Veteran linebackers cast shadow over younger contributors

Published 2:04 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS HELPING HAND: Redshirt senior linebacker Zeek Bigger converges as Rocco Scarfone goes for a tackle against Virginia Tech on Sept. 26.

HELPING HAND: Redshirt senior linebacker Zeek Bigger converges as Rocco Scarfone goes for a tackle against Virginia Tech on Sept. 26.

GREENVILLE — Entering the 2015 East Carolina football season, all eyes were set on seniors Montese Overton and Zeek Bigger to anchor the Pirates’ strong core of linebackers.

While the two have continued on their paths of destruction to opposing teams’ backfields, two young linebackers have popped into the picture as impact players in the second line for ECU.

Sophomore Jordan Williams came to ECU as a walk-on and assumed a starter role beginning last spring. Williams has not disappointed in his new role and even earned a scholarship earlier this spring.

Redshirt freshman Yiannis Bowden was held to mostly special teams plays earlier this season, but was given an opportunity for more playing time at linebacker after an injury to starter Joe Allely.

Bigger said the impact from Bowden and Williams goes beyond just this season, which encourages the departing fifth-year senior.

“After this (year), I’m gone, so it’s their time,” Bigger said following the win over Tulsa last week. Williams and Bowden tallied two tackles each in the game. “I tell them, ‘Learn everything you can learn right now and do everything can do right now. Keep on achieving.’ Those boys have came out and responded just like I want them to.”

The response Bigger referred to has come in the form of some breakout performances from the pair. Against Virginia Tech, Williams led the team in tackles with 13 and had an interception early in the fourth quarter.

Bowden had one of his best games as a Pirate in the hostile environment of Brigham Young two weeks ago. The young linebacker came up with four tackles, including a sack, and had a critical interception of his own with just over five minutes remaining in the game. The ensuing ECU drive ended with a game-tying field goal.

“They’re doing such a great job of being coachable, listening, and when you’re doing that here, you’ll find playing time,” said ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill. “Obviously you’ve got to make plays and they’ve done a good job of making plays, too.”

Williams is the team’s third leading tackler (behind Bigger and Overton) with 47 on the season and a pair of sacks. Bowden has been a high-level pass rusher in his few appearances on the defensive side, but has racked up 13 tackles and is second on the team in sacks with three and a half. He is also second to Bigger in quarterback hurries with four.

Williams said he still has tough days on the field; as does everyone, but the influence of Overton and Bigger have kept his head up though the issues.

“They are (great role models),” Williams said. “When me or (freshman cornerback) Corey (Seargent) are having a down day, they just say, ‘Keep playing football. You’ve been doing it since Pee-Wee when you were little, so just ball.”

Williams has showed poise as a redshirt sophomore early in the season. After playing primarily as a special teams player last season, Williams has transitioned smoothly into his heavier role with the team.

He said his nerves have not been an issue since his first appearance as a starter in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The first-time starter has played this season in front of crowds of 88,034 (Florida) and 60,186 (BYU).

“The first game there was some nerves,” Williams said. “But after that, it just shook off and I just played how I know how to.”