Bigger Embraces Leadership Role

ECU linebacker Zeek Bigger is expected to take on a far 'bigger' role as a leader of the Pirates' defense in 2014.

Zeek Bigger stepped in for injured linebacker Jeremy Grove last season and took full advantage of his newly-awarded playing time. He compiled 77 tackles as a sophomore, which was the third highest total on the East Carolina football team.

However, with Grove stepping away for injury-related purposes and fellow inside linebacker Kyle Tudor graduating, the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder now faces a ‘bigger' challenge – taking on a leadership role.

This is nothing new for the often-times vocal Bigger, though. After all, he worked his way up the pipeline from a leader on special teams before making a more considerable impact on the defensive side of the ball in 2013.

"I know everything is really on top of my shoulders playing the (inside) linebacker and being able to lead this defense, which I have already done in a couple games last year," said Bigger.

Indeed, Bigger stepped in after Grove went down with a shoulder injury in the first half of ECU's win against Florida Atlantic on Sep. 5. He tied for a game-best nine tackles in his abbreviated stint. Then the following week, he turned in nine more takedowns in his first collegiate start against Virginia Tech and never looked back.

But just because Grove is no longer playing football for the Pirates doesn't mean he isn't going to stay around the program. He's been seen all around ECU's spring workouts, providing whatever leadership and wisdom he can give from the sidelines, which Bigger says has been a huge help.

"We still haven't really lost Jeremy. He's still here in the film room with us and letting us things that we need to know," he said. "Even though I am (playing) now, I still look up to him because he's been there and done that many more times than I have. I still look up to him, he still pushes me and he's helping me out also with this leading job on this corps … but I think I'm ready for it and I'm pushing harder each and every day."

Including Tudor, six of ECU's starters graduated on defense – three of them linebackers – and considering the position Bigger plays, he is not only being asked to lead the linebacking corps, but the entire defense as a whole.

Although Bigger has started just a handful of games, second-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith has the upmost confidence in his junior linebacker to lead, and so do his teammates.

"I met with all the defensive backs and the last question I asked them in those individual meetings is ‘who are the leaders right now on our team,'" Smith said. "To the letter, everybody mentioned Zeek."

Similar to Bigger, Brandon Williams stepped in and thrived at inside linebacker as well last season. The soft-spoken Rock Hill, S.C. native returns for his senior season after collecting 69 tackles in 2013.

As for the outside linebacker spots, Montese Overton should be a starter on one end, while Smith lists Maurice Falls as the front runner to flank the other side of the Pirates' 3-4 defensive scheme.

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