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ECU front line finds its five

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East Carolina center John Spellacy locks arms with a Connecticut defender on Sept. 24 in East Hartford, Conn.

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BY Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The line that is supposed to push the East Carolina offense down the field while also protecting its quarterbacks has been in disarray for much of the football season.

Seemingly every time the Pirates have found a five-man combination that works, something changes and so too do the results.

Although ECU (2-7, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) has had great moments on offense, including netting its lone two victories with the same front line quintet, another unexpected loss in the group coincided with yet another loss on the scoreboard last weekend.

ECU officially parted ways with junior left tackle Messiah Rice after multiple suspensions prior to the team's loss at Houston, yet offensive line coach Geep Wade said that with new left tackle Justin Sandifer, the team might have finally found the group with which it will finish the campaign.

“I think we've found our five that have actually jelled together a little bit,” Wade said after Tuesday’s practice. “The last two or three games up front has been better than it has all year, so I hope to keep that going.”

Lineup consistency has been scarce, and this week when the Pirates play host to Tulane, it will be yet another go-round for junior Sandifer on that end of the line.

The rest of the line has truly begun to take shape, and while right now the starting group is mostly veterans, the steady growth has also been thanks to an influx of youth. Joining seniors Sandifer and Brandon Smith at the tackles and mainstay junior Garrett McGhin at right guard is true freshman center John Spellacy, already a leader in the eyes of Wade, and junior Des Barmore at left guard.

Meanwhile, versatile sophomores D'Ante Smith and Cortez Herrin have already filled large roles, no pun intended. But the rise of the freshman has provided perhaps the biggest building block.

“We have a center that's a leader who makes all the right calls and puts us all in the right positions,” Wade said of Spellacy. “He's the general of our group. He's built for this.”

Wade recalls recruiting Spellacy and recognizing his toughness right away. He said football is of utmost importance to the player, and that alone is the foundation of greatness in the eyes of Wade.

If he wasn't already sold on the toughness of the 6-foot-1, 285-pound center, Wade certainly was after watching him largely neutralize Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, regarded as possibly the best defender in the AAC this year, last week.

Spellacy, a Cleveland native, brought some classic Great Lakes grit with him to Greenville and it has paid off so far.

After McGhin began the season at center, the job ultimately was won by Spellacy, a product of nationally renowned powerhouse St. Ignatius.

“The high school I played for, we played some really good teams that had recruits from Ohio State and Notre Dame and all that stuff, so I was kind of used to going up against those caliber of players on the D-line,” Spellacy said. “But I'm still kind of getting used to it (at the college level).”

The biggest difference for Spellacy in Greenville, in fact, has been the weather and the food.

His favorite thing about North Carolina so far, he said, is the people, particularly his linemates with whom he has gone through some considerable ups and downs already.

“They treated me really well when I first got here,” he said. “I was a little freshman and they could have been complete (expletive) to me but they're good people.”

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

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