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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Pirates react to preseason poll

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East Carolina football coach Mike Houston, left, talks with receiver Deondre Farrier during American Athletic Conference media days on Tuesday at Gurney's Newport Resort and Marina.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

NEWPORT, R.I. — Mike Houston has been in this position before, bracing to prove doubters wrong.

It began with his first head coaching job in 2001 at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, when his team was picked in the preseason eighth out of nine teams but thrived during the season to take second place. Houston's teams at The Citadel in 2014 and '15 also overachieved at times compared to outside expectations.

The theme of Houston's first season at ECU will take him back to those years, which was confirmed Tuesday when the American Athletic Conference preseason media poll had the Pirates fifth in the AAC East Division ahead of only lowly Connecticut. It comes after the Pirates indeed were fifth in the East in 2018, with a 1-7 league record as part of their third straight 3-9 overall mark that led to coach Scottie Montgomery's firing to be replaced by Houston in December.

“The preseason polls are based on last year or transitions or whatever, but we are just concerned about what we are doing this year,” said Houston, who has an 80-25 career record from his stints at James Madison, The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. "What we worry about is the postseason poll and the final standings. ... I’ll talk to our kids about this preseason poll Aug. 1 (when players report for preseason camp), but really that is the only time we’ll talk about it."

Senior Deondre Farrier's initial reaction to the Pirates' position in the poll was "no comment." ECU's lone league victory a season ago was 55-21 in Greenville against UConn, which finished 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the AAC.

The ECU receiver later expanded on his thoughts about trying to erase memories of frustrating 3-9 records.

"It's not even just the seniors, but everybody in that locker room is sure that they do not want to go 3-9 again," Farrier said.

UCF is the favorite again this year to win the league championship. It received 19 first-place votes and 169 total points, followed in the East by Cincinnati (157 points), USF (107), Temple (101), ECU (66) and UConn (30).

In the AAC West, it was Memphis (165) edging Houston (162), Tulane (108), SMU (87), Navy (70) and Tulsa (38).

The Knights winning the league title a year ago marked the first time in AAC history that the preseason favorite actually won the conference championship outright.

"Our goal is, in time, to get our program where we are picked at the top year in and year out," Houston said. "We want to compete for conference championships, so that means we have to qualify for the championship game. If those aren't your goals, then why are you playing? Our goal is to get this program to that point in the very near future."

Memphis, Cincinnati and Houston are widely viewed as the most likely threats to potentially prevent UCF from winning a third straight conference championship. Temple won the AAC in 2016, a year when Houston was the preseason favorite.

"Us being picked to win the West Division does nothing for you when you kick off the games, but you do want to see growth in your program and you want your program to be respected and talked about in a positive way," Memphis fourth-year coach Mike Norvell said. "It's going to be a heck of a year. UCF, obviously, has been the standard here the last couple of years and we are all pushing to try to put our best foot forward.”

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

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Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

ECU

August 24, 2019

Here’s our East Carolina beat writer Ronnie Woodward’s shot at ECU football’s starting lineup against N.C. State. First-year Pirate coach Mike Houston should be releasing the team’s Week 1 depth chart Tuesday during his news conference.

Here it is:

OFFENSE

QB -- Holton…

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August 24, 2019

First-year East Carolina football coach Mike Houston has mainly established his starters and is in the fine-tuning phase of August as the noon kickoff against N.C. State in Raleigh is exactly one week away.

ECU was established as a 17-point underdog to the Wolfpack and has the task of trying to…

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August 24, 2019

East Carolina begins its first season under coach Mike Houston one week from today and is aiming to finish better than its three straight 3-9 records from 2016-18. The Pirates haven’t had a winning record since going 8-5 in 2014 under Ruffin McNeill.

Where are the wins in this year’s…

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August 24, 2019

New East Carolina football players reported to preseason camp on Aug. 1, about eight months after athletics director Jon Gilbert and football coach Mike Houston reported to Greenville as instant leaders of a new era of Pirate athletics.

It is in many ways still a rebuilding project, which Gilbert…

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August 22, 2019

East Carolina’s first athletic event of the academic year started and stopped and continued again and stopped again, then was canceled because of inclement weather.

ECU’s women’s soccer team was not able to finish Thursday night’s match against George Mason, even with the…

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August 22, 2019

First-year East Carolina defensive coordinator Bob Trott and first-year Pirate football head coach Mike Houston were similar with their words Wednesday that they think they know what to expect from N.C. State's offense, but they said preparing for an opponent during Week 1 of the season is…

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August 21, 2019

Many intricacies and focuses for East Carolina football players have changed with Monday's start to the fall semester and the N.C. State game a little more than a week away, but Pirate coach Mike Houston had no plans of intensity dipping with the transition from preseason workouts to in-season and…

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August 20, 2019

No more waiting for Holton Ahlers or the rest of the East Carolina football team or Pirate fans.

With next Saturday’s noon kickoff at N.C. State getting closer and closer, first-year Pirate coach Mike Houston officially announced after Tuesday’s practice that Ahlers will be his…

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August 20, 2019

Quarterback Holton Ahlers led East Carolina’s football team in rushing last season with 592 yards and six touchdowns on 119 carries.

New offensive principles are in place at ECU under a new coaching staff, leading to some intrigue about Ahlers and his run availability. Would this staff, led…

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August 19, 2019

East Carolina first-year football coach Mike Houston described the Pirates' No. 1 center, Branden Pena, as a "tough joker" on Saturday.

The football-centric praise showed how far the relationship has come between Pena and Houston since December.

"Branden Pena is a guy that I didn't know his name…

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