GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) - Immediately after ECU jogged off the field to wrap up the second official spring practice, first-year head coach Mike Houston approached a gathering of media with senior defensive standout Nate Harvey by his side.
Harvey — who has scrapped and clawed his way to solidifying himself as a dominant force on the Pirates' defense — held back tears as Houston comforted the projected senior leader who was preparing to carry the momentum from his breakout 2018 campaign into year one under the new coaching staff.
"When I took the job here, I didn't even know who Nate Harvey was," Houston said. "Over the last three months, I've had the pleasure of getting to know him on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I received a call last night denying his appeal with the NCAA. We respect the decision of the NCAA, but at the same time, we are disappointed."
After joining the program as an invited walk-on fullback in 2017, Harvey has been willing to adapt, learn new positions and eventually find his place as a dominant force on the defense which began to catch the eyes of NFL scouts.
Harvey captured a Football Bowl Subdivision statistical championship by averaging 2.1 tackles for loss per game last fall. He also earned American Athletic Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Year honors and was a first-team all-league selection after collecting 63 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Additionally, Harvey established ECU and AAC single-season TFL records and also equaled the conference single-season sacks standard.
In his 24-game Pirate career, Harvey netted 69 overall tackles. He booked six stops as a special teams standout during his initial season while also experiencing limited duty as a reserve running back.
Both Harvey and Houston were disappointed, but focused on the positives of the situation.
"I'm trying to work my tail off," Harvey said. "Sure, I wanted to be out there playing with this team, this year, but I'm going to work my tail off."
Houston reiterated that he will do everything in his power to help prepare Harvey for the NFL Draft, a testament to the bond that was formed between the new ECU head coach and an award-winning player who he never truly had the opportunity to coach.
The now NFL-hopeful didn't hold back on Houston and the new coaching staff's impact in a short time, either.
"Coach Houston is a great coach," Harvey said. "He showed me that the first week he was here, and that's what made me want to stay."
While the Harvey news dominated the final portion of practice, the day itself mimicked Houston's ability to jell with the players in just three months. His staff is no different, with the first half of the day serving as a direct representation of chemistry, willingness to accept change and an overarching theme of "buying in."
The atmosphere was lively, fun and energetic. It was clear there was progress from Day 1 to Day 2, and while Harvey's absence will be felt, everyone involved are on the same page.
"Coach Houston has been teaching us his techniques and how he does things, and it's been a fun process we just have to get used to," senior offensive tackle D'Ante Smith said after practice. "There's nothing we can compare it to, because it's different with every coach, but it's been great so far."
- Sean Labar
While Harvey's waiver was unfortunately denied by the NCAA, senior DE Michael Swift was granted an extension of eligibility to compete during the 2019 season … Swift has played in 16 career games and tallied nine total tackles since earning an active roster position as a sophomore walk-on prior to the 2016 campaign … He completed a successful tryout with the Pirates' program as a true freshman, but was medically disqualified due to an existing injury suffered during high school competition … In 2018, Swift was credited with a combined five stops in early season games against North Carolina A&T, North Carolina and Old Dominion (also made appearances in AAC road contests at USF and Temple) … The Pirates will don pads for the first time this spring on Monday morning for their initial full-contact session.
ECU'S 2019 SPRING PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Next Workout: Monday, March 18 (8-10 a.m.)
Remaining Workouts: March 20, March 22, March 23, March 27, March 29, March 30 (scrimmage), April 1, April 3, April 6 (scrimmage), April 8, April 10, April 13 (Purple-Gold Game, 1:30 p.m.)