Pirate Seniors
Fight Through Tough Times
by Eric Gilmore

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 talent.

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.

Eric Gilmore