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Futrell at the forefront

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East Carolina's Kendall Futrell (44) celebrates a play against Virginia Tech at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last season.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, August 10, 2018

It is not only Kendall Futrell’s frame or his bulging upper-body muscles or his speed that has East Carolina football coaches excited about Futrell’s junior season.

There is the factor of new defensive coordinator David Blackwell and his schemes, but also head coach Scottie Montgomery said this week that Futrell is proven as a much more well-rounded player than when the defensive end/linebacker came to ECU out of South Central High School a few years ago banking on potential and eventual impact.

“Probably our most talented player, on defense, is Kendall Futrell, but he has really come on with his level of maturity and his understanding of our defense,” Montgomery said. “To be honest this defense just fits him. This is his defense and we are starting to see a lot of leadership out of him.

“That whole defensive line has juice and a lot of them are looking at him and (nose tackle Alex) Turner as the leaders of that group.”

Freedom has been a key word for the ends and linebackers on defense for the Pirates under Blackwell. Futrell said that is especially the case for him.

“I get to use space, and last year I was really close to the O-linemen and in the four-technique sometimes,” he said. “Now I get to be wide and come off (the edge) and just use my speed as a weapon.”

Futrell was The Daily Reflector’s prep defensive player of the year in 2015. He racked up a total of 25 sacks during his time at South Central.

He played as a true freshman at ECU, but his first two seasons mainly got sidetracked by injuries and illness.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder comes into this season with 22 career tackles and one sack, which happened last year when he brought down BYU’s Tanner Mangum at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during a 33-17 victory for one of ECU’s three wins on the season.

Futrell is set to start at the Pirates’ versatile bandit position for Blackwell, who came from a successful stint at Jacksonville (Ala.) State and is in charge of improving the East Carolina defense. The Pirates used two defensive coordinators in 2017 and mostly had a frustrating and forgettable campaign.

Montgomery has raved about the speed shown this preseason from Futrell and other defensive ends. In terms of leadership, he recently pointed out Futrell and sophomore linebacker Bruce Bivens for stepping up in that regard.

“I definitely feel more comfortable doing it and have matured a lot since my freshman year,” Futrell said of being a leader. “It’s just trying to lead guys the right way on the field and off the field. I’m just trying to be the best role model I can be.”

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

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