Pirates open season with first practice

Published 12:34 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014



ECU Athletic Media Relations

GREENVILLE — Fifth-year East Carolina head football coach Ruffin McNeill opened the 2014 campaign Monday with a mid-morning walk-through before guiding the Pirates through their first official workout of the season on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

ECU will follow Monday’s practice, conducted in shorts and helmets, with a single morning sessions through Friday, before turning in the first of three scheduled two-a-day periods on Saturday, Aug. 9.

“It was a normal first day with excitement and I liked the way the guys attacked it with our visions and goals,” McNeill said. “The returning guys looked really good, even though we were in shorts today. As a team, we picked right up from the spring, and I was encouraged with what I saw overall.”

The Pirates are scheduled to progress to shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday before following with full gear on Friday per NCAA rules. ECU will close camp on Saturday, Aug. 23 — a week prior to the opener against North Carolina Central.

Similar to the past three seasons, East Carolina officially kicked off the new year with a 6:30 a.m. conditioning test conducted by assistant athletics director of strength and conditioning Jeff Connors.

“We got the day started off real early with conditioning and we attacked that well. Coach Connors continues to raise the standards and pushing the guys to their limits, which I was able to see this afternoon with a fast tempo on the field.”

After Tuesday’s morning practice, the Pirates will conduct their annual media day activities inside the Murphy Center. McNeill will provide his annual season-opening address that will outline the latest roster additions and deletions, personnel status and possible position changes.

East Carolina, which will play its inaugural campaign in the American Athletic Conference this fall under McNeill, officially welcomed members of the 105-preseason roster to campus Sunday afternoon.

The student-athletes moved into Aycock Dorm on campus before handling traditional check-in responsibilities such as physicals, equipment-fitting sessions, portrait photos, video green-screen shoots and mandated NCAA meetings.

East Carolina returns six starters on offense, three on defense and four on special teams, while also welcoming back a total of 49 lettermen off a team that posted a 10-3 ledger in 2013 and successfully completed the program’s seventh postseason appearance in the last eight years with a 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.

Of the 11 returnees, Shane Carden (QB) and Justin Hardy (IWR) have garnered several preseason award accolades.

Carden, who was named Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player in 2013 after passing for an ECU single-season record 4,139 yards, has been named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Quarterback Trophy, Davey O’Brien, Maxwell Award, Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio) and Walter Camp Award Watch Lists. The Houston, Texas prep product completed an FBS second-best 70.5 percent (387-of-549) of his throws with 33 touchdowns, while also running for 10 scores.

For the second-straight year, Hardy earned inclusion on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, as well as the CFPA Wide Receiver and Punt Returner Trophy, Hornung Award, Maxwell Award and Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio) Watch Lists. The Vanceboro, N.C. native hauled down an ECU and Conference USA-best 114 passes for 1,284 yards a year ago establishing new single-season Pirate records to go along with his eight touchdowns.

Senior Maurice Falls, who is expected to move into a full-time starting role at outside linebacker, was one of 51 linebackers named to the Butkus Award Watch List after recording 15 tackles (six solo) in 2013.

Montese Overton was named to the CFPA Linebacker Trophy Watch List following a stellar sophomore campaign where he posted 50 stops (34 solo) in 13 games in a reserve linebacking role.