Holton Ahlers practice

Junior quarterback Holton Ahlers practices with the Pirates football team.

With efforts to combat the continuous effects of COVID-19, East Carolina University’s football squad has set and followed precautions, including separated practice and masks, as the team opened up for camp on July 30.

After intense camp practices for six straight days which leave players with a daily schedule that begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m., ECU head football coach Mike Houston said he is proud of his team.

“For doing nothing for four months and not having practiced since late last fall (or) early winter, to go six straight days, I thought they’ve handled it very well,” Houston said. “We have obviously been very wise with what we’ve done and have not done the volume that we would usually do this time of year, but at the same time we increase it just a little bit every day.”

As head coach, Houston said he is focused on having the entire roster on the same page in case any players test positive. He said, especially on the offensive line, that everyone needs to know every position and he believes depth is especially important this year for the sake of the season.

Houston said the team has progressed slowly through its practices for COVID-19 prevention purposes, adding extra steps while keeping caution in mind. Starting with just helmets and working their way up, every day has been a step toward the right direction, he said. With the addition of full pads, Houston sees it as an eyeopener.

“Now that you’ve incorporated live contact into everything you’re doing and so certainly that changes a lot of dynamics,” Houston said. “You see a lot of players that are really, really good in helmets, and you start incorporating contact and it changes. You also see some guys that maybe don’t stand out in helmets that are much better players once you start incorporating in the contact.”

Houston gave a few freshmen on the defensive line some recognition after seeing the new group in action this week. He mentioned Jason Romero, Xavier McIver, Jason Shuford and Elijah Morris, speaking about the freshmen’s size and skill on the field. He said he believes this group of freshmen will be solid for the team in the future.

As far as COVID-19, the team continues to follow protocol to keep players and coaches safe, according to Houston. He said whenever players are not wearing helmets, they are wearing their mask.

In preparation for the regular season, the players box will be expanded to each 10-yard line according to Houston. The spacing of players on the sidelines is a focal point to keep the team safe. With the guidelines put in place, the team will continue to practice and plans to play a live scrimmage on Saturday.

Senior inside linebacker Aaron Ramseur suffered an injury last season against the University of South Florida on Oct. 26, but Houston said his progress is going smoothly. He said Ramseur is eager to get back to full practice and to be cleared for contact.

“He’s (Ramseur) something else,” Houston said. “We all are being smart (by) bringing him along. We had him in a red jersey which means no contact...we were doing a short yardage drill yesterday, and he goes and he gets a purple jersey from one of the other kids and sneaks into the drill.”

Houston said there is a lot of competition surrounding the young running backs. The Pirates were thin at the running back position last year after an early injury to junior running back Darrius Pinnix Jr., but with the group of freshmen who have arrived on the team, there will be a great deal of depth at the position. There are a total of eight backs on the 2020 roster in comparison to last year’s six on the 2019 roster.

“You look at the room as a whole (and) there’s a lot of competition going on there,” Houston said. “Very pleased with the young backs, Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris. They’ve been very solid every day. Certainly, (Demetrius) Mauney, and (Darrius) Pinnix, and (Chase) Hayden all have experience. I think they’re all different, but they all give us something a little bit different in the run and the pass game.”

Houston said the Pirates went full speed for the first time this season during Saturday’s scrimmage. He said there is still a lot up in the air as far as starting positions and everyone will be competing for a spot this weekend, which attests to the amount of depth on the team.

Regarding the regular season, the plan is still to start the season on Aug. 29 when the Pirates will face Marshall University at home according to the 2020 schedule. However, the Pirates have already lost two games scheduled for Sep. 12 and 19. ECU’s week three and four matchups at the University of South Carolina and then vs Norfolk State University have been cancelled as a result of outside conferences moving away from non-conference play.

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