Pirates not fazed by preseason expectationsPublished 6:33pm Saturday, August 3, 2013
GREENVILLE —Throughout his four years as head coach of the East Carolina football team Ruffin McNeill has always had great expectations for his Pirates. The only difference this season is that so does everyone else.
For the first time in his tenure with ECU the Pirates were the preseason favorites to win the East Division of Conference USA but McNeill said that changes nothing during the team’s Media Day on Saturday.
“I’ve been asked at Media Days about the expectations of our football team which surprises me just a little bit, and I appreciate that, but at East Carolina our expectations have always been high,” McNeill said. “That’s the standard. That’s why players have chosen to come here. That’s why coaches have chosen to come here.
“They ask about a target on our back; we’ve always caught everybody’s best shot. Every game that I’ve coached here we’ve caught every team’s best shot when we watched them on film. The expectations are welcome and appreciated, but for us it’s a standard here.”
The expectations have risen thanks to the return of 16 starters from a team that went 8-5 (7-1) in 2012, with the most notable being quarterback Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, RB Vintavious Cooper and LBs Jeremy Grove and Derrell Johnson.
It’s that group of veteran players that McNeill believes is the key to any success the Pirates will have this season.
“Our leadership corps is one thing that I’m very happy about,” McNeill said. “It’s a large leadership corps. It’s one of the largest corps I’ve had, personally. We don’t have to worry so much about finding leaders, they’re already there and they’ve taken over. They will not let us have a bad practice. They will not let us have a bad day of work. That’s really gratifying to see.”
Carden, who emerged as the starting quarterback early last season to throw for 3,116 yards and 23 TDs as a sophomore, said that the team is embracing its lofty expectations.
“It means we’re getting a lot of respect from this league and the papers and the reporters and we take that as a compliment, they’re respecting us,” Carden said. “We also understand the bullseye it puts on us and we kind of like the challenge of that.”
While the Pirates return a slew of starters from last season they did not bring back defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell, whose unit had mixed success and allowed a Div. I 87th-best 430.69 yards per game.
In his place is former Pirates secondary coach Rick Smith and McNeill said he likes what he has seen so far.
“You always want to improve in every aspect, really. The fundamental improvement will be there and it’s already happening. You can see that from spring to right now,” McNeill said.
Also not at Pirates camp this summer was recently signed freshman LB Tristan Mumford, who withdrew from ECU after enrolling in January.
McNeill declined to get into the specifics of his departure but said he hopes the best for him in the future.
“We wished him well and told him good luck,” McNeill said. “I’ve been doing this for 33 years – that’s a long time to do one thing – and every university has expectations. Certain universities are willing to lower expectations, but we’re not. From academic to off the field expectations to on the field expectations they are non-negotiable here. … Some young men are able to handle those expectations and some are not. We wish Tristan well in whatever he choses to do next.”
McNeill also revealed on Saturday that there could be two to three players that were expected to be on the team that may not be on the roster come the Pirates Aug. 31 season opener against Old Dominion.
“We have some players who are working though some scenarios that I will not comment on right now but hope to be able to comment on in a couple of weeks,” McNeill said.
One player who was left off the two-deep and the team roster was rising 6-2 sophomore WR Antonio Cannon who had one reception for seven yards last season.