Pirates keeping emotions in check ahead of Saturday

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2016

GREENVILLE — Keeping emotions in check will be critical as the East Carolina football team prepares for in-state rival NC State this week

For younger players, it may be their first experience with an FBS in-state game. Emotions can run high. Senior center J.T. Boyd, who starts alongside sophomores Garrett McGhin and Messiah Rice on the offensive line, said the unit will work together to keep each other in control.

“I just have to try to keep the younger guys’ emotions in check,” Boyd said. “We have a couple guys who, it’s the first time they’re experiencing something like this. But, I mean, they’re probably going to have to keep my emotions in check, too, since it’s my senior year.”

In Greenville, the excitement is palpable. It’s the center of most conversations in town and the anticipation has been building for months. For some players, practice during a rivalry week can take emotions down a notch.

Philip Nelson makes one of many handoffs to Anthony Scott during ECU’s season opener against Western Carolina. Another strong connection between the two will be necessary against NC State.

Senior receiver Zay Jones said, for him, staying even-keeled throughout the week is important.

“I guess it depends on who you talk to,” Jones said Tuesday evening after practice. “Some guys get that adrenaline and they get gassed by game time so you can’t ever get too high or too low.”

For do-it-all offensive player James Summers, the rivalry game holds something a little more special for him. Summers was originally committed to the Wolfpack out of high school before opting to take the junior college route.

Summers believes in the rivalry and said, though playing clean and in control is something he will do, the teams certainly harbor some bad feelings for each other.

“There’s definitely some bad blood out there,” Summers said. “There’s always good blood, good sportsmanship, but when we’re on the field in between those lines, there’s definitely bad blood and we’ll draw first.”

He went on to say winning them game is critical to deepen ECU’s footprint in the state. The Pirates have won their last five games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. NC State owns the all-time series, 16-12, but the Pirates have won the last two games against the Wolfpack.

Summers said winning your state is crucial for the program’s success.

“We’ve got to own our state,” Summers said. “That’s huge to us, very huge and we’ll hope to keep that going.”

Boyd, a redshirt freshman during ECU’s last win over NC State in 2013, said he understands the importance of rivalries for fans and players after growing up watching an intense rivalry in South Carolina.

“I grew up on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry but they view this here as the same thing,” Boyd said. “But to get a win here and give our fans in-state bragging rights, I’ll do anything to make that happen.”

Boyd said the rivalry means a lot to him. The 2013 win gifted Boyd one of his favorite playing memories of his career.

��One thing I remember, because that was my redshirt freshman year so I think I might have gotten one snap at the end,” Boyd said, “was hearing our fans chant purple-gold louder than their entire stadium. (It) was one of the most memorable things I have experienced playing college football.”

Boyd and the rest of the Pirates will have a chance to make it a three-game win streak against the Wolfpack Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for noon in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.