ECU Football

East Carolina’s athletic director Jon Gilbert, left, talks with head football coach Mike Houston as they walk off the field after a game at N.C. State on Aug. 31, 2019.

Distance learning started Monday at East Carolina University with almost all of the Pirates’ 450 student-athletes living off campus or home, working out on their own and trying to stay on track with their academics.

In addition to professors having regular hours set aside to communicate with all of their students, ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert said last Friday during a Facebook Live session with fans that Nita Boyce and her staff also will be in regular communication with Pirate student-athletes during this unique time of web-based learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gilbert said during a previous news conference that academics for the rest of this semester were a big concern of his.

“We’ll have our academic unit, led by Nita Boyce (assistant AD for student development), and a host of academic supervisors that will be dealing with our student-athletes and communicating to them as to the methods of class and material delivery,” Gilbert said. “For those individuals who need to come to our academic center, we’ll make computers and those things available to them. ... But all things will be handled from a distance learning standpoint.”

Boyce’s staff consists of two assistant directors of student development, six academic coordinators and one learning specialist. Sam Wheatley is listed specifically as the football academic coordinator.

Football coach Mike Houston referenced during his teleconference Tuesday a new sense of time management needed for coaches and for players while operating remotely.

“It’s a little bit of a fine line with them starting academics back this week and the virtual learning they are doing with their professors,” he said. “I’ve talked a lot to our coaches that we have to stay on top of that. (Players) are engaged with their professors, but we also have to give them the time to be engaged with their professors.”

Teams are not allowed to practice, and all of ECU’s fields are closed to players. Some ECU baseball players, including Major League Baseball draft prospects Alec Burleson and Gavin Williams, had used Next Level Training Center for workouts, but the facility on Wimbledon Drive temporarily closed Tuesday per Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide order for gyms and similar businesses. In addition to players adapting and their routines changing, coaches also have to use remote tactics in their craft and to connect with each other.

“We’re learning right now as coaches how to adapt and function at a very high level in our virtual world,” Houston said. “We are all out of our comfort zone a little bit, learning how to do things technologically that had been something maybe we didn’t have a lot of experience with in the past.”

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