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ECU football schedule released; spring practice starts today

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — Fresh off winning the Hawaii Bowl, the East Carolina Pirates will look to build on that success next season. The Pirates begin that quest Aug. 30 against Virginia Tech in a game that will be played at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, in Charlotte.
ECU Athletics Director Terry Holland said playing the Hokies is beneficial to the program. ECU and Virginia Tech are continuing a 13-game series.
ECU head coach Skip Holtz, 20-17 in three seasons with the Pirates, said he’s excited to have the opportunity to play in the home of the Panthers.
The Pirates will play five home games, including the opener against West Virginia, the Fiesta Bowl champions, on Sept. 6. Other home games include the Conference USA opener against Houston on Sept. 27, Memphis on Oct. 18, Marshall on Nov. 8 and UTEP on Nov. 29.
ECU’s road games include Tulane on Sept. 13, N.C. State on Sept. 30, Virginia on Oct. 11, UCF in a special Sunday night game to be broadcast by ESPN or ESPN2 on Nov. 2, Southern Miss on No. 15 and UAB on Nov. 22.
The C-USA championship game will be held Dec. 6.
Of the four non-conference games, the Pirates played Virginia Tech, West Virginia and N.C. State last season. Virginia returns to the schedule for the first time since 2006. ECU lost 17-7 to Virginia Tech, 48-7 to West Virginia and 34-20 to N.C. State last year, while the Pirates earned a 31-21 victory over Virginia two years ago.
When the Pirates play at Virginia, it will be their first appearance in Charlottesville since 1975.
ECU went a school-best 6-2 in C-USA games a year ago. The Pirates picked up wins over Tulane (35-12), Houston (37-35), Memphis (56-40), UCF (52-38), UAB (41-6) and UTEP (45-42), while they fell to Marshall (26-7) and Southern Miss (28-21).
2008 EAST CAROLINA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 30 – Virginia Tech @Charlotte (ESPN/ESPN2)
Sept. 6 – WEST VIRGINIA (ESPN/ESPN2)
Sept. 13 – *at Tulane
Sept. 20 – at N.C. State
Sept. 27 – *HOUSTON
Oct. 11 – at Virginia
Oct. 18 – *MEMPHIS
Nov. 2 – *at UCF (ESPN/ESPN2)
Nov. 8 – *MARSHALL
Nov. 15 – *at Southern Miss
Nov. 22 – *at UAB
Nov. 29 – *UTEP
Dec. 6 – C-USA Championship Game @highest-seed campus site (ESPN/ESPN2)
Home games in ALL CAPS; *Conference USA game
Spring football practice kick off this afternoon
GREENVILLE — When Skip Holtz walked to the lectern Tuesday afternoon, the fourth-year East Carolina head football coach looked like he still had the tan he earned in Hawaii when the Pirates beat Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.
Looking fresh and ready to go, Holtz is eager to hit the football field once again. The Pirates will do just that today in the first of 15 spring practices.
Holtz said the team breaks its season into stages. Stage one began with winter workouts.
Stage two is spring football.
The Pirates will don pads for the first time on Monday. ECU will hold its first spring scrimmage at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on March 28, followed by a second scrimmage on April 4.
Spring practice will conclude with the annual Purple-Gold Spring Game at 3 p.m. on April 12.
Defense
Three players with plenty of experience, including former Northside High School standout C.J. Wilson (6-4, 271), return to play at defensive end. The other two returning players are Zack Slate (6-5, 221) and Scotty Robinson (6-4, 246). Holtz said he’s looking forward to seeing the development of Willie Smith (6-6, 275) and Maurice Mercer (6-5, 259) at the position.
On the defensive front, key returning players include Jay Ross (6-3, 306), Khalif Mitchell (6-6, 306), Brandon Setzer (6-6, 335) and Linval Joseph (6-6, 358). Antonio Allison (6-4, 297) and Kwaku Danso (6-6, 345) also have a chance to see some action next season.
Holtz said that one of the team’s main concerns centers around the linebackers. To help bolster that position, former defensive backs Melvin Patterson (6-3, 219) and Matt Thompson (6-2, 203) have been switched to linebacker.
