GREENVILLE, N.C. – Under the direction of fifth-year head football coach Mike Houston, East Carolina officially opened the spring practice period with a workout Tuesday afternoon on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

ECU Spring Prospectus

Houston led his squad through a fundamentals-oriented two-hour practice in shorts and helmets, the first of 15 schedule outings which will culminate with the playing of the Purple-Gold Spring Game on April 8 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“Practice No. 1 of 2023 is in the books,” Houston said. “It was pretty windy out there and it wasn’t helmets, so some of that stuff isn’t real football yet but it was good to be back out there on the turf. I thought the kids had a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.

Obviously, there are a lot of new faces in the lineup especially offensively, but a lot of those guys have been waiting their turn and been working really hard to be ready when that time comes. I thought a lot of that created some positive energy out there. It was a good solid day one and I told them the goal was to sharpen things up and look a little bit better on Thursday and focus on getting better every day.”

The Pirates return four starters on offense, five on the defensive side of the ball and welcome back a total of 40 lettermen off a team that posted an 8-5 overall record that culminated in a 53-29 win over Coastal Carolina in the 2022 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl – their first bowl win since the 2013 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. Offensively, ECU opened spring drills with three openings on the offensive line and spots at key skill positions. East Carolina lost two members from its linebacking corps four from its secondary. Additionally, two members of the Pirates’ special teams’ squad – kick returner Keaton Mitchell and punt returner Malik Fleming – must be replaced.

Topping the list of 2022 returnees for offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick are junior tight end Shane Calhoun (26 career starts), junior linemen Isaiah Foote (13) and Nishad Strother (30), as well as senior receivers Jsi Hatfield (11) and Jaylen Johnson (6).

Coordinator Blake Harrell‘s defense features a front line that brings back three starters in juniors D’Ante Johnson (7), Elijah Morris (29) and Chad Stephens (9). Also returning are senior linebacker Jeremy Lewis (21), junior cornerback Teagan Wilk (9) and senior safety Julius Wood (12). Both Lewis and Morris enter the 2023 campaign sharing the unit’s longest consecutive starting streak at 21 games.

“Offensively, those guys in the first huddle even though they haven’t been in the first huddle a whole lot, they have all been in the program,” Houston added. “It’s not like they don’t know what they are doing or can’t go out there and do it, they have been preparing for this. I think there is a lot of teaching going on with some of our younger players and that was the big focus of today.”

Friday marked the first-ever East Carolina on-field practices for two new full-time assistant coaches who joined Houston’s staff during the off-season in Allen Mogridge (offensive line) and Jules Montinar (defensive passing game coordinator/cornerbacks).

ECU will spend its first two “acclimation” practice sessions in shorts and helmets before progressing to shells Friday.