|ECU senior linebacker Maurice Falls.|
Falls Embraces Hype, New Role with Pirates
The feats East Carolina outside linebacker Maurice Falls has accomplished in Jeff Connors' strength and conditioning program are nothing short of astounding. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound senior bench-presses 425 pounds; back-squats 645; runs a 4.47-second 40-yard dash; and set a team position record in the power clean by once lifting 353 pounds. “He’s a maniac,” said fellow linebacker, Zeek Bigger. “He’s got the speed, he has the strength and he has the mindset.” However, as impressive as those numbers may seem, Falls has made just two starts for ECU — both occurring in 2012 — in his career. But his limited playing experience is little due to any shortcomings he had on the field and was more about the standout linebacker that came before him. Derrell Johnson started 49 of the 50 games he appeared in during his ECU career and was the versatile “will” outside linebacker in Rick Smith’s 3-4 defensive scheme last season — playing both on the defensive line and dropping into coverage. Johnson led Conference USA in sacks (8.0) and compiled a team-high 14.0 tackles-for-loss in 2013 on his way to garnering second-team all-conference honors for the second consecutive season.
The responsibility of replacing Johnson now lies primarily on Falls’ shoulders. During his time as a backup, Falls picked up on several details from Johnson that has helped him prepare for his moment this season.
“Me and Derrell came in together in January, 2010 and we’ve been good friends,” Falls said after the Pirates’ first two-a-day practice Saturday. “He taught me a lot about the game. He showed me the aggressiveness you need to play this game and he showed me how much time he spent watching film and stuff to make yourself better as a player.”
Despite his lack of playing experience, Falls was named to the Butkus Award Watch List this summer, which is for an award annually given out to the country’s best linebacker. A couple months prior to that his strength and conditioning achievements were made public when Falls was named on a national list of college football’s most “freakish” athletes.
“It was a surprise. Compared to everyone else on that Butkus Award (Watch List), I have no stats. I don’t know how I got on there,” Falls told Inside ECU Sports. “I remember waking up that morning and my phone was going off.”
Falls collected 35 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception against Florida Atlantic last season to summarize his first three years at ECU.
On a defense that lost nine starters — and four on the linebacking corps alone — Falls is going to be turned to not only for immediate on-field production, but also to step into a leadership role as a senior.
“He worked very hard this summer reducing his weight and following Coach Connors’ instruction. His technique and his footwork have improved and he is a leader on this team,” said Head Coach Ruffin McNeill, who went on to tell stories of how Falls led team workouts when coaches were away this summer. “He’s one of the players ... that can call me and say ‘Coach, we’ve got it.’”
Although the expectations for Falls are high this season, his potential is even higher. But there comes a point where potential and speculation must be met with results on the field.
That time has arrived for Maurice Falls.
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