Quentin Cotton (6-2, 224), Nick Johnson (6-1, 215) and Lorenzo Osborne (6-3, 202) are a few key returning players to the linebacker position. Those who may get a chance to see some action on the field are Cliff Perryman (6-1, 225) and Dalvon Mack (6-0, 220), while Steve Spence (6-2, 215) and Austin Haynes (6-2, 212) are also in the mix.
Former Washington Pam Pack standout Gerald Lawrence (6-0, 240), a transfer from Elizabeth City State University, will also battle for a spot at linebacker.
Seven of the top eight players in the secondary return for the Pirates. J.J. Millbrook (5-9, 191), Van Eskridge (6-0, 200) and Chris Mattocks (6-0, 210) are all back for ECU, as are Leon Best (6-0, 205) and Jerek Hewett (5-11, 195). Competing for playing action will be Dekota Marshall (6-1, 195), Julian Carter (6-2, 191), Devon Wallace (6-2, 198), Travis Simmons (5-10, 179), Emanuel Davis (5-11, 187), Darryl Reynolds (6-1, 189) and Derek Blacknall (5-11, 187).
Offense
The Pirates will have to replace All-American running back Chris Johnson, who had 408 all-purpose yards in the 41-38 win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.
Despite that loss, Holtz said the Pirates have a chance to have a solid running back group. Competing for starting spots will be the likes of Dominique Lindsay (5-10, 210), Brandon Simmons (6-1, 223) and Jonathan Williams (6-1, 196). Also competing for playing time will be J.R. Rogers (5-11, 197).
Quarterbacks Rob Kass (6-4, 255) and Patrick Pinkney (6-0, 198) return for the Pirates. Brett Clay (6-3, 210) will also compete at quarterback.
Former quarterback D.J. McFadden (6-2, 217) has switched to wide receiver, where he’ll be competing with the likes of Jamar Bryant (6-2, 208) and Dwayne Harris (6-0, 198). Holtz said the wide receiver spot poses the biggest question mark on offense for the Pirates. Those who will have a chance to play are Alex Taylor (6-4, 207), Dayon Arrington (6-2, 205), Darryl Freeney (5-11, 196), Reyn Willis (6-3, 215), Michael Bowman (5-9, 165), Wes Pittman (5-11, 203) and Terrance Terrell (5-10, 173).
A bright spot shines on the offensive line. Holtz said he’s encouraged with such players as D.J. Scott (6-6, 234), Doug Palmer (6-3, 300), Stephen Heis (6-5, 285), Stanley Bryant (6-5, 282) and Sean Allen (6-3, 307). Holtz said it’s crucial that players like Travis Melvin (6-6, 291) and Cory Dowless (6-5, 287) develop to help bolster the line.
Davon Drew (6-4, 254) returns for his senior season at the tight end spot.
Kevin Gidrey (6-2, 260), listed as a tight end, will be used at the fullback position. J.R. Kraemer (6-5, 243) and Jason Simmons (6-0, 237) will also compete for playing time at fullback. Michael Byrd (6-4, 235) and Ben Herlocker (6-0, 219) are also in the mix.
Additions
The Pirates have added a couple players to their roster. T.J. Harper is a 6-2, 317-pound junior transfer from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. Holtz said Harper is a “big, strong, physical offensive lineman.”
Also on the roster is Terence Campbell, a 6-5, 320-pound junior offensive lineman who missed much of last season with a medical condition.
Subtractions
ECU lost a couple players, including offensive lineman Larry Lease and wide receiver Kyle Johnson.
Lease’s football career came to an end after a second surgery on a shoulder. Johnson, who will graduate in three years, will transfer to another school to pursue a graduate degree.
Injuries
Eight Pirates won’t be able to suit up for spring practice because of injuries. Those who will not practice are linebacker Pierre Bell (shoulder), linebacker Jeremy Chambliss (shoulder), defensive end Marcus Hands (shoulder), offensive lineman Fred Hicks (ankle), offensive lineman Doug Polochak (shoulder), wide receiver T.J. Lee (shoulder), wide receiver Anthony Green (foot) and running back Norman Whitley (shoulder).