Practice Update: Defense Holds Strong

After getting their second conference win in the past two games the Pirates look to continue their winning ways against non-conference opponent Navy this week at home in the annual Military Appreciation game. Inside ECU Sports had a chance to interview some impact players on the Pirate defense to discuss their two year old rematch against the Midshipmen this Saturday.

Damon Magazu

In his first start as a true freshman two years ago, Damon Magazu caught the game-winning interception against rival NC State. Needless to say Magazu has been an impact player on the defensive side of the ball since that time.

Last week the Pirate defense was tested by UAB, but held strong to eventually pull out the win. "We had a few mistakes here and there but we kept working," said Magazu. "We stayed together, continued to communicate and got a great win from it".

Magazu is one of the few active players who played against Navy two years ago; when the Midshipmen put up 76 points. When asked about if this rematch was personal Magazu had this to say, "It a little bit personal, last time they were here they put up a lot of points on us; whether they meant to run the score up or not it was 76 points and this week we're working hard so that we can be ready to bring it in the game."

One of the storylines of this week has been about the vandalism of Dowdy-Ficklen stadium which has cost up to $30,000 in damages. The vandalism was done by a freshman at ECU named William Banks. Banks has been charged with breaking and entering, first degree trespassing, three counts injury to personal property, injury to real property and placed under a $20,000 bond.

"It's obviously disappointing having our home field vandalized, especially by someone who goes here," Magazu said. "I'm sure that he will face his consequences; we're just ready to go out and play for our other 50,000 strong at Dowdy-Ficklen this Saturday."

Derrell Johnson

Junior outside linebacker Derrell Johnson has been a starter since his arrival at ECU two years ago. Johnson started most of his games in his freshman campaign on the defensive line, but has been playing a more standup role this season. The Pirates got a big win against conference opponent UAB this weekend and I had a chance to ask Johnson how important it was. "It's definitely a big win, it's another step towards the conference championship that we all want so badly," said Johnson. "It's a step in the right direction, and it was good to see both the offense and defense grind it out to get the win."

Their win against UAB made it two conference wins in a row for the Pirates and moved them to 4-1 in conference play putting them in good shape for the conference championship if they keep the winning going. The offense has been an equal part to the teams winning ways and has really been catching their stride lately I asked Johnson whether their play takes pressure off of the defense.

"I wouldn't say that it takes pressure off of us because we try to keep our foot on the gas so to speak; coach has taught us to never be comfortable with a situation we're in and to keep fighting," said Johnson.

Navy is a team that primarily runs the ball and they do it well. Being a linebacker Johnson will be dealing with this first hand in the game on Saturday. When asked how they plan on stopping this running attack Johnson said, "Tackling well, and making sure that everyone does their job; that's the thing about football, it's a team game so as long as everyone does their job we'll be fine."

Leonard Paulk

Cornerback Leonard Paul has waited his turn to take over his full time leadership as the Pirate defense's primary boundary cornerback. Paulk has a conference championship to his name as one of only three rookies to experience significant action on a defense that played a pivotal role in helping the Pirates capture their second consecutive Conference USA title back in 2009. Paul led the team in tackles this week and the defense has really been playing solid. I asked Paulk if he thinks they can keep this play going. "Oh yes, I believe we can keep this thing going," said Paulk. "Just as long as we go out there and do our job we will keep growing and progressing."

Being a top cornerback, Paulk finds himself usually matching up with a team's top receiver. Navy runs the ball for the bulk of the game but are not necessarily slouches when it comes to the passing game.

"Their receivers are going to be making fast cuts," said Paulk. "They run a lot of hard routes and have a lot of quickness so we have to be ready for both."

Being a senior, Paulk has been with the Pirates and played in Dowdy-Ficklen for four years. Paulk has played three of these annual Military Appreciation games and with last year's streaker and this year's vandalism these games are never short of some drama. I asked Paulk if the vandalism could affect the morale of the team or even his own play. Paulk went on to say, "I leave all that stuff to the Pirate Nation, I'm just worried about winning football games and playing hard."

Final Thoughts

The Pirate defense has been playing consistent eleven man football the past two weeks. They nearly shut out Memphis at home and went down to UAB to hold on for a big conference win. The vandalism to the stadium is a truly unfortunate thing that for most teams could put a damper on a weekend or a game. However, I expect to see the Pirate Nation to be at full participation this weekend despite the vandalism to the stadium. Be sure to watch this non-conference matchup of two good teams at Dowdy-Ficklen stadium on Saturday; kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.

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