During the seemingly endless sprint sets that players ran starting at 3 p.m., five days a week, all summer long, some Pirates would glance toward the window of an air-conditioned office overlooking the practice field to see if the man responsible for their misery was peering through the curtains. He was. "I'd check the temperature, which was usually hovering around 95 degrees," says coach Steve Logan, a Weather Channel fanatic. "I want these guys in condition to win on the last play of every game."
With 15 starters back from a team that defeated Texas Tech 40-27 in the galleryfurniture.com Bowl, it's easy to understand Logan's motivation. The Pirates are equipped to win their first Conference USA title and finish in the Top 25 for the first time since 1995. To do so, they'll need to break a bad habit. "We take some teams too lightly," says senior quarterback David Garrard, alluding to defeats to conference foes Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis, both of whom finished behind East Carolina in the standings.
More often than not, though, the Pirates are overlooked. They have upset several high-profile opponents, including handing Miami its worst home loss in 12 years, in 1996. Last season the Pirates tripped Syracuse 34-17. "That's the essence of East Carolina," says the Oklahoma-bred Logan, who credits growing up watching the Sooners and his veneration of Bill Walsh for the Pirates' effective mix of option football, trick plays and drop-back passing. "We can't break through that glass ceiling by being conservative."
Fake punts, reverses and on-side kicks will be featured among East Carolina's menu of plays this season. So will Take Off, a play in which Garrard throws deep to one of four or five receivers sprinting downfield. Logan has a knack for showcasing the talent of his quarterbacks, and Garrard, a 6'3", 235-pound Daunte Culpepper look-alike whose arm generated half the team's scores last season, is no exception.
Sharing the marquee with Garrard will be senior middle linebacker Pernell Griffin, who had a team-high 87 tackles in 2000 despite missing three games with a torn MCL in his left knee. Now healthy, Griffin will reinforce a defense that last season was sometimes soft against the run. The secondary has all four starters back, but the defensive line lost two veteran tackles.
Showing some recruiting muscle, Logan beat out in-state rivals for Paul Troth, the top-rated quarterback in North Carolina. Whether Troth eventually matches Garrard's output remains to be seen. "He's a pup," says Logan, "but he'll get stronger and stronger."
As long as Logan is the man behind the curtain, so will East Carolina.