Pirates Begin Spring with Continuity Intact

ECU kicked off its spring camp Friday night, following its second 10-win season in school history, with its entire coaching staff intact and key offensive pieces returning.

The East Carolina football team's spring camp began with a different feel than recent seasons. And it wasn't because of the near-perfect weather conditions at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility Friday.

The Pirates are three months removed from their first bowl victory in six years and just the second 10-win season in program history as the school transitions into a new league – the American Athletic Conference.

However, amidst these differences, ECU was still able to retain its entire coaching staff, which includes highly-sought-after offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

Riley, who enters his fifth season since following Head Coach Ruffin McNeill to Greenville from Texas Tech, was in the mix for several coaching jobs at top-tier football programs during the offseason, such as Notre Dame, Texas and in-state opponent North Carolina.

But when it came time to make a decision, Riley decided to stay put at ECU.

"I'm here, I'm happy to be here and there's not anywhere else I want to be," he said. "I'm just really excited to see how good this group can get."

McNeill seemed more than excited to have Riley back in the fold as well.

"Continuity is important," McNeill said at his news conference Thursday. "There is no substitute for having those same voices. I'm very fortunate to work with a great staff because our guys are always around (the office)."

From a personnel standpoint, the Pirates return their dynamic duo of quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy, who are both seniors.

Hardy already owns most of the school's receiving records after snagging 114 receptions for 1,284 yards in 2013 and could be a legitimate candidate for the Biletnikoff Award if his numbers continue to rise in 2014.

Shane Carden was called a Heisman Candidate by AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco
(Kat Jessick/InsideECUSports.com)
Carden completed 71 percent of his passes last season – tossing 33 touchdowns along the way – and rushed for 10 scores as the engineer of the Pirates' "Air Raid" offense. His gaudy statistics did not go unnoticed either. American commissioner Mike Aresco said Carden will be a "Heisman (Trophy) candidate" in his first year in the league.

"It's always an honor when someone that high or a commissioner says something that good about you," Carden said of Aresco's comments. "I'm just going to take it for what it is and continue to work. Like I said, it's a great honor, but they don't hand out the Heisman in the spring."

True, exploring these topics is purely nothing but speculation, although, these discussions aren't going away. Aresco continued to rave about the Pirates, saying, "East Carolina is going to have a huge advantage in our conference. I think they're going to be the next guys, to be honest, similar to UCF," who beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl in January.

Rather than downplaying the commissioner's comments, McNeill told IES in an exclusive interview, "Our expectation within our football office is higher than any expectation off." Now there's a scary thought.

"I'm honored by the commissioner saying that about our program and I think that speaks highly about our program."

To reiterate, it's only the spring and the pads are still on the shelf for now. However, the helmets are on and the Pirates' preparation towards the upcoming season is officially underway.

Continue to follow InsideECUSports.com for reports from spring practice and on Twitter (@InsideECUSports) .

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