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Benkert leaves with no hard feelings

031716ECUpractice-1

ECU quarterback Kurt Benkert starts to throw a pass during the first practice of the year on March 16, 2016. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, May 2, 2016

In his three years at East Carolina, Kurt Benkert’s eyes were trained to scan receivers amid heavy coverage, to find open running lanes and to skirt oncoming tacklers as he prepared to become the Pirates’ next starting quarterback.

Now those eyes are fixed firmly on the University of Virginia, new Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall and a brand new opportunity. A week ago, the rising junior passer announced he was leaving the Pirates after a difficult tenure that saw Benkert injured on the cusp of his first season as the Pirates’ starter last August.

As Benkert spent a painful year rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee and playing the waiting game, head coach Ruffin McNeill was fired and replaced by Scottie Montgomery. The change, as is often the case in college football, was ultimately not compatible for Benkert, a Cape Coral, Fla., native who never saw his first start at ECU.

“We just weren’t on same page with everything moving forward, and I felt like with me having a couple of years left to go out and play right away and not have to sit, it would be in my best interest to explore other options and give myself an opportunity to have a better future,” said Benkert, who will graduate from ECU this week and will be immediately headed north to Charlottesville, where coincidentally McNeill landed as a defensive staffer.

Benkert said he made his final decision to transfer ”about four or five days” after the Pirates’ April 16 spring game, likely after Montgomery revealed that senior former transfer Philip Nelson, with whom Benkert battled for repetitions throughout spring ball, would likely be the team’s starter this season.

But Benkert emphasized that the coaching change and QB situation were ”not the reason that I made my decision,” but rather that an opportunity for a better situation arose.

“When it got released to the public, I had a number of schools call, and I was really looking forward to hearing from Virginia,” he said. “Going on a visit there was definitely a no-brainer in terms of academics and football and everything they’re doing, especially with a new coaching staff. They’ve always had the facilities and everything, just not winning games has been the problem.”

Benkert hopes he can help with that.

He said he was sold quickly on Mendenhall, the former long-time head man at BYU who Benkert noted went to 11 straight bowl games with the Cougars, and who also topped ECU in the teams’ first-ever meeting last year in Utah. That was a big deal in the decision, Benkert said.

Despite having the former head coach who signed him at ECU now on staff at UVa., Benkert said the transfer to the Cavs would likely have happened regardless, especially knowing he and McNeill will have little on-field contact being on opposite sides of the ball from one another.

Benkert initially gave his commitment to former ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who left ECU two years ago to take the same position at Oklahoma.

“Just having that in with the coaching staff definitely helped right away,” Benkert said of McNeill. ”But a lot of it has to do with the system they run. They run the same system I’ve been in for three straight years, and I know it like the back of my hand, so it’s really just a terminology change. It’s the same concepts and, honestly, it’s a little more catered to my style and the quarterback they had before at BYU.

“I kind of see it as what we were turning into before the coaching staff got fired here, if I hadn’t gotten hurt.”

 

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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