GREENVILLE — East Carolina still has a football game to play this season, but coach Ruffin McNeill already has identified two memories – and two phrases – which he said define the 2013 Pirates.
Although the ultimate goal of becoming the second 10-win team in school history still is at hand, McNeill reflected on his senior class last week.
The fourth-year coach said tight end Zico Pasut and fullback Jimmy Booth – who both have played multiple positions despite limited time – coined two phrases this season that forever will remain in his vocabulary.
During an August two-a-day practice that McNeill said was so hot he could see the heat emanating from the turf, Pasut trotted over to him in the midst of drills and offered the first of the phrases.
“He said, ‘Coach, this team and these seniors will be selfishly unselfish,’ ” McNeill said of Pasut.
McNeill, who will lead the Pirates against Ohio in Monday’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he immediately thought Pasut’s words were “cool.”
The other memorable sentence was spoken by Booth – who played on both lines before moving to fullback and becoming the primary punt rusher on special teams – to McNeill on the sideline during the blowout win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
“It was a very intense time on the sideline and I had my headphones on, and he came up to me,” McNeill said. “He said, ‘Coach, they’re not built like us.’ I was very proud of that. Those two seniors (both have graduated) work hard and they do the things that I’ve asked them to do.”
Twenty active seniors will play their final games Monday.
Although they won’t be able to match the record of the 1991 team, which finished 11-1 and beat N.C. State in the Peach Bowl, the Pirates are mindful they can become just the second team to reach double-digit wins in school history.
Their reasons are different, but coaches and players all understand the value of finishing with a win, and the difference between nine wins and 10.
“There’s a big difference, a big difference,” senior receiver Reese Wiggins said Wednesday. “Nine is just kind of like you almost had 10, and not a lot of teams have 10 wins. They reminded us of the past history, and that would be a pretty big accomplishment for the team.”
McNeill’s view is more long term.
“It’s important for us to go into the offseason with a win,” he said. “It helps with workouts, thought process, mentality and all phases, not just recruiting and athletically, but academically as well.”
• Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton is dangerous once he gets out of the pocket, and the Pirates know where limiting him begins:
“The first thing is to take care of the run, always,” said senior outside linebacker Derrell Johnson, who leads East Carolina with 79 tackles. “When you don’t let a team run the ball, you make a team one-dimensional and make them throw the ball. That way, you can start adding pressure and dropping guys (in coverage) and start confusing them.”
• ECU’s five-game win streak that ended Nov. 29 against Marshall was characterized by an explosive, fast-starting offense and a defense that steadily wore down opponents at the line of scrimmage, often blitzing more as games progressed.
• ECU coaches don’t anticipate Ohio being rattled by a no-huddle offense.
“They’re coached well and I don’t see any areas where they’re not very good,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “A lot of these teams we’ve played this year, we’ve been able to target a couple of areas where we thought we could expose them, but these guys have got experience at all the positions.”