Zeek Bigger Embraces Role as "Old Head"

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Entering his fifth and final season as a Pirate, senior linebacker Zeek Bigger has taken the long road on his way to becoming a team leader.

When he first arrived on the East Carolina campus in 2011, Zeek Bigger had a high school resume that included playing both sides of the ball, as a linebacker and a running back, and 93 tackles during his senior season at Ashbrook.

Now, a year removed from a team-leading140 tackles last year and well into spring practice, the senior Bigger has earned his status as a team leader and presence on the practice field.

“(Bigger’s) earned it,” coach Ruffin McNeill said. “The leadership title, you’re not just given it, you have to earn it and you earn it by how you (practice). He’s paid his dues, he’s been here for five years.”

The dues started immediately for Bigger. Not good enough to start straightaway, he accepted a redshirt during his initial season with the program.

Since then, the 6-foot-2, 228-pound inside linebacker has worked his way from scout team; to special teams; to back up; to first string; to all-conference last season.

“The most pleasing day I had was when he and Brandon (Williams) both had to step in against Florida Atlantic when (then starters) Kyle (Tudor) and Jeremy Grove got dinged up,” inside linebacker coach and associate head coach John Wiley said. “To watch him perform the way he did, it’s been quite rewarding.”

The game against FAU, a 31-13 victory in 2013, was Bigger and Williams’ coming out party. The duo each recorded nine tackles in that game.

Last season, the Bigger and Williams ranked first and second in total tackles on the team with 264 combined.

Now, though, with Williams graduated and preparing for the NFL Draft, Bigger remains the eldest statesman in the linebacker core that boasts 12 underclassmen.

“With these young guys that we have now, I’ve used Brandon Williams and Zeek’s stories of what they were like when they first got here and the trials and tribulations that they had to go through to get here and what that finished product was the last two years,” Wiley said.

And Bigger has no problem serving as a role model for the younger players.

“We had seniors doing that for me and juniors doing that for me when I was a young pup,” Bigger told Scout earlier in spring. “So you know it’s always giving back and helping those boys out, showing them the ropes.”

According to defensive coordinator Rick Smith, an array of linebackers is competing for the open inside linebacker spot vacated by Williams’ graduation. Smith personally named walk on junior Cam White and sophomore Joe Carter, who is expected to have knee surgery on his meniscus, as top performers during spring ball.

But just as Williams’ graduation left a hole in the ECU defense, a notable presence is absent from practice on Wednesday. Bigger was away at class, where he is an honor roll student, during practice, according to Smith.

“Right now when Zeek’s not here on Wednesday, we just haven’t gotten anybody to step up,” Smith said. “Those other seniors, I will give them credit today trying to step up and it’s the only way that they’re going to do it. They can’t just always let Zeek do it. He’s not here on Wednesdays so if he’s not here for a game, we have to get somebody to take charge out there.”

Taking charge is something the senior linebacker never lacked. An emotional leader on and off the field, Bigger is faced with the brand new challenge of being a senior and stepping up in the presence of Williams and Falls.

“It’s no different,” Bigger said of preparing for his final season. “Football is football the game is the game. I understand that it’s my last year but we’re going out with a bang this year. I’m not looking for anything less.”

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