crunch time! 2012 football preview
east carolina university
CRUNCH top tackler
Number 53 Jeremy Grove, who ranked 10th in the FBS last year with 11.1 tackles per game, returns following postseason shoulder surgery focused on doing his job.
t september/october 2012
time 2012 PIRATE FOOTBALL PREVIEW
east carolina university
PHOTOS BY JAY CLARK
STORY BY CHASE KROLL
The 2012-2013 East Carolina University football program is hard at work preparing for what is sure to be a memorable season for Pirate fans everywhere. Third-year head coach Ruffin McNeill has identified three characteristics the team must have in all facets of the game to be successful: trust, belief and accountability. “Everybody knows they have to perform at a high level, play at their best, do things the way we want things done, or else they can lose playing time or their spot. I like the depth that we are developing,” says McNeill. “They have a chance to achieve what they want to achieve. I’m looking forward to seeing this group work and go to war.” After finishing the 2011-2012 campaign with a 5-7 (4-4) record, McNeill and the Pirates return 48 lettermen to a team that finished third in the Conference USA East Division. The team was highlighted by the nation’s 20th best passing attack in 2011, but after the loss of star quarterback Dominique Davis and receiver Lance Lewis, the offense has a few question marks at several key positions heading into the new season. The biggest is at quarterback. ECU enters 2012 with four quarterbacks battling for the starting job. Fifth-year senior Brad Wornick, junior Rio Johnson, redshirt sophomore Shane Carden and redshirt freshman Cody Keith have all taken equal reps throughout the offseason in the summer’s most interesting position battle. It was assumed that Johnson, the only quarterback on the roster who experienced playing time last season, would be the most likely candidate to take over in 2012. But with strong play from Carden, the comfort of Wornick in position battle situations, and flashes of talent from Keith, the starting quarterback will most likely not be named until just before the Pirates open the season on Sept. 1 against Appalachian State. The team is confident that its starter will rise from this heated competition. But with no clear starter at quarterback, or any of the other skill positions for the time being, the team has used McNeill’s instructions and learned to trust that whoever takes the field will be able to get the job done effectively. “Competition always brings out the best in everybody,” says Wornick. “Whoever wins (the 20 PURPLE!
jonesing for jones!
A healthy Justin Jones returns for his junior year after an injury-plagued sophomore seaon. His size and agility make him a playmaker, especially in the red zone.
Rio Johnson, Brad Wornick, Shane Carden and Cody Keith all have a shot for the starting QB position. Of the four, only Johnson has playing time experience from last season.
battle) will be at the tip-top of his game.” Johnson added, “Everybody is even. You have to progress through camp and prove yourself. They are all great guys; we all hang out off the field, and may the best man win.” Aside from the competition at quarterback, another storyline heading into the season will be the emerging role of sophomore Justin Hardy. Hardy started his career at ECU as a walkon in 2010 and surprised everyone by leading the team in receiving yards last season. Now he starts the season as the No. 1 receiver and is sure to face off against some of the best defenses. But Hardy will not be alone, as the team has assembled a committee of talented skill players. At receiver the longtime contributor Andrew Bodenheimer looks to start alongside Hardy, with Reese Wiggins and Danny Webster looking to improve upon their productive seasons last year. The half back group, a group that was ravaged by injuries last season, comes back this season healthy and ready to prove that they can hold up. Led by Reggie Bullock, Michael Dobson, Torrance Hunt and UNC transfer Hunter Furr, east carolina university
the group expects to all contribute to the success of the running game. “We have had to learn what it takes to be good in this conference and having a plethora of running backs has been something that a lot of these championship teams have had. That was a huge point of emphasis,” says offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Going further, he explained how this embodies ECU’s signature high-tempo offense. “That’s who we are. That’s who we want to be. He (McNeill) wants an attacking offense that puts points on the board, and that’s who we are going to be.” While McNeill’s call to trust seems to fit with the offense and where they are heading into the season, the Pirate defense needs to carry the belief that they will be great. Anchored by preseason all-conference selections, nose tackle Michael Brooks and linebacker Jeremy Grove (offensive guard Will Simmons was also selected), this defensive unit has performed admirably since switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment last season. They finished the 2011 season ranked 56th in total defense after finishing the 2010 campaign in last place, a 64-spot jump. The defense has the belief that they can make the leap to the next level in 2012. “We just want to keep pushing along and get all the specifics down now that it’s our second year in this defense,” says safety Damon Magazu. “What we are really trying to do is tighten the screws on a couple things that maybe we didn’t do so well on last year and just continue to move forward as a defense.” PURPLE! 21
