Hard work pays of for ECU's McLendon|LB to make his first start Saturday

Published 7:49 pm Thursday, September 30, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – Lamar McLendon may have gotten off to a slow start this year, but he has caught up rather quickly and on Saturday he will make his first start of his career when East Carolina (2-1, 1-0) takes on in-state rival North Carolina (1-2) on the road at 3:30 p.m.
McLendon, a 6-0, 200-pound true sophomore linebacker, got some action as a freshman last season on special teams as he made eight tackles in 12 games.
This year, McLendon was hoping to be in the mix for a starting position but he got sacked in the spring by a knee injury.
“I had a meniscus injury in my knee, they took it out and sowed it up and I had to sit out of the spring practices,” McLendon said.
Heading into the season with a new coach in Ruffin McNeill and a new defensive coordinator in Brian Mitchell, McLendon knew he had some serious catching up to do.
“I just had to show what I had because the other guys a head start on the coaches’ new system,” McLendon said. “So just had to come out and work harder.”
Mitchell said it is that kind of work ethic that has allowed him to get where he is now.
“He is doing what we are asking him to do and that’s give great effort and be assignment sound and execute the call that is put upon you,” Mitchell said. “He has done a great job of doing that and he has kind of injected a new life into our defense. We have another athletic gentleman out there who can make plays.”
McLendon, who will get the nod at strongside linebacker, has unseated Matt Thompson, who started the last two games after beating out wide receiver turned tackler Wes Pittman.
McLendon has been labeled as a good athlete who can do a variety of tasks come Saturday.
“The strongside’s role is to lineup on the strong side of the defense and take on the (blockers) and kept out of the box and cover receivers,” McLendon said. “So we get the best of both worlds.”
At 6-feet, 200 pounds McLendon is as a classic mix between a strong safety and a linebacker, which is the best of both worlds for Mitchell as well.
“The kid is just cat-quick. He is the perfect model for our Sam linebacker,” Mitchell said. “Of course we have had some other Sam ’backers in the program that have done a good job, but he is a guy who can play safety and Sam linebacker. He can play out in space and play aggressive against the run. He’s got the complete package.”
McLendon said it was exciting to get his first start against in-state rival UNC, but was careful to not get too carried away about the rivalry.
“We are always pumped but we got a new saying now that ‘They’re just next,’” McLendon said. “They’re next on the list and that’s it, that’s the only reason we have to come out and play.”
Being thrust into the mix can be tough for a sophomore, especially his first start, but McLendon said he has gotten some help from veteran linebackers such as Melvin Patterson, Dustin Lineback and Steve Spence.
“They came in and really showed me how to play college football,” McLendon said. “They always pick the younger guys up because they know what they’re supposed to be doing. They are just great leaders who know how to run our defense.”
Flying under the radar of East Carolina’s showdown with North Carolina was the dismissal of WR Darryl Freeney on Monday. Freeney, a junior, emerged late last season for the Pirates starting the final six games and ended his sophomore campaign with 48 catches for 718 yards and three touchdowns. Freeney was dismissed from the team on Monday for violating team rules and policies. … The offensive line may see some changes this week as McNeill and his staff have tinkered with moving starting RG D.J. Scott to right tackle in favor of freshman Grant Harner. If that move occurs, LG Cory Dowless may slide over to Scott’s vacant RG position and backup center Will Towery could move to left guard. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said another scenario would be Scott moving to right tackle and backup left tackle Anthony Jordan would slide into the right tackle position.