GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina officially closed out the 2023 fall campaign after conducting its second intra-squad scrimmage Saturday morning inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with all levels of the depth chart participating in a controlled scrimmage. The Pirates, under fifth-year head coach Mike Houston, now turn their focus to the season opener on Sept. 2 against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
In addition to the scrimmage, East Carolina also hosted its annual media day Saturday afternoon. Houston addressed members of the media before each assistant coach and several players were available for one-on-one interviews. Below are selected comments from Coach Houston from media day:

Coach Houston Opening Statement: 
“It’s an exciting time of the year, had a great scrimmage this morning in the stadium with our team. Very pleased with a lot of things today. I’m pleased with the week overall and excited about some of the things I saw this morning. Camp is kind of done now and we start getting ready for our opener, starting at the beginning of the week. The kids are excited about that. I think the staff is too. Camp has been challenging. It’s been a tough one, but I think that we finished trending upward quickly. I love the things I saw this morning. We’re about a third of the way through the tape but excited to finish that up with the kids and get started with our prep for Michigan.”

On If The Team Met The Challenge In Today’s Scrimmage:
“Absolutely. I was disappointed in a lot of things last week but it’s the first scrimmage. I thought that at the beginning of the week, they practiced very hard. Everyone knows the kind of heat we had here this week. So, I thought it was very challenging on them physically and mentally, but I thought we needed that. I think they responded to that challenge, and I think they challenged themselves. We’re better than what some of the mistakes and things we showed last week. I thought we came out we were very clean today, which was the most pleasant thing for me to see from an execution standpoint.”

On The Challenge Of Building Cohesiveness Year To Year With The Transfer Portal:
“Well, I think that’s unfortunately going to be kind of the norm moving forward. You’re trying to get the cohesiveness on your different units, your lines, your receivers and quarterbacks. I think there is a challenge there, but I think that’s something that we’ve got to adapt and evolve to. I do think that kind of familiarity and feeling comfortable with each other is probably one of the reasons why we look so much better today than we did last Saturday.”

On The Team’s Timeline Preparing For Michigan:
“We wanted to finish up with a scrimmage with our kids today and tomorrow. On Monday we have scouting reports and everything ready for them, so we’ll distribute those on Monday and then on Tuesday, we’re practicing for Michigan. We’ll have our scout teams trying to give us those looks and give us two weeks to prepare for them in the opener. Now we’ve prepared some throughout preseason camp like the special team stuff we did. Today was against Michigan’s special team stuff that we scouted from last year. We’re full bore and getting ready for the opener now. 

On Comparing Preseason Camp This Year To Previous Years:
“Every year is different because every team is different. I think that you know you have some inexperience out there this year, so you have everyone getting familiar with each other and getting guys familiar in different roles. You also have a lot of players that have been in the program for several years now. It’s been a very competitive preseason camp. I think the kids have practiced very hard. I just thought the energy, the intensity, and the urgency that we had today on the field was so much better than it was last Saturday. I think a lot of that comes from them realizing last Saturday that they we weren’t where we needed to be. You have enough positive strong leadership in the locker room that they pulled everybody along and got everyone going in the right direction. I think it was a very smooth and solid camp, but every year is different.”

On The Importance Of The Indoor Practice Facility With The Intense Heat In Practice:
“We needed one when I got here and that was five years ago, so we need one even more so now.  I think the heat index on the field was 117 on Tuesday and granted, we’ve got to practice in the heat some, but then our walkthroughs that we have in the evenings are back outside on the field and the heat index is in the high 90s. That’s fine for a day or two but three straight weeks, it can zap a lot out of you. It’s something that we need for preseason camp, and I think it’s something that we’re going to need for inclement weather throughout the fall. I know we’re working towards that, but I’d like to see us hurry up and get the project off the ground from a construction standpoint.”

On Players That Have Exceeded Expectations In Preseason Camp:
“I think you got a couple there. One of the biggest positives from preseason camp for me has been Jhari (Patterson). He’s a very talented guy coming out of high school. He has been very impressive and was very impressive again today. So, at the conclusion of practice today, I informed him he was going on full scholarship and that was a big moment. He’s very popular in the locker room. The coaches love him, and our players love him. It was great for them to get to celebrate that with him and he has earned it. He worked his tail off last spring and all summer. He’s in great shape. That’s just another guy that’s added to what is turning into a very solid room. I think Jaylen (Johnson) has been very solid throughout camp. Jsi (Hatfield) has been very solid and consistent throughout camp. Kerry (King) has really improved. I think that receiver room is really coming around. I thought Chase (Sowell) did some solid things today, which was good to see. I think that group has really stood out for me during this preseason camp.”

