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ECU QBs begin spring battle

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East Carolina quarterbacks, from left, Reid Herring, Kingsley Ifedi, Holton Ahlers and Caiden Norman line up for a drill during Monday's practice. Feb. 19, 2018.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 19, 2018

Only one man can line up under center for the East Carolina football team this season, but three men set out on Monday with the intention of it being them.

The Pirates began spring practice at the earliest time in recent history, and third-year coach Scottie Montgomery needs a new quarterback. Until a couple of weeks ago, he thought the man was going to be rising senior Gardner Minshew, but the plan was foiled when the passer abruptly left school to tend to a family matter but was quickly linked with transfer rumors that included national champion Alabama.

That left a three-man battle between sophomore Reid Herring, redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi and true freshman Holton Ahlers to vie this spring for to become the team’s sixth starting QB in four seasons. Montgomery said all three took snaps with the top team Monday.

“Reid has always been a good player, really polished,” Montgomery said after the team’s first 2018 practice, noting that the team showed good practice habits but also that players have not donned pads yet. “If you ask him, he’s happy that the blanket has been taken off of him. He’s felt like he should have been the guy all along.”

Montgomery said Herring showed command of the team, perhaps the greatest intangible for QBs.

The Raleigh native tossed a touchdown pass to fellow sophomore Tahj Deans on his first and only throw as a freshman, undoubtedly giving him an added jolt of confidence. But on Monday, Herring remained humble.

“It was fun. We all competed and worked hard,” said Herring, whose ongoing effort to gain weight has seen him gain 20 pounds since he arrived. “It’s just another year of progression. We’re just all out there competing and every guy is trying to win the spot. I’ve just got to be super competitive out there.”

“We feel like we’re pretty talented at quarterback, we felt like that before (Minshew) left and we felt like that on signing day a year ago (when Ifedi signed) and two years ago (when Herring signed),” Montgomery said, adding that the absence of Minshew was expected and therefore was not a distraction.

Minshew platooned as the Pirates’ starter with Philip Nelson in 2016 and then with Thomas Sirk last season, and both times he finished the season as the lead man. But the Mississippi native and former junior college QB withdrew from classes and left campus recently, citing a family matter.

A release from ECU at the time indicated there was a chance Minshew could return if the circumstances allowed it, but that was before the rumors linking him with a transfer. On Monday, Montgomery said the door was still not closed completely.

“That’s something that I don’t know. He does have the ability, the door is open for him whenever that happens, but right now we’re focused on the guys that we have here,” Montgomery said of Minshew. “We’re really excited about the style of quarterbacks we’re playing with right now.”

Ahlers signed with the Pirates in December after graduating from nearby D.H. Conley High a semester early. He also did so despite offers from Georgia and Florida and a reported call from Alabama’s Nick Saban the night before signing day.

In keeping with Ahlers’ overachieving reputation, he did not disappoint his coach.

“He didn’t look like it was his first college practice, but it shouldn’t,” Montgomery said. “He lives right down the road, he’s been over here so much, it should look like his second or third college practice. That’s what it looked like.”

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

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