ECU football

East Carolina football coach Mike Houston and the Pirates take the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 7 for Houston’s first home game at ECU.

With coaches out of their comfort zone and most of East Carolina’s players not in Greenville, the ECU football program is thinking technology-first and functioning as best as possible with challenges and distances amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Second-year Pirate coach Mike Houston said Tuesday during a teleconference with local reporters that ECU’s coaches are holding virtual meetings with each other — topics ranging from recruiting to schemes to actual game-planning — along with being in daily communication with players. Position coaches are in charge of monitoring their players, and director of strength and conditioning John Williams is of utmost importance guiding players remotely as they are working out on their own instead of engaging in usual formal team practices.

“Coach Williams has created a body-weight workout for those who don’t have access to a gym,” Houston said. “They are monitoring what players are doing on a day-to-day basis. They have really tailored workouts based on the situation each player is in. We’ve kind of let coach Williams and his staff handle everything as it pertains to the training while we are away.”

Houston estimated 25-30 players, out of a roster of nearly 100, are still in the Greenville area. Distance learning classes also began Monday at ECU.

“Some of them are from here, so they are close by, and a lot of our guys live in apartments that they rent here and some have chosen to stay here versus going home,” Houston said. “(Freshman punter) Luke Larsen, who is from Australia, he doesn’t have a choice. He’s kind of forced to stay here.”

Mandated stoppage of practices was enforced before the Pirates were able to hold their first spring practice, scheduled originally for March 17. ECU, which went 4-8 last year, is scheduled to host Marshall on Aug. 29 during college football’s Week 0 weekend.

Many people are wondering when sports, of all kinds, will resume. Houston was asked about the possibility of even no football this year.

“I don’t think any of us would have foreseen the NCAA basketball tournament being canceled, so I don’t think it’s something that is not in everybody’s minds, to a degree,” he said. “It is my optimistic hope that we it make through this well before then and are able to have college football this fall. You look at 9-11 and I’ll never forget that day and never forget that fall. I think college and high school football really brought our communities back during that time (in 2001).

“After we successfully make it through this, I think the college football season is going to be a big catalyst toward a lot of things in our communities across the country.”

As many others have already said, Houston started his teleconference by pointing out the unprecedented nature of this pandemic.

“The world, as we know it, changed drastically two weeks ago,” he said. “My thoughts each day are about the Greenville community in addition to our football program. For our local businesses here in the area, it is hard right now and in my neighborhood all of us have talked about doing what we can to support local businesses.”

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