GREENVILLE, N.C. – The East Carolina Pirates, under the direction of fourth-year head football coach Mike Houston, opened the spring practice period with their first official workout late Tuesday afternoon on Hight Field inside the Cliff Moore Practice Complex.

Houston guided his squad through a fundamentals-oriented 110-minute practice, the first of 15 scheduled sessions which will culminate with the playing of the Purple-Gold Spring Game on April 9 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The Pirates return seven starters on offense, seven on the defensive side of the ball and welcome back a total of 50 lettermen off a team that recorded an overall mark of 7-5 last season and earned postseason eligibility for the first time since 2014. Offensively, ECU opened spring drills with a pair of openings each on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

On defense, East Carolina lost three members of its secondary, which includes both safety positions, and at inside linebacker. Additionally, three members of the Pirates’ special teams squad – returner Tyler Snead, punter Jonn Young and deep snapper Slade Roy – must be replaced.

Topping the list of 2021 offensive returnees are senior quarterback Holton Ahlers (37 career starts) and junior linemen Avery Jones (19) and Noah Henderson (14). Ahlers, who threw for 3,126 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago, will enter his fifth season needing just 764 total yards to establish a school career total offense standard. Additionally, he currently stands second in program history with 10,219 passing yards.

Coordinator Blake Harrell’s defense features a front line that brings back all three of its starters in junior Rick D’Abreu (16) and sophomores Immanuel Hickman (13) and Elijah Morris (16). Senior inside linebacker Myles Berry (ECU’s third-leading tackler with 53 in 2021) and junior cornerback Malik Fleming, who currently owns the unit’s longest consecutive starting streak at 10 games, will provide additional experience along with veteran Xavier Smith, who has 30 career starts under his belt at both the linebacking and end positions.

ECU will spend its first two “acclimation” practice sessions in shorts and helmets before progressing to shells Friday.