GREENVILLE, N.C. — The Pirates opened their final week of spring work with a 90-minute full-gear session at the Cliff Moore Practice Facility on Tuesday afternoon.
East Carolina will follow with a similar workout Thursday and a light polish outing on Friday before concluding the spring with an open scrimmage inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday … Complimentary parking for fans will be available in the Shreve Lot (north side), while stadium entry points will be through Gates 7 & 8 … Sections on the north side will be blocked off to allow for social distancing and masks will be required upon entry into the stadium.
Below is the ninth of 10 spring practice “Q&A” segments – today’s edition features outside receivers coach Drew Dudzik, sophomore C.J. Johnson and graduate Audie Omotosho.
Q: What have been some of your primary objectives this spring and how has your group responded with a week to go?
A: I think the number one thing has been the competition. We have a lot of talented players in the room, across the board. Outside, inside, everybody is competing right now. So, when you go into a spring where you do have some guys who have obviously played a good number of snaps, and then some younger guys who are pushing to get onto the field, you really see the depth chart fluctuate throughout the week – which is a good thing. There is a lot of competition and I am really excited about this group here.
Q: As we’ve moved to a more pro-style offense (from a spread) since your arrival, how has that affected roles and assignments on the outside?
A: At the end of the day, it’s about alignment, assignment, effort, execution, finish and then the next play. The bottom line is that we have to understand where we have to line up. We have to understand our assignment and then perform to our maximum potential. We are very balanced I would say. Everything starts with the run game and then we will take our shots off the run the game for sure. For us, nothing has changed much. Get lined up, know your job and do it to the best of your ability. A a lot of guys have stepped up here in these first 12 practices.
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the most important qualities or attributes for a receiver to be successful at this level?
A: You have to be tough, number one. Toughness and physicality are at the top. Whether you have the football or not, it is imperative to have a physical mindset every single snap, because we ask our guys for a lot. Whether it is cracking the safety, locking up a corner on the outside – if you have watched us the over the last few years, guys are making contested catches. That is key, because that physicality piece is where the contested catches come in. At this level, we play against some high-level defensive backs, but as talented as we are in our room, there will be times where we do not create separation and the defensive back will be on us, and then it comes down to attacking the ball. Lastly, number three, you have to be able to beat press coverage. You have to be quick off the ball and win off the line to have a chance, and we have seen guys do these things in the spring.
Q: How has ECU’s reputation as “WRU” (two FBS record-breakers) over the past 5-10 years helped on the recruiting side?
A: When you watch us play, you see a lot of talented kids out there. They want to live up to the Zay Jones’, the Justin Hardy’s, the Dwayne Harris’ of the world. They understand the high expectations here. They do not just want to be the next 1,000-yard guy or have all the touchdowns, catches, yards and everything else. It just goes back to the mindset of being a tough, physical football player, coming out to compete every single day. Our guys are really embracing that right now and it is exciting to watch. I feel really good on where we are at this spring.
Q: Before returning to your alma mater to join Coach Houston’s staff in 2016, you spent two years with Coach Cutcliffe at Duke – what was that experience like for you given his background on the offensive side of the ball?
A: You could not ask for a better opportunity for your first college job. I was very blessed. I was working at Cisco Systems and as running backs coach at Cardinal Gibbons High School. I was very fortunate that an opportunity came up at Duke to work with Coach Cutcliffe and what an amazing experience that was, with two phenomenal years. I played quarterback in college, but he put me with the wide receivers because he wanted to me to learn another position. There are a lot of fine details that go into playing receiver that correlates to what the quarterback is doing as well. It really goes hand-in-hand and I am very grateful for the experience and it was a lot of fun. Coach Cutcliffe does a great jo building young coaches and preparing us for when an opportunity presents itself.
Q: What led to your decision to enter college coaching after being selected to work in the corporate world with the prestigious Cisco Sales Associate Program (and becoming an account manager) after graduation?
