GREENVILLE, N.C. – Fourth-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s 2022 season and home opener versus NC State. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“Game week is finally here. There’s a lot of excitement, you can feel the buzz around Greenville, you can certainly feel the buzz around campus, and within our locker room and meeting rooms. Lots of hard work went into getting to this game week and getting the program to where it is as we start the season. Obviously, a challenging matchup in the opener with a highly ranked NC State team, I think it’s the highest ranked NC State team in school history for the preseason and there’s a reason for that. Coach Doeren has done a great job developing that roster and they had a great year last year. The bulk of their team is coming back, one of the top quarterbacks in the country and one of the top defenses in the country. It’s going to be a challenging matchup, but one that we’re excited about. I’m excited about the response that Pirate Nation has had since I got here and we talked about this, when I was hired, to get the program back to where this is what we expect on game days. It’s good to see that kind of come to reality and I’m excited for our fan base and our kids.”

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On Preparation For NC State In 2019 Compared To Preparing For Saturday:
“There’s not really a good comparison. We were outmanned on that day in 2019 and we kind of knew that going into the season, you can only do so much in the six months, you’ve got to develop as much as you can with what you have.  “It was a spotlight on where our program was at that time in comparison to NC State’s. Now, I think that there’s been a lot of work done in recruiting, development, and growth. There’s a handful of guys that were on that field for that game in 2019 that are going to be on the field Saturday and seeing how they’ve grown and seeing how the program has grown, it’s a different program. Now, with that being said, I think NC State’s program is a different program that is arguably the best team in the ACC this year. I watched a lot of ACC games this summer, I’ve seen the bulk of the conference and what NC State had last year and what they’ve got coming back, as we prepared for them. They have to feel that they have a realistic chance of winning the conference championship. We’ve got a good football team; I have no doubt about that. We have a big challenge Saturday and one that we’re excited about.”

On If The 2019 NC State Game Provides Extra Motivation Heading Into Saturday:
“Not really, I came here to do a job and I came here because I knew what the potential of this program could be and knew what this fan base was for its passion. The thing that motivates me is getting the program to where it is today, for our players, our staff, our university, and our fan base. There’s a lot of history between these two teams that dates back long before I was here and long before I was even coaching. It’s a game that our fans are excited about, I’m sure their fans are too and it’s our opening game of the season so it’s a big one for a lot of reasons.”

On Staying Focused Throughout The Game:
“I think that’s a big piece of it, fortunately, we had some pretty big moments last year to prepare for this game. The finale last year against Cincinnati game was an electric environment. The game in Charlotte against Appalachian State last year and one of the things coming out of that game was after not playing in front of any fans with a bunch of freshmen in 2020, a lot of them did not handle that very well. It’s something I’ve been talking to the players about is playing with a lot of passion and emotion, but you can’t let your emotions control you. It’s going to be electric at kickoff on Saturday in our stadium, they’ve got to focus in on playing the game when one play at a time and executing at a high level and doing what they’ve been coached to do. That’s going to be a big key to it for both teams. I’m sure Coach Doeren is talking to his team about the same things, and they’ve been in big ball games, they’ve been in that environment in the past, but it’s still the opening game of the season. Managing that at kickoff and the first part of the game is going to be a big piece Saturday.”

On Facing Devin Leary And NC State’s Offense:
“I think that his decision making to go along with his arm talent, he’s got a very strong arm, he’s a good athlete and runs very well. He doesn’t make a lot of big mistakes, 35 touchdowns to five interceptions last year. He’s not only a talented athlete, but he’s a really good quarterback. You look at a couple of guys we faced last year, whether it was Grant Wells at Marshall, who I thought was one of the better quarterbacks we saw year, or Desmond Ridder at Cincinnati who was a high round draft pick. I think he’s kind of in that same level as far as the player he is, and then you put that with all the weapons that he has around him. They’ve done a great job with either developing players or getting transfers and giving him a lot of viable options to go to. It’s going to be a great challenge on Saturday to defend him.”

On Preparing For NC State Without Recent Game Footage Or Film:
“We’ve both faced the same challenges there. We’ve watched their spring game on the ACC network, which is about as vanilla as it could get, and I don’t blame them for that. I would have been the exact same way. I’ve had scouts all around our practices and around our stadium during scrimmages, making sure we didn’t have any peeking eyes or anything like that, because we’re both trying to protect what we’ve done that’s new and the wrinkles we’ve installed over the summer. There’s going to be some things that both of us see from each other that wasn’t there last year as part of the opening games, but still, there’s so much experience returning on both teams and the staffs are intact.  You’re not going to get away from what you’ve done well and so we’ve worked very hard on what we’ve seen from film from them last year. We’re prepared on paper, and we’ll see how we match up physically when we get out there but there’s going to be some things that we’ll have to adjust to early in the ballgame on Saturday.”

On Holton Ahlers’ Preparation For NC State’s Defense:
“We spend a good bit of time in the summer on upcoming opponents. We’ve looked at future opponents that are well into our schedule this year. Holton looking at tape on NC State throughout the summer is something that’s common, but I do think that he probably got into more serious study earlier than a lot of players did. Holton’s seen a lot and I talked about that with just going against him in scrimmages during preseason camp. I don’t know that you’re going to have many quarterbacks in the country that have taken more snaps coming into the season than he has. He’s a smart football player and does a great job of preparing himself. Hopefully, he’s going to be able to put us in the right situation Saturday along with Coach Kirkpatrick, to where we have the best play call possible and then making great decisions post snap. He’s excited about this matchup and especially when you look at what we’re going against defensively, there’s a reason why. This might be the best defense in the country that we face, and they have a lot of talented guys that are very experienced on that side of the football so it’s going to be a big challenge for him on Saturday.”

On Putting Keaton Mitchell On Special Teams To Return Kickoffs:
“Well, number one, it’s something he really wanted to do. Number two, anytime we can get the ball in his hands, I think it’s a plus. He’s an experienced guy and a good decision maker, which you’ve got to trust who you put back there at that deep returner spot. We’ve put some good players out there with him and I’m not going to put him out there if he’s not going to have good guys around him that are taking care of him and blocking for him. I felt like we needed to make some positive improvement in special teams and a couple of areas in what we did last year, and kick return was one of them and that was the main factor.”