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McGhin leads reconstructed line

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ECU's Garrett McGhin is interviewed by media on Aug. 5, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, August 7, 2017

East Carolina football needed a new person to push its offense physically and emotionally.

Garrett McGhin has known for a while that it is him that second-year ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery and his staff have chosen to be that man. Now, the push is on to reverse last season’s 3-9 nightmare.

“Last year was heartbreaking for a lot of us. Never been through something like that before,” said McGhin, a junior offensive lineman from Tallahassee, Fla., who was the Pirates’ starter at left guard last season but who has now shifted to the all-important center position. “With struggle comes cohesiveness, and a lot of guys joined together and realized it’s up to us to get things to change.”

McGhin said he and fellow upperclassmen like senior wide receiver Jimmy Williams, junior quarterback Gardner Minshew and senior linebacker Jordan Williams banded together to become the new leadership core of the team.

“They’ve stepped up and are taking young guys under their wing and showing them that ain’t happening again. That’s not the Pirate way and that’s not how we do things,” McGhin said.

In raw measurement, the shift from left guard to center is no more than a couple of feet.

But in football terms — especially on a team now incorporating some snaps from directly under center in addition to the shotgun formation — there is a mile of difference.

“It’s a completely different ball game,” said McGhin, who came to ECU as a tackle, moved over to guard and now has landed in the middle of the line. “When they told me that (he would be moved to center), I said I’m down to do whatever helps the team win. I was kind of scared at first because I hadn’t snapped a football in like three years or more, but once I got the snaps down I knew that this would be something that’s beneficial to me and this team.”

ECU offensive line coach Geep Wade played center at Tennessee-Chattanooga, so his ability to identify the 6-foot-6, 327-pound McGhin as the team’s next man in the middle was not too much of a stretch. Combined with the insight of offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, the move became imminent halfway through last season.

“We had been working with him after practice, and we had been planning some stuff last season,” Wade said of McGhin, noting that his new center had some struggles on Saturday’s first day in full pads, but that he expected the player’s rise to continue. “He is crucial for us because he’s a real leader. He’s not just a leader because he’s older and all that.

“Mentally, you worry a little bit about making the calls if they’re in this front or that front, and he’s got that down. ... He’s a confident guy, a kick-butt guy.”

Petersen knows there are still hurdles to be cleared by his big men, including sophomore D’Ante Smith likely taking over as the starting left tackle this season and fellow sophomore Cortez Herrin possibly the new main man at right guard.

But he also seems comfortable in knowing he has players like McGhin and senior right tackle Brandon Smith as on-field mentors. 

“Last year, where we didn’t have the depth and what we wanted at center, at least right now we do,” Petersen said. “It all starts at center, especially when you’re a shotgun team, and we feel a lot better. And I don’t think people know who D’Ante Smith is or Cortez Herrin, and they’re going to be very surprised. You’re talking about big-time talent.” 

McGhin said he knows his length will help to carve out running lanes and spearhead the team’s pass protection — tailback Derrell Scott said he can tell a difference in the line already — but the center said there is an unexpected sense of importance and a physical advantage in having the ball in his hands every play.

“Having the ball in my hands has really changed a lot of my technique,” said McGhin, who noted the addition of more snaps under center and mixing them with shotgun snaps is a considerable challenge. “Even with the ball under center, you’ve got to put the ball in the same place every single time because (the quarterback) has got to get out of there ASAP and hand the ball off on outside zone (runs) and things like that, or get into his drop. It’s about hitting the same technique every time.”

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

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