When the East Carolina University football team opened spring practice on Feb. 19, the biggest position in question was at quarterback, following senior and incumbent starting quarterback Gardner Minshew’s withdrawal from the school.
The Pirates entered spring practice with three players fighting for the job, sophomore Reid Herring, redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi and true freshman Holton Ahlers. All have gotten snaps with the first-team offense, but Herring is the only one who hasn’t gotten snaps with the third-team. Due to Herring’s experience with head coach Scottie Montgomery and offensive coordinator Tony Peterson’s offense, he is the presumed favorite to start.
Even though the sophomore has a stronger grasp on the position, I think the chance should go to Ahlers for several reasons.
For those of us who love a good story, the best reason of all is that this story is just too good to pass up. Ahlers starting right away at ECU has the potential for a “you can’t write this type of stuff” story. It has been well documented that Ahlers is a Greenville native and has grown up around ECU football. His father, Morgan Ahlers, has even been the PA announcer at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for more than 10 years, while his son played high school football down the road at D.H. Conley High School, attending ECU football games all the while.
Being the possible hometown hero for ECU is something that would obviously mean a lot for Ahlers, as he has mentioned returning Dowdy-Ficklen stadium to its glory and telling Pirate fans that “this place is about to explode, just be patient” on Twitter. It meant enough to Ahlers to come play football at ECU instead of attending several other pursuers.
Some of the schools interested in the young quarterback include national championship runner-up, the University of Georgia, the University of Florida and in-state opponent North Carolina State University. All of these schools have high football pedigrees, much higher than ECU’s right now.
Another reason to give Ahlers the chance is how much better it would be for coach Montgomery. I know coaches aren’t supposed to think about how their decisions are seen by fans, and I am sure coach Montgomery isn’t worried about it either. They are committed to doing what is best for the team, but starting Ahlers would be a win-win. If Ahlers doesn’t start, and the team stats to struggle, fans who wanted their hometown star to start right away may decide to part ways with their ECU fandom. Starting Ahlers gives the freshman a chance to exceed critic’s expectations. Or even if the team still struggles, Ahler’s talent is too noticeable to not take a chance.
Lastly, and the biggest reason for the football staff in my opinion, this is simply the right decision football-wise. In case you’re forgetting how successful Ahlers was in high school, let me show some statistics. His career rankings in the North Carolina high school records goes as follows: third in passing touchdowns (145), fifth in passing yards (11,198), second in total yards of offense (14,784) and third in touchdowns responsible for (201). His 56 career rushing touchdowns show his dual-threat ability. His 145 passing touchdowns is incredible, especially considering the offense was built around him as a ball-carrier and a lot of his passing plays came off broken plays where he used athleticism to stay alive.
Out of high school, neither Herring nor Ifedi’s numbers were like Ahlers, they aren’t as high up on the North Carolina high school record books. They aren’t the only ones who’s resumes don’t match up either. Former ECU quarterback Shane Carden’s stats don’t compare with Ahlers. When someone compared Ahlers to Carden on twitter, Carden replied with, “I wasn’t putting up numbers like this dude in high school. Looking forward to seeing him at ECU!” Reminder ECU fans, Carden is the best quarterback to suit up in purple and gold in a long, long time.
I fully understand that Ahlers has no experience and that Ifedi and Herring have been with the program for at least a year already. But, last time I checked, getting players ready for game-action is part of the reason the school pays coaches. There are instances of true freshman quarterbacks being very successful right away, such as Jake Fromm taking Georgia to the national championship game last season. Although Georgia had a team much further along than ECU will, it’d be best to allow Ahlers to grow with the team on the field.
A quarterback with similar athletic traits to Ahlers, in my opinion, is Robert Griffin III. The season before Griffin III was at Baylor University, the team went 3-9 and 2-6 in conference play, familiar to ECU’s 2016 and 2017 season records of 3-9. Griffin III’s freshman season, BU didn’t do much better, only 4-8 and again 2-6 in conference, but the team was growing together. By his last season in 2011, the Bears were ready as a program and finished 10-3 and won a very memorable Alamo Bowl as Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy.
Duplicating that kind of team and personal success would be lofty aspirations for Ahlers and ECU. As new defensive coordinator, David Blackwell said the team has to set the bar to be the best and try to top it every day. I’m not here to say Herring and Ifedi are not very talented players, otherwise Montgomery and Peterson would not have recruited them, so I’m sure they are great players.
But, with Ahlers there’s something more. He’s a player who wants to leave a legacy beyond Carden’s. He’s a player that people, including Montgomery, believe is a program-changing quarterback. It’s a perfect chance for Ahlers’ father to announce his run as a “first down, Pirates!” before the fans yell back “Argh!”
Plainly, it’s a hometown star who was born to wear purple and gold, quarterbacking for the Pirates of ECU.