College Sports

Transfers making early impact at ECU football practice

Quarterback Thomas Sirk transferred to East Carolina after missing last season due to injury at Duke.
Quarterback Thomas Sirk transferred to East Carolina after missing last season due to injury at Duke. Steve Wiseman

Scottie Montgomery’s first season as East Carolina coach didn’t go as he’d have wished.

After going 3-9 last season, Montgomery’s second season leading the Pirates started last Thursday when the team opened practice.

The Pirates have plenty of new faces via transfers, from former Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk to former Clemson and Durham Hillside High School defensive back Korrin Wiggins to punter Austin Barnes from Eastern Michigan.

Here are a few notes after speaking with the Pirates on Saturday:

Quarterback race

Junior Gardner Minshew closed spring as ECU’s starting quarterback, but Sirk is healthy and a strong bet to win the job. After missing last season at Duke with a torn Achilles tendon, Sirk came to ECU this summer as a graduate transfer.

He’s feeling healthy and has familiarity with Montgomery from their days when Montgomery was Duke’s offensive coordinator.

Montgomery said he hopes to determine his starting quarterback by the team’s second preseason scrimmage, which is scheduled for Aug. 19.

New punter helping

Barnes came to ECU this summer as a graduate transfer from Eastern Michigan, where he set a program record by averaging 43.6 yards per punt.

“Probably the brightest spot in special teams in our camp right now is been the way that Austin Barnes is punting the football,” Montgomery said. “He’s been with us for a few weeks. Really, really hitting the ball well, giving our punt returners NFL type looks with the ball getting down there. Love his hang time. Love his drive. We’re looking forward to using him as a weapon when we do have to punt.”

Proehl tears ACL

Wide receiver Blake Proehl signed with ECU last February and arrived this summer but won’t get a chance to play this season. The son of former NFL wide receiver and Carolina Panthers assistant coach Ricky Proehl, Blake Proehl suffered a torn ACL during a non-contact drill in practice this week, Montgomery said.

“We will miss him definitely on the field,” Montgomery said. “But he has just been a pleasant, pleasant personality. He’s worked really hard and done everything right. But he will be a guy we will have to redshirt now.”

Ex-Shaw LB a key player for ECU

Jordan Williams began his college career at Shaw in 2013 but never played a game there before transferring to ECU.

Fast forward four years, and he’s now expected to play an important role if ECU’s defense is to improve.

Last season, the Pirates allowed 36.1 points per game and were routinely burned by big plays.

Montgomery expects Williams, a senior who started five games last season, to make the Pirates better.

“Run or pass we’ve got to do a better job of linebacker communication,” Montgomery said. “We think that we can get that done because of Jordan Williams. We’re putting a lot on him. Last year he knew what to communicate. Now he knows how to communicate.”

Montgomery said Williams is ready to, for example, help move players around in pre-snap situations based on what the offense is doing.

“He knows how to get it done now,” Montgomery said.

Ex-Clemson defensive back Wiggins prepared to help

Wiggins picked ECU in June for his final college season after also considering Michigan and Oregon.

A former two-time all-state cornerback at Hillside during his prep career in Durham, he logged seven starts while playing in 32 career games with Clemson from 2013-16.

During Friday’s second practice, Montgomery turned Wiggins loose in the secondary and liked what he saw.

“He was running around making plays,” Montgomery said.

Wiggins is happy to be back in his home state so his family can see him play regularly.

“I just wanted to come closer to home,” Wiggins said. “I’m an hour away from my family. They can come to games and not have to worry about missing work the next day or being tired from being on the road. My grandparents are getting older. I didn’t want them to miss seeing me play on the field.”

Academic casualties

Montgomery said senior running back Anthony Scott and junior outside linebacker Yiannis Bowden have been declared academically ineligible and won’t play this season. They will remain part of the team and are able to practice as part of the scout team.