GREENVILLE, N.C. – Third-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Monday prior to Thursday’s season opener against Appalachian State. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“Game week is finally here. To be honest, with it being a Thursday night kickoff, we’re late in game week. We’re getting ready for what would be our Wednesday afternoon practice. We had a really sharp practice last night. You could tell last night, the kids, they’re excited to play. They just had a different pep in their step. Great energy. Great focus. Really excited about the matchup this Thursday night. Certainly, a great challenge against a very good Appalachian State football team. But we’re excited to get back to playing and we’re excited we’re going to have a bunch of Pirate fans in the stands at Bank of America Stadium. So, looking forward to it.”

On The Importance Of Getting Off To A Good Start:
“We’re facing a good football team. It’s a team that has had a lot of success. Most of those guys are fifth- or sixth-year seniors. They’ve won a lot of games since they’ve been there, so it is a great challenge and a great opportunity. It’s going to be a great matchup. I’m excited about the group that we have. They’ll be ready to play. I expect us to play very well. But it’s a chance on a little bit of a national stage in an NFL stadium, an ESPN game. It’s a chance to really find out a lot about ourselves, and to be in a situation to play against a very good program.”

On How Important It Will Be To Not Make Mistakes Against Appalachian State:
“That’s going to be the key. That’s the deal. Whether you’re talking about turnovers, because I do think turnovers will be a factor in this ballgame. Which team can take care of the ball and which team can force some mistakes. Being able to play aggressively and downhill the way we want to defensively. At the same time not giving up anything cheap, that’s going to be critical. They’re a team that has a lot of experience and guys that have played a lot of snaps. Virtually every position, both sides of the ball. So, that’s a group that usually doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. But it’s game one. I think both teams, it’s going to be critical for them to execute at a high level.”

On The Schedule For The Rest Of The Week:
“We’ll practice this evening, do our Wednesday practice which is our last heavy day for the week. Then come back tomorrow afternoon with practice before walking through here Wednesday morning and heading to Charlotte around lunchtime on Wednesday. Still some work to be done. But it’s a deal where you’re cleaning up execution things and sharpening up some things in the kicking game. Just trying to get the kids as fresh as we can so they’re ready to go on Thursday night.”

On Playing On The Big Stage:
“When you think about it, so many of our guys, when you think about Rahjai (Harris) and Keaton (Mitchell) and some of those guys that played so much last year. They’ve never played in front of a crowd like this before. They were in high school two years ago. Last year during the pandemic, the biggest crowd we played in front of was less than 10,000. Now you’re going to be in an NFL stadium in front of 40,000 fans. It’s going to be electric for them. Now they have the experience from last year, so I think they’ll handle it just fine. But it’ll certainly add to, just a little bit more energy, to the kickoff Thursday night.”

On This Game Being A Good Measuring Stick:
“I think it’s a measuring stick from the standpoint that I think they have a quality team right now. You look at the success they’ve had the last couple of years and these guys are the ones that have been playing. I’m sure that they’re expecting a chance to have a special season this year. So, we’re playing a quality program in the opener. We’re excited about what we have. So, I think certainly it will be something that tells us what we have, and it’ll tell us where we stand. Long term, I think two instate, state-supported institutions, I think it’s going to develop into what should be a great rivalry.”

On ECU’s Third Running Back:
“I think you’re going to have a couple of guys with us on the trip. Pop (Joseph) McKay has been getting a lot of reps there. Lorenzo Dorr, who just joined us, has been getting some reps there. G’Mone Wilson will be with us on the trip. Those guys are all working in that role, so I think it’s something that you kind of want to give it a little bit more time and see how they progress. You could see some of those guys Thursday night. But we’re pleased with where we are right now.”

On The Plan To Rotate Guys In The Defensive Backfield To Keep Guys Fresh:
“I think that’s just it. We do have some depth back there, but at the same time, those guys are on a lot of the special teams, so it’s allowing us to play more guys in our four core. The key really is to keep them fresh. I think they’re playing very fast. I think you’ve got some guys that are playing as good of ball as they’ve played since I’ve been here. You do have some experience back there. Compared to where we were my first year, it’s good to have that kind of depth there on the backend.”

On What Extra Challenges Does An Experience Team Pose:
“I think you’re going against a group that’s used to winning. You’re going against a group that’s had a lot of success, so they have a lot of confidence. You’re going against a group that’s played a lot of ball, so they have a lot of experience in big ball games. You’re facing a group that has all of the things that you need to win a championship. I think that’s the biggest challenge.

“Our bunch, I think we played really good at times last year. We certainly finished strong, and I think we’ve shown tremendous potential and I’ll be honest; this is the most talented group we’ve had since I’ve gotten here. Because it’s all of the guys from last year, just bigger, faster and stronger. I’m confident that we’re going to play well on Thursday night. The thing that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to go out and consistently play the brand of ball we’ve got to play for four solid quarters. Because it’s going to be a game where in order for us to win it, we’re really going to have to battle down the stretch. I think that’s something that will be impressed upon the kids between now and kickoff Thursday night. But I’m excited about watching our kids play. I’m excited about this game.”

On Playing In The Hot Conditions:
“One thing our guys are accustomed to is playing in the heat. It’s been a cooker here the last couple of weeks in Greenville. First games, first couple of games of the year, depth is always an issue because, no matter what you do during preseason camp, there’s nothing that simulates a full college football game. It is good we have depth up front on the offensive line. We do have tremendous depth on the defensive line and in the secondary and at linebacker. We have depth at running back. We have depth at the receiver position. It is a situation where we should be able to rotate some guys and keep them fresh and that’s the plan. We want to play a lot of people. That being said, I’ve told the players we want to play a lot of guys, but they’ve got to earn the right to get on that field. This has been a big week from the standpoint of guys showing they can be trusted snap in and snap out, so you can figure out your rotations.”

On Keeping The Momentum From The End Of Last Season:
“I think that momentum from last season carried over into the offseason. It was evident in our workouts, evident throughout the summer and throughout preseason camp. The vibe on the practice field last night was as good as you can want or expect. I was really pleased with how we practiced. I think the kids feel that momentum. They all want to go out and build on it. We would love to come out and play at that level in this opening game. I think anytime you have an experienced quarterback, that’s certainly an asset. Holton (Ahlers) has plenty of experience. He’s played in big ball games. He’s had great performances. This will be nothing that will really shake him or faze him. The advantage is, you’re going to have a leader that’s going to have composure and confidence on that stage. I think that’s certainly a plus on our side.”