PirateIllustrated - Mike Houston Puts a Wrap On East Carolina's Football Season
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Mike Houston Puts a Wrap On East Carolina's Football Season

Mike Houston outlined what was a positive ending to the ECU football season where the Pirates ended on a two-game win streak with victories over Temple and Tulsa.

“I could not have asked for a better end to the season,” Houston said, “The two game win streak to close out, especially being able to the win in the finale here at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and win it in the manner that we won it against a quality opponent was the perfect script.”

“Really excited for the players, excited for the coaching staff, just all the hard work they did each week throughout the fall and also everything they had to manage just to play football this fall,” said Houston, “It was something that if you go back to 2019 and you would have said this is the way you’re going to have to play and manage and practice in 2020, number one nobody would have believed anyone. Number two there is no way you would have thought we could have pulled it off.”

Houston says the extra year for everyone on the returning roster is one of the big positives going into an offseason where the team will be off campus for the next eight to nine weeks. During that time, they will have a strength and conditioning program to adhere to. For those close to campus, they will also have access to the ECU nutrition program.

“The extra year of eligibility - of all the damage the pandemic has done and all the financial impacts. Obviously there have been families that have been damaged by this virus. The one positive for our program is that extra year for our entire roster,” said Houston, “Experience is something that you cannot create and you cannot replace it. We have a special moment right now in the next eight months to be able to capitalize on the extra year of eligibility to be able to capitalize on an opportunity to take an experienced group of freshmen and be able to develop them.”

The Pirates will begin returning on January 10 and after testing they will begin working out on the week of January 18 with winter strength and conditioning.

“We’ve got to hit the ground running on that date. They’ve got to be in shape when they return because I don’t want to have to get them in shape then. We struggled with the quarantine,” Houston said, “There were guys who didn’t make it through the quarantine. We didn’t manage that as well as I would have liked to. We cannot let that happen between now and January 18th and we have a chance to hit the ground running and have a great eight or nine weeks of strength and conditioning, mat drills with the coaching staff, developing that group, have a spring practice and then have a summer.”

“Our schedule is tough next year. There’s no bones about it. We’re going to play quality non-conference football teams. The American is a beast. I think we a chance to have a program that is highly competitive next year and have goals that are very lofty.”

“I have had a lot of dialogue with a lot of our players and we’re expecting the vast majority to return next year. You’re going to have a few who were recognized on Saturday that where they are in life, graduating from East Carolina and made arrangements for that next step where they will transition on and we support them and will celebrate them. There’s one or two who have some things to consider and those guys were probably not planning on coming back but had such a positive experience that now they want to discuss it with their family.”

“We feel good about our roster that is coming back. The vast majority will be back next year. We will also have a recruiting class that we will sign - part of it on December 16th and the rest of it we will sign throughout the spring and summer so we will have a full roster for next fall.”

“My expectations are very high. The kids’ expectations are very high. We talked about our goals. Whatever goals of the fanbase, I promise you they are not going to exceed the internal goals are from the players and coaches.”

The second year ECU coach says he likes his current roster and they will be cautious about new players they bring in for next year because they cannot conduct in person visits due to Covid19 protocol. The early signing day is not far away and with the December 16 date approaching, ECU expects to bring in around ten new players and also hopes to bring in a number of transfers as well as the process continues into next year.

ECU will begin the process of conducting virtual visits tomorrow night and the Pirates will also begin postseason evaluations. Getting some of the players back who have been injured will also be helpful as spring practice approaches in mid to late March with a spring game scheduled for later in April.

Houston also said he liked the work of new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell who had a lot to get used to moving up to the FBS level and also having to deal with an array of Covid19 restrictions that made teaching more difficult. The experience benefits him as he gets ready to do some self evaluation as well.

Offensively, Houston said he was happy with the improved consistency of that group and he is really excited with the overall improvement. He wants them to be balanced and aggressive.

ECU was supposed to be the first to play a game with the Marshall game set for early August but it was cancelled. The Pirates were able to get nine games played and that was a positive a team that could have played far less if things had gone differently.

“I’m a big believer that all things happen for a reason,” said Houston.

Houston also said expectations are high for kicker Jake Verity and that he wants to end on a high note. Punter Jon Young is also likely to return next season.

“Both of them want to return and I feel good about both of them,” Houston stated.

As for the offensive line, Houston says they are trending upward. He talked about Fernando Frye who played as center for the first time ever. He was also pleased with the play of Sean Bailey and Bailey Malovic who he said has come a long way in terms of progress. UNC transfer lineman Avery Jones along with Justin Chase were solid. Walt Stribling and Trent Holler have “come so far” in their development and Noah Henderson is recovering well and he will be back next season.

The plan is to add as many as six players to the offensive line room with a combination of high school and transfers.

Taking a loss in what should have been a win at Tulsa proved to be a mental negative since a replay error still counts as a loss, but the SMU win gives the team increased confidence and is helpful to the mentality of the team. It should help recruiting as well.

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