East Carolina showed all kinds of dominance over No. 25 North Carolina Saturday. Strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors described the team as the most unified he's since the Pirates club from 1991.
Connors' area of expertise is one that ECU has truly excelled in so far this season. His conditioning training has provided an edge throughout the first four games of the season.
“We want our guys to be able to play full speed through four quarters. That is the objective,” Connors told Inside ECU Sports after Wednesday's practice. “It's a combination of everyone training at a level where they can go full speed if they have to go a high number of reps...I've been very happy with it.”
The players feel like they've reached that level, especially when it comes to late-game conditioning. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, senior defensive back Lamar Ivey feels like he could keep going for as long as he needs to.
“If I could say anything, it would be 'No Quarter,'” said Ivey of his mindset going into the later stages of the game. “That's what comes to mind. I know when it comes to fourth quarter time, I feel great. If we've got to go to three overtimes, I'll be ready.”
Ivey said that ECU's conditioning advantage becomes apparent that late in the game due to the defense's speed. “We still can move around and we're still agile. To be honest, I'm still going full speed. I'm feeling good, “ he said.
In ECU's clash with North Carolina, Connors and his athletes went up against a group that he's familiar with from his time coaching strength and conditioning in Chapel Hill.
“The first thing I heard after the game was that Carolina doesn't have as much talent as they used to have,” said Connors, who worked at UNC for 10 years. “I don't believe that for a minute because I'm still familiar with a lot of the kids. They've still got a lot of four and five star athletes.”
So how were the Pirates able to outlast the Tar Heels? Of course, it provides the players with a physical advantage, especially later in the game. However, it also gives them an important mental edge.
“We believe here that if you're conditioned, you're strong mentally,” said senior linebacker Maurice Falls. “This week, we're trying to get our bodies back, but still keep our minds ready for each week.”
Falls, Ivey and their teammates have been working to achieve this kind of conditioning since long before the season started. It's working out in their favor now.
“Hard work pays off,” said Falls. “We were in the weight room with coach Connors all summer long. Everyday was like game day in there and we treated every practice like that...We take it one day at a time and the results are starting to show.”
Ivey added, “I've always known, even in past years, that the stuff that the stuff that we do during the summer and even the winter, it pays off.”
The team does get a bit of a break this week. The Pirates have a bye this week after opening the season with four straight games—three of which were against ranked opponents. With a long season still ahead of them, Connors sees the value in letting his athletes rest and recover.
Connors shakes a few things up during the bye week. The team will have an intense lifting and running workout Thursday before getting cut loose to rest for two days. He actually rewarded the team Wednesday for the hard work they've put in in the weight room.