the depth chart this offseason and reach the new level of expectations going forward, or they won’t be a part of the team.
Towards the end of spring camp, Houston made an example out of one player in particular who showed up to the practice field wearing earrings. He was called out in front of the team after practice.
“We don’t wear jewelry on the field,” Houston said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s no surprise, that kid has struggled with a lot of things. He’s either going to get it fixed or he won’t be a part of the program. It is a privilege to wear the ECU Pirate football uniform. It’s not a right. We’ve all got to understand that. It’s a privilege for me to be the head coach. It is not a given right.
“We’ve got to treat it that way and we’ve got to make sure we eliminate those things that cause you to have a losing program. I do think habits are a big part of it. Positive training habits, positive personal and social habits, positive habits with the way you conduct yourself around the facility, on the practice field, and around campus. I do think as a program, we are doing a night-and-day difference with those things, but we cannot tolerate anything that’s going to allow us to backslide.”
SPRING GAME RECAP
Houston’s first spring was concluded with a successful offense versus defense scrimmage that saw one side notch an outright victory.
It was the offense who captured the 71-36 triumph inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, April 13, in a game that featured a unique scoring system with points for several different types of plays on both sides.
The contest started fairly evenly before the offense — led by projected starting quarterback Holton Ahlers — pulled away with three touchdowns in the second half. Ahlers led a pair of scoring drives and junior quarterback Reid Herring hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Blake Proehl for another.
“I thought were was a lot of positives out there,” Houston said. “You look at us today versus a month ago and obviously there’s tremendous improvement on both sides. As far as what I felt best about, it was probably the consistent way our offense moved the ball. That was pleasing to see.
“You look at the other side on defense, I thought we had our bright spots there as well. Probably the biggest negative for the defense was the biggest positive for the offense and that’s ball security. We did not force any turnovers on defense, but we did a great job taking care of the ball on offense.”
As a result of the high-stakes victory, the offense got to be on the receiving end of a steak-and-shrimp dinner feast served by the defense last week.
“I thought we did good,” Ahlers said. “We didn’t have any turnovers. That’s a big improvement. I thought we ran the ball good and I was telling the team later, the fourth down late in the game. It was like fourth-and-inches, fourth-and-one, and we went for it and got like seven yards. That’s where this program is going. Hard, fast, physical football. That’s big.”
ROSTER CHANGES COMING?
Houston didn’t sugarcoat the need to continue improving the state of the team immediately after the spring game. The Pirates are expected to add a few late signees to the 2019 recruiting class, likely at the junior college level or graduate transfer ranks.
The new staff spent the week after spring practice trimming its roster and making personnel decisions before hitting the road for the evaluation recruiting period. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Juwan Moody has already entered the transfer portal and former D.H. Conley High wide out Duce Fuller has left the team.
“We probably will have some cuts, we probably are going to bring in some more players this summer,” Houston said. “So our roster is not finalized yet for the 2019 season. Once we get through those things, then we’ll start putting together a depth chart for preseason camp.”
ECU has four junior college players committed for the 2019 recruiting class. Two are already on campus in offensive tackle Bailey Malovic and defensive tackle Hozey Haji-Badri. Offensive lineman Robert Mervin and tight end Zech Byrd will join the program later this summer. And more could soon follow.
“We’re evaluating that stuff daily,” Houston said. “We’ll spend time in the junior colleges this spring and we’ll be evaluating grad transfer options. We have specific needs and things that we’re looking for now to bolster our roster.”
BASEBALL LEADING THE WAY IN AAC
ECU fifth-year head baseball coach Cliff Godwin has been around long enough to know sweeps are hard to come by.
But the Pirates have seemingly proven that notion false thus far this season. ECU, which entered Thursday night’s action 30-10 overall and ranked as high as No. 11 nationally, polished off its sixth overall sweep of the season, and its third in conference play, with three straight wins over Connecticut this past weekend.
The successful series put ECU on top of the AAC at 11-1, two games ahead in the loss column ahead of 8-3 Tulane. Every other team in the league has at least five losses. The Green Wave travel to Clark-LeClair Stadium this weekend for a critical three-game set.
“Our goal was never to be 11-1 in the conference,” Godwin said. “It’s just to keep playing good baseball. There’s still plenty of the season left to go.”
The latest NCAA postseason tournament projections have East Carolina in line to host a regional for the second straight season.