ECU football eyes second scrimmage, preps for all scenarios

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – First-year head coach Mike Houston and his staff have done their best to leave no technique uncorrected, no drill untaught and no situation unexecuted during the two weeks of preseason camp.

They saved the 'victory formation' for last, as the players ended Friday's workout with the celebratory alignment.

"They are working their tails off and it's going to pay off," Houston said. "When that time comes for us to kneel in that victory formation with triple zeros on the clock, it's going to be a special moment when we achieve our first win together.

"My quote to them to end practice was 'that if you don't invest very much in the process, then losing doesn't hurt as much, and winning is not as exhilarating.' They've done a good job throughout camp trying to do what we want them to."

The Pirates devoted the last half of practice to working on late game situations they plan on leading to frequent end of game celebrations.

"It was the first time we've worked on some of that stuff, but it's all very important," Houston added. "Last play, hurry-up field goal, whistle kick, no time-outs, those are some of the biggest plays that you have during the season.

"We've been very successful in those situations historically because we spend a lot of time working on them. We'll work on them at least a couple more times before we go to Raleigh for the opener."

Junior kicker Jake Verity, a pre-season all-conference selection, provided the highlight of the drill by nailing a 57-yard field goal.

"It comes down to the confidence he has in himself and the confidence his teammates have in him," Houston said. "The biggest thing is to stay relaxed. Guys make mistakes when they panic. We have to work on this enough so our guys get comfortable with pressure situations and keep their composure."

The inside receivers and tight ends are a group who has to stay composed as they deal with heavy traffic in the middle of the field, while they concentrate on catching the ball.

Senior Deondre Farrier caught 30 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, making him the top-producing returnee. Redshirt freshman Tyler Snead snagged 15 balls for four touchdowns in four games before sitting out the finale to preserve his redshirt status.

"Farrier is a proven veteran leading the way," said position coach Fontel Mines. "I ask him to be consistent, buy into what we are doing and lead by example every day. He's done a good job so far.

"Tyler and (freshman) Jsi Hatfield have different skill sets, but the sky is the limit for them if they keep working hard. They are very talented and will help us win."

The Pirates are also deep at tight end with senior Anthony Watley, junior transfer Zech Byrd and freshman Jeremy Lewis.

"Watley is my unsung leader," Mines continued. "He gives me everything he has every day. He doesn't say a lot, but his teammates listen when he speaks.

"Byrd is a big guy who has bought into everything we are trying to do coming from (Garden City, Kan.) junior college. He came in raw, but has improved every day. Lewis is still learning his position after being a defensive end and receiver in high school. He runs good routes and can do some good things with the ball in his hands."

Mines played four years at the University of Virginia as a receiver before a four-year NFL career as a tight end. Staying with his coaching family was the reason he followed Houston to ECU from James Madison.

"Coach Hanson offered me my first scholarship to play at the University of Richmond when I was in high school," Mines said. "Coach (Byron) Thweatt was a graduate assistant when I played at Virginia. Coach Trott and I were together for five years at Richmond.

"It's an opportunity to continue to learn from and be molded by great men I've been around all my life. ECU is a prestigious football school with a rich history and it's exciting to be part of it."

Excitement should reign Saturday morning at the Pirates wrap up fall camp with a scrimmage in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Houston is ready to see the fruit of the practice field labor.

"We have had a solid week of practice after the last scrimmage," he said. "We've made great strides since August 1, but we want to see it on the field in a game situation."