Below is the fifth of 10 spring practice “Q&A” segments – today’s edition features offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler, graduate center Fernando Frye and senior guard Sean Bailey.
Q: Covering your four decades of coaching experience, how has college football (and players) changed over the years?
A: Honestly, the good ones haven’t. I think there are more opportunities for people to find excuses or reasons not to be successful. That was not necessarily the case in the past. But the good players I have – they aren’t any different. They love to play, love to win and love to work.
Q: Did you ever imagine coming back to ECU on three separate future occasions when you were on Bill Lewis’ Peach Bowl staff? What did each different opportunity present and what did you miss most about Greenville when you weren’t here?
A: No. It all goes back to family. I have been blessed in that I have three children with a range of age that is twelve years apart. They all graduated from the same high school during the three times I coached here previously. So, they call it home, I call it home and most college coaches don’t get the opportunity to do that.
Q: With the rarity of having all five starters (and a combined 69 overall career starts) back from 2020, what are your key objectives or goals this particular spring?
A: Well, there were a lot of situations last year where guys had started before and they were ready to because of injury and things like that. There is still a lot of room to improve and get better. Our problem is that, for two years now, we have not been able to consistently sustain the same five guys every week. It is still a growing process for everybody because we aren’t quite there yet.
Q: Does your 2021 line and personnel remind you of any of your prior Pirate units?
A: There some similarities to the 2007 group, which also was the 2008 and 2009 group as well. They were young with even the older guys not having much experience. We had to move guys around and even taught three different guys the center position. That team won the Hawaii bowl and two straight conference championships.
Q: For fans who might not know the intricacies of the offensive line, what is the biggest difference in rush and pass blocking?
A: I will sum it up by saying this … it is the only position in the world of sport that we ask someone to move a 300-pound person when they do not want to be moved. While you don’t see or touch the object of the game (football), it is a very unique challenge in both run and pass blocking. So, I would say they are both equally hard to do.
Q: Excluding fewest sacks allowed and obvious yardage totals, what are some other key statistical indicators of a job well done for your group?
A: I think the big thing is that, at the end of the game, if you can say from a physical standpoint that you were the dominate position up front. If it is obvious they dominated their opponent physically, then those other stats are meaningless.
Q: What has been the hardest part so far about not being able to practice this spring?
A: The hardest part is trying to change my role from player to coach. Be able to help my brothers off the field as well as on the field.
Q: This spring aside, what has been the key to your durability (as you enter the 2021 season with a run of 17-straight starts, currently the longest streak in the entire program)?
A: Mental toughness. Being mentally tough, adhering to healthy diet and stretching. Just loving the game.
Q: What went into your decision to return this year, given you graduated from ECU in 2019 and began your collegiate career in 2015?
A: I really love ECU, playing football and love my boys. Coming in, I couldn’t pass a guaranteed year to play football.
Q: You’ve played nearly every position on the line since transferring here in 2017 – which is your favorite and why?
A: My favorite position is center. I get to snap the ball, there’s a lot more responsibility and it is a lot of fun.
Q: Speaking of 2017, how has the program and its culture changed in the years you’ve been with the Pirates?
A: The culture has changed a lot. It’s more of a brotherhood as I have gotten to know a lot more of the guys over the years. Coach Houston and his coaching staff have brought a lot of changes, and those have been for the better. Slowly we have weeded out players who probably should not have been here and that has helped us become closer.
Q: Studying in the criminal justice track (undergrad, grad), what are your long-term job plans after football?
A: Once I am done with football, I hope and plan to join our nation’s customs and border patrol. That is what I am really aiming for.
Q: As a returning two-year starter, what are your personal and team goals for not only this spring, but the upcoming season in general?
A: The overall goal is to get better every day, just get better at something. Always trying to improve as there is always room for it. The team goal is just to keep the main thing the main thing and that is to win.
Q: On a related note, what are some of the technical aspects of your game you’re trying to specifically address this spring?
A: To keep my hands on guys. Once I strike them, to stay engaged and not let them get off the block.
Q: You are just one of two players (Aaron Ramseur) currently in the program who will play their sixth year at ECU in 2021 – what made you want to come back and compete another season?
A: ECU has become my home and I’ve seen a lot of changes. Since Coach Houston has gotten here the ship has started to get right, so I wanted to see it through and see where we can take the team this year.
Q: How have you been able to successfully handle being coached by three different position coaches during your career at ECU and how has Coach Shankweiler been different than the others?
A: I really did not play much with the first two, so it has really just been Coach Shank. He has helped me out drastically and really improve in his time here.”
Q: With a playing date falling on Sept. 11 this season, do you think there will be a special emotional reflection for you given your dad’s role as a first responder on that day in 2001?
A: I think it would be nice if we could do something for him and all the other first responders. I know he will be in attendance and is trying to get some of his firefighter buddies to come down since it is the 20th anniversary. It is always a special day, a hard day, but it will be a great day for football. It gives you a chance to go out and do something you love, on a day that has been so awful for a lot of people.