Damon Magazu is the only returning starter in the Pirate secondary and remains focused on the steady improvement of the Pirate defense. doug smith
This 2012 defense is built around a strong core starting with Brooks and Grove. Brooks, at 6 feet three inches tall and weighing 313 pounds, started all 12 games last season and led the defensive line with 55 tackles by using his size and clogging up the middle. While he and fellow defensive lineman Matt Milner provide the experience to the group, players like Lee Pegues, Justin Dixon and John Lattimore look to become household names by the season’s end. Lining up behind Brooks is Grove, who turned in one of the best freshman defensive performances last season to earn freshman All-American honors. Grove led the team with 122 tackles (his 11.1 tackles per game ranked 10th in the FBS) to be named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year. But because he is coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, many are looking to see how he will perform during his sophomore campaign. “I’m just focused on doing my job. I’m not worried about the numbers,” says Grove. “I’m excited to
play here in Dowdy again.” Grove will line up with fellow linebackers like Kyle Tudor and Daniel Drake on the inside, with relative newcomers Derrell Johnson, Maurice Falls and Montese Overton fighting for spots on the outside. Lining up behind Grove is Magazu, known for his big play ability as ECU’s last line of defense in the secondary. Magazu is also the only returning starter from the secondary group, leaving three empty spots to be filled in camp. Seniors Jacobi Jenkins and Leonard Paulk lead the cornerback group, with Hinds Community College transfer Adonis Armstrong strongly in the mix as well. But the closest competition in the secondary is for the strong safety spot beside Magazu. Sophomore Lamar Ivey and Chip Thompson, also a Hinds transfer, have both performed well in camp. The unit as a whole is looking to build upon last year’s secondary that ranked 33rd in the FBS for passing defense.
That’s who we are. That’s who we want to be. He (McNeill) wants an attacking offense that puts points on the board, and that’s who we are going to be.
— offensive coordinator lincoln riley
thou shalt receive
Hardy started his career at ECU as a walk-on in 2010 and surprised everyone by leading the team in receiving yards last season. Now he starts the season as the No. 1 receiver and is sure to face off against some of the best defenses.
east carolina university
we have a lot of experience within our coaching staff. we believe in them and they believe in us, so we know we can get it done. — running back torrance hunt
In order to be great, this defense has to believe in the man behind him, as Brooks believes in Grove, or Grove does with Magazu. “We have a lot of experience within our coaching staff,” says Hunt. “We believe in them and they believe in us, so we know we can get it done.” The 2012 schedule features games against both participants in last year’s Conference USA title game (Houston and Southern Miss) as well as No. 9 South Carolina, UNC, Navy and UCF, among others. “We know we have four out of six on the road early. We know we play in some tough environments,” says McNeill. “We have to be road warriors and that’s our mentality.” The Pirates open the season by hosting in-state rival Appalachian State in a matchup that has a lot of bragging rights on the line. “I look forward to it,” says McNeill. “I worked for Coach Moore for seven years. There will be some emotional ties. We know we have to come out prepared and ready to go. I’m looking forward to diving into the season.” And just like that, ECU football is beginning again. All that’s needed now in McNeill’s plan is accountability, but that is something that this team has been building for a long time. It comes down to knowing your job, doing that job, and leaving no stone (or page in a playbook) unturned. Being accountable is seeing your potential and shooting for it. “We are expecting to do big things,” says Hunt. “But right now, we are just trying to walk that walk and not do a lot of talking.” 24 PURPLE!
Running back Torrance Hunt led the Pirates in rushing the last half of the 2011 season, thanks to his breakaway speed in the backfield.
east carolina university