GREENVILLE, N.C. - After conducting its annual media day activities indoors during the late morning hours, the East Carolina Pirates returned to high heat and humidity levels on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex for a two-and-a-half-hour afternoon practice in shorts and helmets.
The session, which followed a one-hour mid-morning walk-through, marked the Pirates' second workout of fall camp. East Carolina will enter its next stage of preparation Sunday by progressing to shoulder pads before putting on full gear Tuesday afternoon.
In addition to Saturday's practice, East Carolina also welcomed approximately 35 media members representing 20 different agencies to the Murphy Center for Media Day '07. Newspaper, radio and television personnel from local and regional outlets in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina joined a national correspondent for interviews with requested players and members of the coaching staff. A total of 22 players were made available for the opening segment of interviews which began at 11:00 a.m. at Harvey Hall.
NOTES: With the start of the Pirates' 2007 football season just four weeks away, the East Carolina University Athletics Ticket Office has eclipsed the 20,500 mark in season ticket sales and is quickly closing in on a sellout - a first in school history ... By reaching its latest milestone, ECU now has less than 1,500 season tickets available before exhausting its allotment of 22,000 that are available for purchase each year ... Season ticket packages will continue to be available through the annual "Meet The Pirates" event Saturday, August 18 or until a sellout occurs ... Head coach Skip Holtz announced two personnel updates during his preseason media address, saying that senior DL Wendell Chavis has been suspended indefinitely from the program for a violation of team rules and sophomore OL Cory Dowless has been granted a leave of absence to attend a family matter ... February signees in camp include DL Antonio Allison, DB Derek Blacknall, TE Michael Byrd, DB Julian Carter, DB Emanuel Davis, WR Darryl Freeney, LB Austin Haynes, FB Ben Herlocker, DL Linval Joseph, WR T.J. Lee, QB D.J. McFadden, DL Maurice Mercer, LB Cliff Perryman, RB J.R. Rogers, LB Steve Spence, DB Matt Thompson, TE Will Towery, DB Devon Wallace and RB Jonathan Williams ... In addition, true freshman WR Michael Bowman (Anson County HS) was invited to preseason camp after initially signing with South Carolina ... Sunday's Practice Time: 3:00 p.m. - 5:45 p.m.; Season Opener: Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech (12 noon)
EXCERPTS FROM SKIP HOLTZ' MEDIA DAY PRESS CONFERENCE
On Mike Golden and his strength and conditioning program: "One of the most important coaches on your staff is the strength coach because he has these players all summer. With the rules and regulations of spring practice, we haven't been able to be in the weight room or out on the field with these players. Mike has had these guys all summer and he has done an incredible job with them."
On the transition back into the fall schedule and the heat: "It's great to be back on the grass and to be getting things started. Looking at the forecast over the next couple of days, the heat is going to be an issue. The heat index is supposed to be 113 degrees so we are just trying to get acclimated to the heat. With a noon start time for the first game, we have been starting around 2:55. With that said, we need to be a little smart. We need to have somebody to play with when we go up to Virginia Tech. We are going to move some of our practices to the evenings so we need to be ready for that."
On his general thoughts about the team and first practices: "I'm really impressed with this team. We got back on the field for the first time yesterday and I'm pleased with the progress we have made. To see the way that so many of them have changed their bodies since the spring is great. Many of them have dropped body fat and lost or gained weight. They have kept their strength, speed and agility. They have worked hard and really understand the challenge that we have ahead of us. That is a tribute to the leadership of the seniors and of course Mike Golden."
On the incoming freshmen: "There are a million different ways to incorporate the freshmen into things. As you go out on the field, some people may practice the freshmen by themselves. We have thrown them into the main flow but also have practiced them a little at the end of practice to give them a few more reps. The one thing that you find in this class is a lot of speed. When you sit down at look at them as a whole, you also see a lot of talent. It is hard to evaluate them at this point because we are in shorts and basically playing basketball on grass."
On the tough schedule: We have a long way to go before we are ready to compete with this schedule and line up against a top-five team. I'm pleased with the attitude of this team but we are going to need every practice we can get from now until Sept. 1. What needs to happen is for our returners to step up as well as our redshirt freshmen who haven't had a lot of opportunities to play."
On the defense: "Right now we have basically 30 players who are competing for those top 22 spots. I really like what I see in terms of the front seven. We have come a long way in three years when you look at those guys on the field. I think our secondary is very young and untested. They haven't played a lot but I still get really excited because I know there is an awful lot of talent there. I think Coach Smith is a heck of a coach and he will do a great job with them. We just have to wait until they get out there and put their pads on."
