ECU creeps closer to season opener|Pirates adjusting to bullseye on back

Published 3:16 pm Tuesday, September 1, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — After nearly 30 days of practice the East Carolina football team is less then a week away from the real thing as it will use its remaining days to prepare for the season opener against in-state rival Appalachian State Saturday at noon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
ECU coach Skip Holtz said during his weekly press conference on Monday that he has already noticed a difference in his team’s attitude as it approaches the start of the season.
“When we went out and practiced last night there was a little bit of a bigger hitch in everybody’s step, a little more enthusiasm in everybody’s voice and everybody is excited and vocal,” Holtz said. “I think they are tired of hitting each other and are ready to play a football game.”
The Mountaineers will head into Greenville wearing the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) label on their shoulder along with the customary large chip that generally accompanies the underdog into battle. East Carolina should be very familiar with it.
Last year the Pirates walked into Bank of America Stadium to face No. 17 Virginia Tech for their season opener with that same chip in tow, and were able to walk away with a victory.
East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, whose team will play this season with a bulls’ eye on its back thanks impart to that win over the Hokies and its Conference USA championship, might as well send a thank you card to Michigan for reinforcing the respect that should be attributed to the Mountaineers.
It was only two years ago that Appalachian State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history when it traveled to the “Big House” and knocked off the Michigan Wolverines.
“I’m sure they look at this as an opportunity to make some waves. This is a huge bragging rights game,” Holtz said. “I look at it as very similar to when we go to North Carolina and N.C. State with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We’re trying to prove that we’re on a competitive playing field with UNC or N.C. State and that makes your players dig a little bit deeper. I think App. State is going to come in here with that very same mind set.
The Mountaineers, who finished 11-3 last season and made it to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, were tabbed the preseason favorites to win the FCS national championship this year.
Senior quarterback Armanti Edwards, last season’s Walter Payton Award winner (given to the top player in the FCS), is the straw that stirs the drink when it comes to App. State football.
Edwards is a three time all-American who is as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm. The 6-0, 184-pound QB is currently the Southern Conference leader in total yards (10,783) and touchdowns (109).
The fleet of feet Edwards excels at escaping danger on Saturdays, but during the summer he pulled of his best trick as he dodged what could have been a career-ending injury. The Mountaineers’ QB injured his foot while mowing his lawn on Aug. 5, but the injury was not as bad as once feared. Thirty stitches later, Edwards is likely to start against the Pirates on Saturday.
“When I look at App. State I know we have our hands full,” Holtz said. “Everybody wants to make Edwards the biggest issue. Will he play? Won’t he play? Whether he does or not, we are not getting ourselves tied up in whether or not he plays because I think this football team is much more than just Armanti Edwards.
“I think he is a great player, he has had great success and when you watch him on film he has done some incredible things. But he didn’t play against Western Carolina last year and his backup (DeAndre Presley) came in and accounted for over 300 yards, 150 rushing and 170 passing, and three touchdowns. … I think we will see a very good quarterback regardless of who we are facing.”
The Pirates have a few bumps and bruises as well, but Holtz said his team is relatively healthy right now. Running back Brandon Jackson, who won a heavily contested starting job during the summer, suffered a thumb injury during the Pirates’ final scrimmage but is expected to play against the Mountaineers.