Lineback emerges as a leader for Pirates|Former walk-on is ECU’s top tackler

Published 12:07 am Thursday, October 21, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES,, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Great linebackers excel at making educated guesses and then following that gut instinct with full dedication, which may explain why Dustin Lineback is having so much success with the Pirates.
It was only a few years ago Lineback decided to take a chance with his playing career. It would be one of the best gambles the senior from Southeast Guilford High School has ever made.
“I went to the North Carolina State-ECU game when they played in Carter-Finley Stadium (in 2006) and I told my dad that whoever wins this game I am going to try and walk-on to,” Lineback said. “East Carolina won and I’m glad to be a Pirate.”
The feeling is mutual.
So far this season the 5-11, 223-pounder has way overshot expectations as he leads East Carolina (4-2, 3-0) with 55 tackles and is third on the team with three tackles for a loss. On the season he is averaging nearly 10 tackles per game (9.2) and was recently named to Phil Steele’s mid-season All-Conference USA team.
Lineback turned in his best performance of his career against the team he almost tried out for as he racked up 14 tackles during the Pirates’ 33-27 overtime win on Saturday and recovered a fumble. Lineback almost had his second career interception but it was overturned by a roughing the passer penalty.
Making the decision to try and play for then-coach Skip Holtz and the Pirates is one thing, actually doing it another. Lineback admits he wasn’t the most heavily recruited player coming out of high school, which is why he chose to play for Div. II Brevard College upon graduation, However, a few connections and a lot of hard work got his foot in the purple and gold door.
“Coach Holtz had open tryouts here and the coach I played for at Brevard was pretty good friends with coach (Harold) Robinson, so I got released and was able to communicate with the coaches. He got me a tryout here and I did pretty well. I ran real fast and coach (defensive coordinator) (Gregg) Hudson liked me and he picked me up, and I have been playing ever since.”
After watching Lineback help younger players with their alignments and emerge as a vocal leader on the team it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago he was on the outside looking it – literally.
“I remember a couple of days before the tryout I was actually watching the team practice through the fence. I was just thinking to myself “Man, I just want to be on the team. I don’t even care if I play much,’” Lineback said. “ You know, coming from a smaller school you look up to these guys. Once I made it was one of the happiest days of my life. As soon as I got here I was just so happy to be here. Then I realized that I can actually play.”
Slowly but surely Lineback’s role grew on the team as he took the working man’s route to earning playing time.
“I kept working hard and I got on special teams and did really well,” Lineback said. “Then I got my shot on defense as a sophomore. I got a couple of starts and now I’m starting.”
First-year defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said it was Lineback’s work ethic that first made him take notice of the senior this summer.
“He’s just blue collar,” Mitchell said. “He’s a kid who is going to bring his lunch pail each day. He’s a kid that’s passionate about the game and he’s a kid that’s knowledgeable. He’s a kid that has some playing experience under his belt and he has shown it. He’s a good leader.”
If making the team was one of the best days of his life, celebrating his 22nd birthday this year is to far away as the senior got a present that was completely unimaginable only a short time ago.
“It was actually on my birthday, June 8th, was when I found out that I would be on scholarship,” Lineback said. “Coach McNeill and his staff gave me a scholarship along with Wes Pittman and Andrew Bodenheimer. He said that we earned it. It was a special day for us. It saves the family a few bills to pay and to have it on my birthday was an awesome present. I was real happy and it’s a blessing to play here and be on scholarship.”
From the time the Pirates topped Tulsa with a last-second Hail Mary pass, to their ability to overcome a 20-0 first-quarter deficit against Southern Miss, to Saturday’s overtime win over the Wolfpack, McNeill has cited his team’s sideline behavior as a major factor in their clutch play. Lineback embodies what the coach calls “positive chatter.”
“I consider myself a leader on defense … and for the team as a whole,” Lineback said. “If Dominique Davis happens to throw an interception I feel like it’s my job to be the first guy over there and be like “Hey, it’s alright, we got you. Go get the offense straight and come back and get some points.’ But I treat myself like a leader on this team.”
Mitchell said it’s character guys like Lineback, who despite starting from humble beginnings has emerged as Conference USA’s eighth leading tackler this season, who truly represent East Carolina football.
“That’s what we stand for. That’s what where going to build our foundation on,” Mitchell said. “Those kids like Lineback, (Damon) Magazu and Travis Simmons are the kids who we want in our program and those are the kids we want to have represent this university.”