East Carolina will be making its eighth bowl appearance in nine years on Jan. 3 in the Birmingham Bowl. Postseason play has had its own impact on ECU’s football recruiting in that it provides a means of showing the team to different regions.
Since 2010, bowl season has given the Pirates a ticket to Washington, D.C., New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Fla. The different destinations have provided different audiences for ECU’s football program. Because of that, more and more people—including recruits—are becoming aware of Pirate football.
“Just exposing this city and this team and putting the program’s name out there means a lot,” said receiver Isaiah Jones, wearing a t-shirt from ECU’s 2012 bowl trip to New Orleans. “Getting Greenville and ECU football a big name is really something special.”
ECU capitalized on the exposure last year with a decisive victory in Florida—one of the program’s recruiting hotbeds. The Pirates defeated Ohio 34-20 in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“If you get into Florida for a bowl game, it helps your recruiting down there,” said recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick. “You’re in the local paper and you’re on the TV channels for the news.”
Unlike Florida, ECU’s coaches haven’t recruited much in Alabama.
“We haven’t done a lot of recruiting in Alabama, but it might open some doors for us,” said Kirkpatrick. “But I think the big thing is just that you’re in a bowl game and you have the opportunity to be on TV.”
This game, which will air on ESPN, isn’t the Pirates’ first shot at proving themselves on the national stage this season. Their upset of then-No. 17 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg aired on ESPN. ECU’s game versus Central Florida also played on ESPN. Despite the last-second loss, ECU proved something with its 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter.
Aside from those two ESPN broadcasts, ECU also played once on ESPN2, once on ESPN3, six times on ESPNU and twice on ESPNews.
On top of that, individual players have garnered national attention. Quarterback Shane Carden was discussed as a Heisman dark horse and was named a semifinalist for the Davey O’ Brien Award as country’s best quarterback. Cornerback Josh Hawkins was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as best cornerback.
No other Pirate made it to headlines more than Justin Hardy. Hardy earned his spot in the NCAA record books when he surpassed Ryan Broyles and claimed the No. 1 spot for most career catches among all Football Bowl Subdivision players. Furthermore, many were outraged when he didn’t make the cut as a Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in college football. Finally, Hardy ended up taking home the Burlsworth Trophy as college football’s best former walk-on.
“Before these last couple years, a lot of people probably didn’t know what East Carolina was,” said senior running back Breon Allen. “We’re just trying to put our school on the map with the great stars that we do have, like Shane (Carden) and Justin (Hardy) who are getting national attention. We’ve been ranked in the polls this year. I think we’re doing a great job. We just want to promote out school.”
ECU’s trip to Birmingham is an opportunity to put the team on the map one more time this season. With the chance to play in a region they don’t heavily recruit, the Pirates will hope to take advantage of the opportunity and leave their impact on possible recruits.