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Will Ahlers lead Pirates in rushing again?

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Quarterback Holton Ahlers takes off to run during an East Carolina scrimmage on Aug. 17, 2019.


The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, 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 by head coach Mike Houston and also offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick, be OK with Ahlers as the leading rusher again this year? How many yards would it take for that to happen? Opinions varied Saturday during media day depending on who was answering.

“If he is our leading rusher, I hope he is rushing for a lot more yards than he rushed for last year,” Kirkpatrick said.

Running backs coach De’Rail Sims has welcomed Ahlers’ running ability — he is quick for his size at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds entering his sophomore season — to the offensive playbook.

“As long as we are winning games, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball,” said Sims, who like Kirkpatrick and most of the Pirate assistant coaches was at James Madison the last few years racking up wins and came with Houston when he was hired in December after three straight 3-9 seasons by ECU. “It gives you another dimension that the defense has to prepare for, and it gives our guys opportunities to block and do other things without the ball in their hands. As the running backs coach, shoot, I am all for it because it gives us the opportunity to go win.”

The Pirates haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Tay Cooper in 2013.

Last year’s top running back was then-senior Anthony Scott, who finished with 405 yards. Hussein Howe and Darius Pinnix return in the backfield, and freshman Demetrius Mauney had a strong preseason camp to form the lead trio of RBs.

Ahlers being in the mix for carries is bound to happen, which was evident when had a 100-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in the first preseason scrimmage, but Kirkpatrick wants there to be balance.

“He is a tremendous runner and when he is in there, it would be crazy not to have that threat of having him being able to run the ball,” Kirkpatrick said. “We do want to get the running backs to be the workhorses and build it around those backs to make yards, so that then the quarterback does get the quarterback runs because they are overplaying the back. That also gives us the play-action pass. I do think (Ahlers) took too many hits last year.”

Sims added that Pinnix and Howe are comfortable working out of the backfield in the pass game. They each had 12 receptions in 2018, with Pinnix totaling 168 yards on his 12 catches.

Pinnix is the favorite to be ECU’s starting running back next Saturday at N.C. State, and Howe is the lone scholarship senior among the backs.

“Hussein has the best feel for it, just with the passing game overall and how he fits into the system,” Sims said of his running backs catching the ball. “Darius probably has the best hands. They all have good hands, but it is Hussein and Darius because they have done it and been in the big-game situations and done it.”

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


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