GREENVILLE - East Carolina Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill's fourth season is officially underway as he welcomed members of his 105-man preseason roster to campus Thursday afternoon to kick off the 2013 campaign.
The student-athletes moved into Aycock Dorm on campus before handling traditional check-in responsibilities such as physicals, equipment-fitting sessions, portrait photos and mandated NCAA meetings. ECU then began preparations for its initial practice of camp scheduled for Friday afternoon before hosting its annual media day activities on Saturday.
East Carolina returns eight starters on offense, eight on the defensive side of the ball and welcomes back a total of 50 lettermen off a team that also recorded a 7-1 Conference USA East Division co-championship mark. In addition, ECU closed the regular season by winning five of its last six games and stood among the nation's Top 30 in five different statistical categories - including a No. 3 rank in redzone efficiency, a No. 4 rating in fourth down conversion percentage and a No. 10 finish in fewest penalties. The Pirates also return 76 percent of their rushing yards, 88 percent of their passing yards and 81.8 percent of their turnover production.
Of the 16 returnees, Vintavious Cooper (RB), Justin Hardy (WR), Derrell Johnson (LB) and Will Simmons (OL) all garnered preseason first-team all-league honors by the league's head coaches. The quartet of honorees also earned preseason all-conference accolades by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele's College Football Preview Magazine, while being named to the Biletnikoff Award (top receiver), Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) Watch Lists.
ECU also returns five starters on special teams including Warren Harvey (PK) and Trent Tignor (P), who were preseason watch list nominees for the Lou Groza (top place kicker) and Ray Guy (top punter) awards.
Hardy (All-Purpose Player-of-the-Year nominee), Harvey (place kicker), Johnson (top 40 linebackers at the FBS level nominee), Tignor (punter) and quarterback Shane Carden (offense) also garnered College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Watch List honors.
Also headlining the list of fall returnees are 13 seniors who were members of the season-ending positional depth chart in 2012, including receivers Justin Jones and Reese Wiggins, offensive linemen Jordan Davis and Adhem Elsawi, running back Zico Pasut, defensive lineman Lee Pegues, linebackers Ty Holmes, Kyle Tudor and Gabriel Woullard, cornerback Adonis Armstrong and safeties Damon Magazu and Chip Thompson.
Newcomers to East Carolina's squad include junior college transfers RB Breon Allen and OL Marquis Wallace, as well as true freshmen DE Randall Anderson, DL Malcom Ashley, DL Demage Bailey, QB Kurt Benkert, DB DaShawn Benton, WR Trevon Brown, ILB Devaris Brunson, OLB Kirk Donaldson, TE Darren Dowdell, OWR Davon Grayson, RB Marquez Grayson, OLB Pat Green, OWR Isaiah Jones, OL Christian Matau, DE Demetri McGill, NT Mike Myers, DB Travis Phillips, DB Travon Simmons, OL Brandon Smith, DB Xavier Smith and OL Larry Williams. Anderson, Benkert and Brandon Smith enrolled in January and were able to go through the spring practice period with the Pirates.
Although absent during Thursday's check-in, McNeill remains hopeful that Ashley, Bailey and Brown would join their new teammates at some point during camp or at the start of fall classes on Aug. 20.
In addition to the signees, ECU's roster is also bolstered by six new invited walk-ons - DE Joe Allely, QB B.J. Beecher, DB Edward Fulp, IWR Jacen Murphy, RB Marquise Sherrod-Ponds and IWR Jimmy Williams.