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State film fuels Houston, Pirates

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East Carolina's head coach Mike Houston talks with linebacker Bruce Bivens during practice on Aug. 20, 2019.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, 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 in-semester practices.

Players got their most direct message yet on Wednesday from an emotional and intense Houston, one day after the coach was visibly disappointed with the level of intensity on special teams and other areas. Houston's post-practice address Wednesday was fueled by the fact that part of his morning was spent re-watching N.C. State's 58-3 rout of the Pirates from 2018.

"It made me absolutely sick to my stomach," he said of that ECU 55-point defeat, which was followed one day later by the Pirates hiring Houston from a successful James Madison program. "We have to focus on getting better every single day. There are some things on that field last year that are non-negotiable for me. Effort, teamwork, positive enthusiasm and toughness, coming off the ball and tackling, those are non-negotiable.

"We are going to do those things. Until we get to those things consistently every single day, we are not where we need to be."

With preseason camp officially complete, players have been divided into tiers ranging from scout-team members to special teams mainstays to first-team participants. That created a new environment Tuesday afternoon that was an adjustment Houston hopes to quickly fix for fully focused workouts throughout the rest of the year.

"It's full-speed and full-go up front with the offensive and defensive lines, which is one of the things you really have to get the scout (players) to understand," said Houston, who added that positives from Wednesday included field goal execution and protection. "The speed doesn't change just because you are preparing for an opponent. ... We also are going to do good-on-good segments, each day, throughout all of the season. We'll do it even during Week 12, good-on-good on Tuesdays and Wednesdays."

The Pirates welcomed back projected starting right guard back Sean Bailey to full pads this week. The 6-foot-6, 336-pound junior missed some time last week but has since returned to the trenches for drills and O-line work.

"He fully practiced (Tuesday) and is back into things, so we'll look to see him come along further as the week goes on," Houston said of Bailey who, if he slides in effectively in his right guard spot, will likely play beside new starter Bailey Malovic or Matt Morgan at right tackle against the Wolfpack for a noon kickoff in Raleigh.

Wednesday's practice was the first since Houston publicly announced Holton Ahlers as the Pirates' starting quarterback. Ahlers is a sophomore Greenville native and former three-sport standout at D.H. Conley High School.

Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick fielded questions after Wednesday's practice about Ahlers, but he mimicked Houston's mindset that plenty of day-to-day work remains at the forefront for the Pirates before the highly anticipated first game kicks off.

ECU's game against N.C. State will begin a new season after three straight 3-9 records by the Pirates.

"He had some good plays today and some bad plays today," Kirkpatrick said of his top QB, who was hurt and inactive for the Pirates' 58-3 loss to the 'Pack. "It's a great story, but I just don't have time to be involved in that right now because I can't get emotionally involved in that. Hopefully when he graduates, we have a lot of memories and a lot of stories and a lot of rings and pictures of me and him hugging. ... Right now, I am getting ready to call him on the phone and talk about what he has to do better because that is where we are at right now."

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

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ECU

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