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ECU NOTEBOOK

Pirates get lengthy break to prep for UCF

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When it comes to open dates, it’s tough for East Carolina to complain much with the placement of their first one of the 2019 football season.

After grinding through the first six games of the Mike Houston era, the Pirates are enjoying their initial of two open weeks this season. While the second off week will fall in mid-November after another four-game stretch, Houston’s staff has plenty of time to do a self-evaluation of the roster in its current state, and catch up on recruiting, with 15 days between their Oct. 3 loss to Temple and their next game, Saturday, Oct. 19, at UCF.

It’s an almost perfect break at the halfway point with ECU carrying a 3-3 record six games into the season. The Pirates have notched victories over Gardner-Webb, William & Mary and Old Dominion, while losing to N.C. State and American Athletic Conference foes Navy and Temple. 

Houston said the coaching staff will reevaluate its personnel and scheme, and make some potential adjustments within the framework of what the team is trying to accomplish long term to better help the short-term performance of the current roster.

“There were some things last Thursday night that were obvious to all of us that we need to do better,” Houston said of the 27-17 loss at home to Temple. “We’re evaluating, is it personnel? Is it what we’re asking the personnel to do? I think that in Year 1, you do have to adapt what we’re doing to a degree to fit the personnel we inherited. And so if we’re asking players to do something that’s beyond their ability level, that’s on us to a degree. We need to make sure we’re giving guys an opportunity to play within the scheme, and if we need to adjust some things, we will.”

After taking the weekend off, ECU returned to practice Tuesday. The Pirates also practice Wednesday and Thursday before getting Friday and Saturday off from work on the field. The coaches will hit the road recruiting towards the end of the week before everyone returns on Sunday to start full preparation for the road game at UCF.

RECRUITING FOCUS

ECU currently has 20 confirmed public commitments for the 2020 recruiting class, which is ranked 53rd nationally and fourth in the American Athletic Conference by 247Sports.

“Our big focus outside of our team this week is on recruiting,” Houston said. “We’re spending a significant amount of time this week preparing for Thursday and Friday. By the end of the week, we’ll have seen all our committed players in the past three weeks in person. That’s a positive right there. We’re also starting work on our 2021 class. I look forward to getting out and catching a couple more games this Friday. I was able to catch one last Friday here locally. Enjoy getting to know a little bit more of the local high school teams around here.”

SUSPENDED PLAYERS REINSTATED

Previously suspended East Carolina football players Juan Powell and Delvontae Harris have been reinstated to the program.

Both Harris and Powell had been suspended indefinitely since the weekend before the season opener at N.C. State and were not allowed to participate in team activities during the legal process. They were arrested for breaking and entering a vehicle and originally charged with a felony. But after complying with law enforcement officers and turning in several hours of community service, Harris and Powell both had the charges officially dropped Thursday, Oct. 3. Neither player had a prior history of criminal activity.

Harris, a redshirt sophomore, and Powell, a true freshman, returned to practice Tuesday morning.

“Both young men have done everything we have asked of them, as well as the institution and the local authorities asked of them,” Houston said. “They are extremely remorseful. They are disappointed in the way they represented the program and the university and they are determined to not let this incident define them. 

“If I did not feel that way, they would not be with us. But I do feel like both of them made a mistake. I do believe in second chances as long as I’m convinced the individual will take advantage of the second chance and has become a better person because of it.”

Powell was competing for a starting spot at corner in the preseason when the incident occurred. Harris is a backup linebacker. Houston said both players would be eligible to play over the final half of the season.

HERRIN GETS EXTRA YEAR

The Pirates got some important news for the future of their offensive line on Tuesday morning, learning starting senior left guard Cortez Herrin has been granted an extra year of eligibility.

The American Athletic Conference made the final ruling on Herrin’s eligibility, per an ECU release. Herrin’s 2016 season, when he only played a few snaps in the season opener before missing the rest of the season, will not count as an exhausted year of eligibility.

Herrin has started the past two years at left guard and has been one of the team’s top offensive linemen.

“Cortez really is one of the leaders of our program,” Houston said. “I always say if you’re ever having a bad day, go spend five minutes with Cortez and I promise you your day will brighten. He is genuinely one of the most good individuals I may have ever met and one that I enjoy being around. For the obvious reason, it’s going to be great having him back for another year. With all the experience he has at left guard, he’s a high-end player. But even more so from a character standpoint and a leadership standpoint, you can’t have enough Cortez Herrins in your program.”

Herrin is the third notable player to earn a medical hardship from the conference this year. Fellow starting offensive lineman D’Ante Smith and kicker Jake Verity were also granted waivers during the offseason after playing in limited games as a freshmen in 2016. Smith, like Herrin, played in only one game on the offensive line as a true freshman in 2016 before suffering an injury.

With the return of Herrin and Smith, ECU is slated to bring back six offensive linemen next season with at least one year of starting experience.

INJURY UPDATES

The Pirates may be closer to getting two of their top offensive players back as the second half of the season approaches.

Herrin has missed the last two games with a knee injury, while starting running back Darius Pinnix has been sidelined four straight games with a neck injury. Houston said Tuesday the team is slated to do some testing on both players over the next week and should have a clearer timeline for their potential return soon.

“We do have a tentative timeline and there are a couple of evaluations coming up this week and next week,” Houston said. “We do hope to have them both back at some point towards the latter third of the season or so.”

Pinnix rushed for a career-high 130 yards and two scores in the win over Gardner-Webb on Sept. 7, but hasn’t been able to suit up since. Herrin is one of the team’s best run blockers and has played in 25 career games.

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