ECU: Navy could be in for a fight!

Head coach Skip Holtz took over an East Carolina program in desperate need of an extreme makeover. The Pirates went through three coaches in the three years (2002-04) before his arrival and won just seven games during that span. Player morale was low and they could have easily given up on the next so-called savior. They didn't.

"When we walked in it would have been real easy for (the players) to fold their arms and say we've seen this dog and pony show before," Holtz said. "Why is this going to be any different. But they bought into the program."

The result was a 5-6 record last fall. East Carolina just missed being bowl-eligible for the first time in four years - the Pirates lost three games by a combined 11 points.

Translation: Navy could be in for a fight when it hosts East Carolina in its season-opener on Sept. 2.

East Carolina could possess the best passing attack in Conference USA thanks to quarterback James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison. Pinkney threw for 2,773 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. The rap on him is that he takes too many sacks. However, East Carolina's offensive line is improving and Allison knows how to get open. He caught 83 passes for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

East Carolina's running game will depend on how junior Chris Johnson recovers from neck surgery. Sophomore Dominique Lindsay is another option and East Carolina's defense is solid. Holtz walked into a situation similar to Paul Johnson's when he took over as Navy's coach before the 2002 season. The Pirates lacked discipline, focus and dedication. He changed that quickly.

Players responded to his hard-working approach and their dedication showed early in the season. East Carolina lost at West Virginia 20-15 in week three of the season. The Pirates lost by three points at Memphis and pulled off a three point victory against Duke.

East Carolina closed out the season with wins over C-USA foes Marshall and University of Alabama-Birmingham.

"I would say unity has been the key for us," said East Carolina defensive back Casey Ross. "Coach Holtz brought that into this team. We have no names on the back of our jerseys, instead, we all play for East Carolina." Holtz won't make any predictions for this year. But East Carolina has its work cut out for it thanks to a schedule that includes West Virginia, Virginia and N.C. State.

East Carolina likely won't win all of those games, but at least they will take the field knowing they have a chance.

"We just have to make sure we keep growing as a program," Holtz said. "That's the biggest thing. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go."


East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz hopes to lead the Pirates back to a bowl in 2006. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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