ECU spring football practice: Q&A with Donnie Kirkpatrick, Holton Ahlers and Mason Garcia

ECU Pirates

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GREENVILLE, N.C. — Notes from East Carolina’s spring football practice on Tuesday.

After a pair of introductory practices in shorts and helmets, the Pirates progressed to pads for the first time this spring Tuesday afternoon … After its customary flex period, East Carolina opened the two-hour session in earnest with board drills featuring one-on-one blocking matchups between offensive and defensive personnel to set the tone for its initial full-contact workout … ECU has 12 practices remaining, including two scrimmages and the Purple-Gold Game (April 17) – which now has a confirmed kickoff time of 1 p.m. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium … A pair of Pirate four-year lettermen (1998-01) – quarterback David Garrard and cornerback Charlie Robinson – attended practice Tuesday and had an opportunity to speak with head coach Mike Houston, his staff and current players in the program.

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Below is the first of 10 spring practice “Q&A” segments – today’s edition features offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Donnie Kirkpatrick, junior Holton Ahlers and freshman Mason Garcia.

DONNIE KIRKPATRICK
Q: What are your biggest objectives and priorities to accomplish this spring?
A: We are trying to build our depth chart. Holton Ahlers will probably be our starter, so we have to find our number two quarterback. We have a lot of good prospects with Mason Garcia, Alex Flinn, Ryan Stubblefield and Walter Simmons III, so I think – position wise – the biggest thing is establishing who will be that backup.

Q: This is your 14th spring practice at ECU, are there similarities between this group and any particular previous offensive units? If so, how?
A: You know I think I see some signs of us getting back to the years of when we were winning a lot of games under Coach McNeill and Coach Holtz because I think the kids now really enjoy football. We are pushing them hard, but they seem to like it. The more we push them, the more they like it and that normally is a good sign for a team.

Q: Excluding game experience, what is the biggest advantage of having a four-year starter at quarterback?
A: Well, I just think once you have a guy that has played, there is a level of comfort because you know what to expect out of him. I feel his (Ahlers) best football is still ahead of him so you have a good feeling that you can begin expanding the offense and opening it up a little more when you have an experienced quarterback.

Q: Any secret reason why you’ve been a key part of offensive units that have posted six of the Top 10 scoring averages in program history?
A: I think I have been very fortunate and lucky to have a lot of good players and that is the key to being a good coach.

HOLTON AHLERS
Q: What are some things you want to focus on and accomplish this spring?
A: I would say movement in the pocket is something I would really like to focus on. Better throwing motion, moving better in the pocket and being a better leader. Overall, just getting the offense moving in the right direction.

Q: What are your thoughts about only being less than 430 yards away from being ECU’s all-time leading quarterback rusher?
A: Honestly, I did not even know that. I did not have close to 400 yards rushing last year so I will have to step it up, but I have been working on speed and I have talked to coach about running a little more with me. That would be something you look at towards the end of the season and maybe into the spring. However, once the season comes, I will be solely focused on winning. But yes, that would be something cool to do.

Q: How has our scheme and game plan changed from your freshman year to now and how has it helped your development?
A: We are a lot more pro-style now and a lot less spreading it out, which I think is good for me. We are starting to huddle up more to slow down the tempo a little bit, but to also stop getting our signals stolen. There was a lot of sign stealing last year in college football in general. From a personal development standpoint, in the NFL you run more pro-style anyway so that’s something I am trying to do obviously. It is one of my goals to get there and anything that will help me, I am all for.

Q: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on not only college football, but life in general?
A: A lot. You don’t take things for granted anymore. We were supposed to have spring practice last year, but we didn’t. We were able to go to some baseball games last year, but then they shut that down too. Stuff like that, and even going to restaurants, going to eat with your family and friends in public. Stuff like that, you just don’t take it for granted anymore.

MASON GARCIA
Q: What areas of your game do you want to address this spring, your first at ECU?
A: Probably my confidence, then leadership and getting everyone together to show you can be a leader. Those are the main things I want to work on and develop this spring.

Q: What did you learn most from your start against Navy last year and what would you perhaps do differently in your next opportunity?
A: That the competition is definitely a lot higher at this level. I just need to take what I learned from that game and how fast everything is and apply it in my preparation moving forward. Also, the coaching is something you have to continually learn from and adapt to, especially how fast the game is here.
Q: Describe the competition between you and Holton, and how much do you both help each other in practice and on game day?
A: Well, you know, Holton was already here when I got here and it’s obviously a very competitive position, but he has been there for me since Day 1. I think we both have great arms, the talent and ability to move outside the pocket. Going forward, he will continue to teach me a lot and I will teach him a lot too.

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