Five years ago, 23
players made their commitments to continue the Pirate legacy. In what
had become a consistent winning program, the young men inked their
signatures in the spring of 2002, sealing their promise to attain
expectations of bowl wins and conference titles.
What the 12 men, who are still with the program, didn’t expect was the
emotional roller coaster ride it has taken to get there. Little did the
recruits understand was that a disappointing 6-6 season in 2001
triggered the program’s downward spiral.
Equally, four current seniors from the 2003 recruiting class were
promised a new beginning under the direction of first-year ECU Head
Coach John Thompson. They were to be the cornerstones of a new regime,
promised immediate playing time desperately needed for an upgrade in
What the kids received was a testament of wills, fighting the
embarrassment of being a weekly staple on ESPN’s Bottom 10. The kids
only won three games in two seasons, bottoming ECU football out with
two 40-point "beatdowns" to conference rivals in 2004. ECU was a
football joke, instantly erasing credibility it has sustained in two
decades while dropping out of the conference realignment consideration
at a critical juncture.
Player turnover and coaching instability were rampant, forcing young
kids to play immediately to get repetitions. The younger recruits
weren’t ready physically and the mental preparation from a coaching
standpoint was lackluster. With little attention to the upperclassmen,
the previous coaching staff handed the reigns to this year’s senior
class literally three years ago.
Three more transfers from the JUCO route heard the same tune from a
different coach, promising immediate playing time and a brick in the
foundation of a new program. Their time has been brief, but Aundrae
Allison, Robert Lee and Brandon Fractious all have served large roles
into returning the Pirates to respectability.
Twenty-two seniors, scholarship and walk-on alike, will be paired with
their families to cheers before the 1 p.m. kickoff against Marshall.
Like last year, the seniors will embrace their families, thanking them
for their support through the tough times. But this year is different.
For the first time in a long time, longer than the seniors have been
here, ECU is in first place in C-USA. The Pirate faithful needs to
repay the players with deserving cheers because this influential group
of student-athletes and has helped steer the program from treacherous
waters, likely ending its losing mentality.
What if James Pinkney had signed with Iowa State? What if coaches had
deemed Bobby Good and Kevin Roach too slow? What if Pierre Parker and
Aundrae Allison were both Tar Heels? What if ECU had not taken a chance
on giving Eric Graham and Shautae Hunt a Division I-A scholarships?
ECU’s football history would undoubtedly be different. Instead, ECU has
one of it’s best-ever quarterbacks, the single-season receiving yardage
leader and C-USA’s second all-time leading punter. It also boasts two
steady receivers, a three-year starter at left tackle, the best cover
corner since Emmanuel McDaniel, and three safeties, one of which is
a NFL prospect.
These seniors have endured. They’ve been embarrassed 51-10 by Southern
Miss two seasons ago. It was the same team that clawed against Memphis,
only to lose to a last-second field goal. Heck, even N.C. State
battered the Pirates 52-14 in Thompson’s final game, the second largest
margin in series history. Two seasons later, the same nucleus has an
opportunity to beat all three.
Veterans’ Day will mark the progress of 23 men, who have re-lighted the
torch of ECU football. From being last to a now first-place standing,
the seniors’ careers have encompassed the full gamut of emotions. All
for the exception of two…a bowl win and a conference title.