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Blackwell embraces return to ENC

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East Carolina defensive coordinator and former Pirate player David Blackwell walks in to his introductory news conference on Dec. 8, 2017.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, July 15, 2018

David Blackwell has coached college football at Pittsburgh and South Florida, which is located in Tampa.

He said it was easy to recognize that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL are kings in those cities.

He also is a former East Carolina football player and student coach and coached at Clemson, places where college football reigns supreme over the professional version.

The 46-year-old is back in Greenville for his first stint as the Pirates’ defensive coordinator. Given the college-town nature, his role as a coordinator and past connection to the Pirates, Blackwell fully understands he can be somewhat of a public figure in Pitt County.

“Cities that are built around universities are always going to be that way,” he said. “Coaches are recognized and people know who you are, and that quickly makes you realize how passionate our fan base is. … It’s always a good feeling to be in a community where people care about the university.

“I think it’s awesome that you go in restaurants around here and all you see is purple and gold.”

Blackwell was hired away from Jacksonville (Ala.) State to help turn around an ECU defense that ranked last in the country in multiple statistical categories in 2017 and often was at the root of the team’s troubles in producing a 3-9 record.

A third straight losing season didn’t sit well with fans, and the Pirate coaching staff has been public and open since the end of last season about the need to collect more wins this fall.

ECU went 10-3 in 2013 and 8-5 in ’14 before a combined 11-25 mark the last three years. The previous three years include a final 5-7 season under head coach Ruffin McNeill before he was fired, and the first two by current head man Scottie Montgomery.

“It is as good as it gets when it is good, and you have to deal with the negative when it’s bad,” Blackwell said. “It’s because people care. You would rather people be passionate than apathetic.”

The good moments with Pirate fans for Blackwell include when he was part of the teams that scored big road wins against Syracuse and South Carolina during the 1990s and they were greeted by eager fans when returning to Greenville.

He already has had a defining moment this year in Greenville after being hired by Montgomery on Dec. 7, 2017, in a move that brought instant rejuvenation.

Before the first scrimmage of spring drills, Blackwell took a moment as he walked on the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium field and realized he was doing so for the first time since 1995.

“It was like, ‘Holy smokes,’ and this feels real again,” said Blackwell, who coached the Pirate rush linebackers for the 1993, ’94 and ’95 seasons under head coach Steve Logan. “I think I actually took a picture of the stadium that morning as I was walking into it and put it on Twitter or something. It was kind of a weird feeling to be on that turf again and in a competitive situation, even having a scrimmage.”

Blackwell will be leading a defensive unit that showed signs of promise during the spring and is young, evident by him saying the Pirates could begin the season with only two senior defensive starters.

Junior interior lineman Alex Turner has emerged as a leader, and the linebacking group includes a couple of talented and potential breakout players in sophomores Bruce Bivens and Aaron Ramseur. Bivens and Turner were selected as the two defensive players to represent ECU at the American Athletic Conference media days event July 23-24 in Rhode Island.

“There are a lot of great things happening around this university and growth and there are so many positive things happening, so now we have to go out defensively and as a football team and just keep getting better and keep growing,” Blackwell said.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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