On the offense: "I think we have the most depth on the line since I've been here but that doesn't mean that we have 12 guys that are ready to line up and play a season. We have a long way to go but when you look at some of the experience there, it gives you a good nucleus from which we can choose the starters. The running back position is probably our most loaded position on offense. We haven't really played our tight ends in the past two years but I think that is starting to change with the depth that we have. All three of our quarterbacks have done a fine job over the summer. They all have their own niches that will help them contribute to our team."
On the team's schedule preparing for game one: "I think we are going to learn a lot more about this football team as we get into pads. I'm going to reserve my judgment on a lot of the freshmen until we have an opportunity to go through this first week. We are going through the five-day NCAA period where the first two days are in shorts, the next two in shells (shoulder pads and helmets) and the final day in full pads. We will then scrimmage on Saturday the 11th. We will know a lot more about the team after that."
On the wide receivers with the loss of Aundrae Allison: "We need for our wide receivers to step up this season. We need to take the 80 catches that Aundrae made for us and disperse them. Everyone will need to catch 10 or 15 more balls each. Guys that have played for us before are going to need to step up and be playmakers. When you start to build a program, you will need those sophomores to become reliable juniors and be major weapons."
On Terence Campbell: "Right now, Terence Campbell is going through a number of studies for his heart. Everything that has returned at this point has been favorable. At this point we are trying to make sure that Terrance is healthy and can live a normal life before we consider his playing status. We want to make sure that we utilize every test possible. The university heart center has been unbelievable in terms of everything it has given him. Once everything is said and done, the decision to come back to football is Terence's alone."
On Khalif Mitchell: "Khalif brings a lot of size, athleticism and experience to the table. I think he is an extremely talented player. When you plug him into the depth chart, you begin to see what kind of impact he can have on our team. I really think he has the ability to make his teammates better players."
On expectations for Rob Kass "We need to get Rob as many live reps as possible. We can sit there and talk about different receiving routes and what not in practice but it becomes so much different when you have to make the decision to throw the ball away. Rob is not as mobile as some of the other quarterbacks we have had and that will show because in the past we have had to rely on just a few players. When Aundrae Allison was on the field, he was our primary target because we did not feel that we had the depth to spread the ball around. Rob will have more throwing options than guys that played before him."
On Rob Kass' intangibles: "Obviously Rob is very big and physical but the thing that impresses me most about him is the kind of young man he is. He looks you in the eye and is polite, respectful and hard-working. Rob is probably his biggest critic and that leads him to push himself really hard. When you build a program, you want to bring in guys that not only have the physical talents but also the intangibles as well."
On the coaching changes at UNC and NC State and the impact on recruiting: "Obviously, when you bring in guys like (Butch) Davis and (Tom) O'Brien, your program will only get better. They have been successful in this profession and will make a dent in recruiting. There are enough talented players in this state to where they can take their guys and we can take ours. We worry about what we do a lot more than what they do. Everyone knows that they are going to get some great talent because of the kind of programs that they run."
On the importance of the Conference USA schedule: "The BCS games are a nice measuring stick of where we are as a program but the real sign of a program is how they compete in conference play. Conference USA is obviously important to us because we want to compete for a conference championship. We were a point away from having the opportunity to represent the east division in the conference championship game and I think that is something that has lit a fire under this team. Our non-conference schedule will be a great indicator of our ability to compete for that conference title."
On the tough opening month of the season: "There is no doubt that it is going to be tough. When you look at Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Southern Miss, West Virginia and Houston, you're talking about top-10 teams, a rivalry game against an in-state school and the opportunity to play the two teams that played for the conference championship last season. We will learn a lot about this team early. I wish we had the opportunity to go into this thing slowly and mature our younger players but we have to line up and play the schedule that they give us."
On the emotional aspect of the season opener in Blacksburg: "It's something that we will need to talk about with our football team. It's a great honor for us to have the opportunity to go up there and not only play Virginia Tech but also play in an enthusiastic and exciting atmosphere. When you look at the hurt and the healing that still needs to happen at Virginia Tech, it's going to be an emotional time for their fans and football team. It will also be an emotional time for our guys because the tragedy hit every college campus and student around the nation. However, once all of the memorials are done, the ball will be put on the tee and we will have to play."