Montgomery names Minshew ECU’s starting quarterback

Junior Gardner Minshew, who started two games in relief of Philip Nelson last season, beat out graduate transfer Thomas Sirk for the Pirates' starting job

Kim Klement—X02835
Gardner Minshew started the final two games of last season for the Pirates, throwing for eight touchdowns and four interceptions (Photo by Kim Klement/USA Today)

Junior Gardner Minshew, who started two games in relief of Philip Nelson last season, has been named East Carolina’s starting quarterback for its season opener against James Madison on Sept. 2.

The announcement was made by coach Scottie Montgomery after practice on Tuesday.

Minshew edged out graduate transfer Thomas Sirk for the starting position after a tight battle during preseason camp. In the end, Montgomery indicated that Minshew’s familiarity with his teammates and ECU’s offense were enough to win him the job.

“We are at the point where we need to get ready to play a game and additional reps are obviously an important part of that preparation,” Montgomery said in a statement. “We like the way each manages the team, both from a leadership and execution standpoint, but Gardner has a little more familiarity with our current personnel.”

Minshew played in seven games in 2016, completing 119 of his 202 passes for 1,347 yards and eight touchdowns, with four interceptions.

Although the former junior college transfer finished spring practice at the top of the Pirates’ depth chart, Minshew was the underdog to win the starting job when Sirk arrived from Duke this summer. But he solidified his position with a solid camp, punctuated by strong performances in the team’s two preseason scrimmages.

“I feel like I’m a natural competitor,” Minshew said. “Anytime we get out there, both of us, we’re going to raise our game and I feel like that really happened. We both had really good camps. I’m just ready for James Madison.”

Sirk is a strong runner and passer who accounted for 3,428 total offensive yards in his only season as the Blue Devils’ starter in 2015 — the second-highest single-season in school history — before missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon.

He will serve as the Pirates’ top backup to start the season, with the possibility of being used in red zone and short yardage situations the way he was at Duke — where Montgomery was his offensive coordinator.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to get to this point and not hear your number called,” Sirk said. “But I’m not going to let my head get down. I’m not going to let it discourage me because I know how hard I worked to get to this point.

“It doesn’t change anything I do moving forward. I’m going to continue to push Gardner, push myself. You never know when you’re opportunity is going to come. I’m going to come out here and compete just like I’m the starter. Nothing changes for me in the way I prepare for a game.”

In other ECU news, senior safety Travon Simmons has left the program with the intention of transferring. A two-year starter who was credited with 105 tackles and 14 pass breakups in his Pirates’ career, Simmons was caught in a numbers crunch in the secondary created by incoming transfers Korrin Wiggins and Tim Irvin.

Simmons has not indicated where he will continue his college career, but has been given a full release by Montgomery. He is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in finance this December.