During his recruitment, Zeek Bigger promised East Carolina recruiting coordinator/inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick that if the Pirates gave him a shot they would not regret it.
“I told him you won’t be making a mistake,” Bigger said. “I’m going to come out and give you all I got each and every day.”
Bigger, the defensive leader for the No. 22-ranked Pirates, proved to be a man of his word, long before his breakout performance against North Carolina. The junior inside linebacker racked up a career-high 17 tackles and picked off a pass for a touchdown to lead ECU to a 70-41 victory against North Carolina to propel the Pirates into the Top 25 for the first time since 2008.
“Zeek was everywhere,” fellow inside linebacker Brandon Williams said. “Everywhere I looked he was right there with me. Whenever I would make a play he would come back and make five more. He’s a great player.”
Bigger’s trip to the end zone was his first since he doubled as a running back/linebacker at Ashbrook High in Gastonia, and the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder enjoyed the visit.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the end zone,” Bigger said. “ But it felt great.”
Bigger’s touchdown, along with his 17 stops, helped him score the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week award.
“I didn’t know I had 17 tackles until the end of the game,” Bigger said. “I’m really blessed. That D-line and this defense, man, I got to give all the credit to them. I had more assisted tackles than solos, so that tells you that we’re all flying around.”
Bigger’s ability to seize the moment against the North Carolina should come as no surprise. Ever since he was thrust into the starting lineup last season, he has wrapped both arms around every opportunity.
In 2013, both Bigger and Williams made their first starts in a Week 4 matchup against Virginia Tech, when linebackers Jeremy Grove and Kyle Tudor were sidelined with injuries.
Bigger finished with nine tackles. He finished the season with 77, third on the team.
“He’s really just a great kid and our leader on defense,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “He really stepped up last year when Jeremey got hurt, and even when Jeremy came back, he still played about 50 percent of the time.”
While he showed flashes as a sophomore, Bigger has been a constant light for an underappreciated Pirates defense that ranks 39th against the run (120.3 ypg) and 45th in total defense (360.8 ypg). Bigger has set or tied a career-high for tackles in each of the ECU’s first four games and leads the Pirates with 54 tackles.
Bigger’s strength and speed have increased since that Virginia Tech contest, but his knowledge has allowed him to play fast and furious.
“I think being able to read offenses, being able to read guards, read quarterbacks and knowing the things they are going to do before they do them (has been the biggest change since last year),” Bigger said. “ Last year I can say I played well, but I wasn’t as experienced as I am now. When you get more experience and everything starts flowing. The game is quicker and faster to you and you start making more plays.”