On Similarities To Coaching James Madison In 2017 To Preparing For Michigan In 2023:
“In 2017, I think none. I had the number one ranked team in the country. We were the best FCS program in the nation. We were the equivalent of a very good FBS program. We’re sitting here and we have a very solid FBS program. We’re going to play the number two ranked team in the entire nation and arguably the most talented team in the country. So, I think it’s a different animal. In 2017, I had the most talented team in the stadium. We have a very talented team here and we’re going up against a very talented team. I don’t know how many similarities there are there for that one. Probably some closer similarities would be some of the matchups we’ve had maybe at The Citadel.”

On The Team Blocking Out Distractions:
“They’ve been focused on themselves right now. They’ll get more focused on Michigan moving forward. They’re excited about the matchup. They’re excited about the opportunity. They’re aware of what we’re up against, but at the same time, they’ve got a lot of pride in themselves. They’ll be excited and ready to go September 2nd.”

On Getting The Team To Play As The Underdog:
“The big thing with situations like that is that they can’t pay any attention to the outside world and what their opinion is. They’ve got to focus on themselves. We’ve got a solid ballclub and we’ve got to go up there and be ready to play number one. I think number two, they’ve got to be able to handle the stage. It’s going to be the largest stadium any of them have ever played in so you must be able to handle that. You have to settle down and go play ball. One of my favorite moments is from Gene Hackman and “Hoosiers” when he gets to the Indiana State championship game, and he goes out and he has his guy measure the rims and measure the court to show it was the exact same size as their gymnasium back at Hickory High. We’ve got to go up there and understand that once we get on that field, same rules. They’ve got 11 and we’ve got 11. We’ve got to go play. We’ve got enough guys that have played in big games. We played the 13th ranked team in the country last year in the opener and I think we were two touchdown underdogs. We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to any of that stuff. We have to make sure to take care of ourselves and be ready to play.”

On The Team Developing Chemistry Off The Field:
“We do some stuff throughout the year and the summer. We take them bowling and they do a lot of different stuff by themselves in groups and things like that. Preseason camp kind of bonds you. There’s nobody else here. There are no students here. It’s just them so all they see every day is us and each other. It’s that whole experience of just being together for that amount of time, the daily grind and working the way they’ve worked. It’s certainly a bonding experience.”

On The Depth Of The Running Back Room:
“I think we have a lot of really good kids in that room. Rahjai (Harris) looks as good as he’s ever looked. Marlon (Gunn Jr.) is bigger, faster, stronger. He’s running with authority. Javious (Bond) is an electric young player that has a tremendous amount of ability. Gerald (Green) is a tough, hard-nosed competitor that has exceptional speed. Kamarro (Edmonds) has had a very solid preseason camp and was very good today. I think you have a group of guys right there where it’s not like you have to just depend on one guy. We’re going to ask them to do a lot of different things. The luxury of having that kind of depth is now where you can use those guys as returners, you can use those guys on special teams. You can play multiple guys together. I’m really excited about that room. It’s a strong room.”

On The State Of College Football And Conference Realignment:
“We’re going to play whatever conference they stick us in. I don’t have any say in that. I don’t know how much Jon (Gilbert) does either but one thing about Jon is that he is very connected nationally. I think he is a very savvy operator. I think we’re in very good hands with him as our leader. I think East Carolina University is an incredible institution. We have a special fan base and a very good football program. We’re excited to be in the American Conference. If that ever changes, we’ll be excited wherever we go.”

On If Camp This Year Has Been More Competitive Than In Previous Years:
“Definitely. Maybe the most competitive camp we’ve had. It’s every position. It’s not like there’s competition because nobody’s good enough. It’s competition because there’s several guys that are good enough. That’s the big difference. My first camp here, Holton (Ahlers) was the only quarterback in the room that I felt could go out there and take a snap in a college football game. That’s it. He had zero competition. That is not what you want. Now, all of a sudden, you look here and we keep talking about the kicking competition. Well, we’ve got several guys that I think are very solid specialists. They’re doing a really good job which has created very intense competition which is great because when they get on that field on game day, that is as much pressure as you could ever imagine. If you haven’t been in a competition to prepare you for that then I don’t know how you’re going to handle it. It’s made it a very fun and enjoyable camp to from the coaches and I think as for the players too.” 

On The Quarterback Play Of Mason Garcia And Alex Flinn:
“I thought both of them were very good today. Probably as good as they have been the whole camp. I think we have two very good quarterbacks. I feel very comfortable with both. That being said, we’ll announce a starter before we play Michigan and I feel very good about that.”