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How ECU turned this positionless walk-on into one of the top defenders in the country

East Carolina’s Nate Harvey leads the nation in both tackles for loss and sacks.

Harvey, a senior defensive end who played at Knightdale High School, has both a higher tackles for loss total (14) and average through five games (2.8) than any defender. Miami redshirt senior defensive tackle Gerald Willis is next at 12.5 tackles for loss in six games (2.1).

In sacks, Harvey, a first-year starting defensive end, who converted from fullback and linebacker, has a 7.5 total to post the top average at 1.5. Oklahoma State redshirt junior defensive end Jordan Brailford has the most total sacks with eight in six games but a lower average (1.33). Two other players tied with Harvey at 7.5 also have played six games (1.25).

“He’s one of the strongest guys we have and also one of our fastest,” Montgomery said of Harvey. “He’s using his hands better than he did earlier in the year. He’s coming off some double-teams and blocking sliding to him. He bends well and he’s a powerful force.”

Harvey, who’s 6-1 and 225 pounds, was a cornerstone in ECU’s encouraging 2-2 start that included wins over North Carolina and Old Dominion, a team that was coming off a 49-35 win over then-top 25 Virginia Tech.

Harvey has been an instrumental part of the improvement of ECU’s defense, which was last in the nation in 2017 in points allowed (45.1) and yards per game (541.7).

RAL_ APTOPIX Virginia Tech East Carolina Football.JPG
Virginia Tech’s Devon Hunter, top left, collides with East Carolina’s Nate Harvey, bottom, and upends Virginia Tech’s Greg Stroman, right, on Sept. 16, 2017. Karl B DeBlaker AP

Harvey spent the first two years of his college career as a running back and linebacker for Georgia Military College, a junior college in Milledgeville, Ga. He ended up being a player without a position, playing fullback, tight end and running back.

“I did anything they wanted me to do,” he said.

But with no scholarship offers, Georgia Military coach Bert Williams contacted Montgomery and ECU defensive analyst David Mackie, who had previously coached at GMC.

“His coach said he didn’t know what he was, but ‘Take him, Scottie. You’ll find somewhere for him to play,’” Montgomery said.

Montgomery put Harvey on the team as a walk-on in 2017.

Harvey didn’t have any offensive stats as a backup fullback as a junior, but he played well enough as a striker on special teams the Pirates granted him a scholarship for his senior season as they looked for a way to get more out of him.

“We tried him at linebacker (in spring drills), but we liked our linebackers and tried him at defensive end,” Montgomery said. “It wasn’t but two or three days we knew he was a special player.”

Harvey’s trust in his coaches is why he has never objected at being moved around.

“I know they have my best interests at heart,” he said. “I just want to play. I felt I could use my physicality, quickness and speed at defensive end. I’m undersized, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m soft.”

Harvey is looking to help the Pirates improve on their back-to-back 3-9 seasons. An upcoming three-game AAC stretch may define the season. The Pirates (2-3, 0-2 AAC East) face Houston (4-1, 1-0 AAC West) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Next is No 10 Central Florida (5-0, 2-0 AAC East) on Oct. 20, followed by a bye. On Nov. 3 the Pirates play at home against Memphis (4-2, 1-2 AAC West).

Houston at ECU

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville

TV: CBSSN

Radio: WNCT-107.9

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