A: When I finished playing football at James Madison, I had a year to finish my graduate degree in sports leadership. I was fortunate to be a graduate assistant with the Duke Club (development office) to finish out my college life there. Also, coaching was always something I wanted to do. I loved working with young people, love developing them, and I am very competitive person. However, when the Cisco position came available and I could be one of only 10 selected, it was something I could not pass up. I wanted to see what the corporate world was about, and what a great two years that was. I met a lot of great people, but in the back of my mind during my entire time there, I was thinking about how I could get back on the football field. The second year I was there, I jumped on the Cardinal Gibbons High School job and ran with it. I was fortunate to connect some dots and build relationships.
Q: Despite being somewhat limited this spring, what have you worked on the most and how would assess your development and growth this offseason?
A: Overall, I really worked on being a better teammate. Being injured really stopped me from doing the physical stuff, so I tried to do it mentally.
Q: Individually, you’ve already surpassed 1,300 career receiving yards in just two years, but what are some of your team-oriented goals for 2021?
A: We are trying to go to the championship game and go to a bowl game. Having 1,300 yards or whatever does not mean anything if you do not go to a bowl game.
Q: Since your All-America season as a freshman, you don’t sneak up on anyone – how do you handle double-coverage and all the “extra” attention you get from opponent corners?
A: I try to not pay too much attention to it because I know that if I am doubled then someone else is open. So, I just try and work and get my teammates open. Once they cannot double anymore, it is over.
Q: You had many options after playing at nearby D.H. Conley, so what attracted you to ECU and why did you decide to stay home?
A: Like you said, it is home. I would not want to be anywhere else honestly. I made a really good relationships with the coaching staff.
Q: On a related note, you’ve mentioned that former Pirates Dwayne Harris and Justin Hardy were your favorite players growing up – what were some of the things about their craft you liked?
A: I mean, it was their work ethic. I came to multiple practices with Justin Hardy and Dwayne Harris and watched their practices and habits. They are just a different breed and they have pushed me.
Q: What are your plans after football as a communication major?
A: If football does not work out, I want to be a sports commentator or something in that field.
A: You’ve been in the ECU program for two years, but this is your first spring practice. What are some things you specifically worked on to take your game to an even higher level as now a featured full-time starter in 2021?
A: I think, first and foremost, my main priority was focused on my mentality. Coach Houston talks a lot about mental toughness and physical toughness as well. So that was the main thing, along with consistency. Also, working on my hands and my routes.
Q: What or who do you credit for the progress you made last year when you more than tripled your reception total (from 2019)?
A: I would definitely say God. I have faith in myself and having faith in God has propelled me.
Q: Four of your five catches (and TD) in 2019 came at SMU in front of family and friends – what do you remember most about that day and what was that experience like?
A: After the game, just seeing my brother. There were no words, but I just ran up to him and gave him a big hug. That was the best feeling, just seeing my family after the game.
Q: How have you handled the “culture transition” after playing HS in the Dallas area, then moving to Los Angeles and now Greenville?
A: It has been cool. I see it as a blessing. It is always nice to step outside of what you are used to and accustomed to. It’s enabled me to get exposed to different types of people, different types of cultures, music and those types of things, so it has been a blessing so far.
Q: Speaking of LA, what positives did you draw out of playing at UCLA and in the Pac-12?
A: It was a great learning opportunity. Just as far as football goes, learning a different type of offense. I can’t say anything bad about it, it was just a great experience. It is California.
Q: You earned a degree in sociology from UCLA and are now pursuing a master’s in communications from ECU. What are aspirations after football?
A: Well, I love design. Whether it is clothing, interior or architectural design, I have always been interested in design growing up. As far as my schooling, I would like to create an organization for black youth and their mental health. I want to help them with their mental health awareness and accessibility. There are a lot of kids out there who do not have access to the resources they need, for things they are going through.