GREENVILLE, NC – The East Carolina Pirates, under fourth-year head football coach Mike Houston, opened the spring training period with their first official practice late Tuesday. afternoon on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.
Houston guided his team through a 110-minute fundamentals-focused workout, the first of 15 scheduled sessions that will culminate in play at the Purple-Gold Spring Game on April 9 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates return seven starters on offense, seven on the defensive side of the ball and welcome a total of 50 men of letters from a team that went 7-5 overall last season and earned playoff eligibility for the first time since 2014. Offensively, ECU opened spring drills with a pair of openers each on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
On defense, East Carolina lost three members of its secondary, which includes both safety and inside linebacker positions. Additionally, three members of the Pirates’ special teams squad — returner Tyler Snead, punter Jonn Young and deep-seated snapper Slade Roy — are to be replaced.
Topping the list of returning offensive players of 2021 are senior quarterback Holton Ahlers (37 career starts) and junior linemen Avery Jones (19) and Noah Henderson (14). Ahlers, who threw for 3,126 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago, will enter his fifth season with just 764 total yards to set a school career total offense standard. Additionally, he currently ranks second in program history with 10,219 passing yards.
Coordinator Blake Harrell’s defense features a front line that brings back his three junior starters Rick D’Abreu (16) and sophomores Immanuel Hickman (13) and Elijah Morris (16). Senior inside linebacker Myles Berry (ECU’s third leading tackle with 53 in 2021) and junior cornerback Malik Fleming, who currently boasts the unit’s longest consecutive starting streak at 10 games, will provide additional experience. with veteran Xavier Smith, who has 30 career starts under his belt at linebacker and finishing.
ECU will spend its first two “acclimatization” training sessions in shorts and helmet before moving to shells on Friday.