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Jones, ECU still motivated

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East Carolina University wide receiver Zay Jones. (File photo/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Zay Jones possesses some remarkable gifts as an athlete, but perhaps his greatest trait is his uncanny ability to take everything and turn it into motivation and renewed energy.

Admittedly feeling some of the wear of being nine games into his already record-setting senior season, the East Carolina wide receiver is still pushing.

Faced with needing three wins and his team’s last three games in order to play in a bowl, Jones sees the tall odds as the potential catalyst for an unforgettable finish. Under the shadow of potentially breaking multiple NCAA top-division receiving records and most of the ECU pass-catching marks held by former teammate Justin Hardy, Jones thinks it is just another reason to play even better.

If that is even possible.

“The stakes are high and I’m really motivated still. We still have a lot to play for,” said Jones, whose remarkable swan song season already features a school-record 127 receptions for an even 1,300 yards and five touchdowns. “A bowl game is still intact. This is like the playoffs ... we have to win if we want that extended game, and I want that extended game and I’m sure the rest of the team does. That’s what’s on the line right now.”

Jones needs just 19 more catches to tie Hardy’s all-time FBS career mark of 387, and he is also on track to set a new NCAA standard for receptions per game (14.11).

With games of 22 (one shy of the NCAA single-game record), 17, 18 and 19 catches already, it is possible Jones will set the new standard for career receptions this Saturday at home against SMU.

“I wouldn’t say it’s distracting, I would say it’s more added motivation that things are out there that are attainable and you can achieve them,” Jones said of the potential records. “I feel as though my play has been very consistent, but there is a lot more that I can do, that I want to do. I’m just going to keep pressing through.”

Nelson or Minshew?

ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said senior starting quarterback Philip Nelson put in a full practice on Tuesday night after being pulled for backup Garnder Minshew during the second quarter of last Saturday’s loss at Tulsa. After the game, the coach said Nelson was dealing with a shoulder injury.

On Monday, Montgomery said Nelson would have to practice this week in order to prevent Minshew from getting his first career start for the Pirates (3-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) against the Mustangs (4-5, 2-3).

“He tends to play a lot better when he practices better, so we wanted to make sure he got some work, a lot of the work, and he came out and was able to get it all,” said Montgomery, adding that Nelson looked sharp on Tuesday. “Last week, we wanted to see him be accurate (against the Golden Hurricane). I think a lot of it had to do with (the injury) and he just wasn’t as accurate. I thought today he was much better.”

Nelson threw for an even 100 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing in limited action at Tulsa. In the third injury relief appearance of his sophomore season, Minshew, a junior college transfer, rolled up a career-best 336 yards and a TD despite the Pirates’ 45-24 loss.

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

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