East Carolina may have brought in five graduate transfers and several more from junior colleges to help bolster its roster for the coming football season, but the core of the team is still its returning veterans.
That fact was graphically illustrated earlier this week when the Pirates voted on their team captains.
Newly named starting quarterback Gardner Minshew, along with seniors Jimmy Williams and Garrett McGhin on offense, and Bobby Fulp and Jordan Williams on defense were selected by their teammates as ECU’s official leaders.
They’re selections that were endorsed wholeheartedly by coach Scottie Montgomery.
“These are exactly the guys that I thought it would be, which is a great feeling when you have that with your team,” Montgomery said Monday at his first weekly press conference. “To look at the votes coming in with almost the exact same thing on every one of them knowing that the spirit of this team is aligned and we have worked really, really hard to get to that point.”
All five of the captains are proven performers.
Williams is the Pirates’ top big-play receiver while McGinn is a center who was named to the preseason watch list for the Rimington Award. Fulp is a former walk-on who has played in 34 games at cornerback with two career interceptions. Williams is the quarterback of the Pirates’ defense at linebacker who led the team in tackles last season.
Minshew is the least experienced of the group, having started only two games as a sophomore backup in 2016. But he has quickly developed into a leader during camp while winning the starting job in a close competition with graduate transfer Thomas Sirk.
”A lot of people are going to talk about being focused on this weekend and the game but no, we are going to focus on Monday, then on Tuesday and every single day that we are in,” Montgomery said. “We are intent on playing well and that’s what we have to do.”
Montgomery said he likes the chemistry of his team ahead of Saturday’s season opener against James Madison, as it looks to bounce back from last season’s 3-9 disappointment.
He said it was evident Saturday night when his players chose to watch the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor as a group rather than splitting up and going their separate ways following the final practice of preseason camp.
“Usually when they get that last Saturday, the last one off before the first game, all of them want to go do different things — whether they want to go see their parents or hang out with their friends away from the team because they’ve been around them all camp,” Montgomery said. “Well, this year they came to me, and I never saw it coming, all of them voted they wanted to watch the fight together. When you get the team that wants to do one thing on their only real weekend off, that’s special.”
ECU vs. James Madison
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium | Saturday, 6 p.m. | ESPN3
Preview: This is no cupcake opener for the Pirates, who are anxious to put last year’s 3-9 season behind them. James Madison, the defending FCS national champion, returns many of its weapons from an offense that averaged 46.6 points per game while going 14-1 in 2016.
Players to watch: Graduate transfer DE Gaelin Elmore was brought in to improve ECU’s pass rush, which had only eight sacks last season. His ability to get pressure on the quarterback will be important against the Dukes, whose senior QB Bryan Schor completed 73 percent of his passes last season for 3,002 yards, 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Fast fact: JMU will be without six players for Saturday’s game, all of whom were suspended for a violation of team rules.
What to expect: Clemson transfer Korrin Wiggins and Auburn transfer Tim Irvin have added Power Five talent to ECU’s defensive backfield, and both will be tested by a proven JMU offense. This could be a pivotal game for ECU with matchups against West Virginia, Virginia Tech and South Florida coming in the next three weeks.