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A vision is beginning to become a reality for Jeff Compher and the rest of ECU’s athletic administration.
The Pirate athletics director stood in front of a group of dozens of high-ranking ECU boosters, football coaches and more faculty at a groundbreaking ceremony for the $60 million Southside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium expansion last Thursday, discussing the past, present and future of the programs he oversees.
The ruins of the press box and rust-stained steel structure that held it will linger along with the rising of a much more aesthically pleasing brick facade through 2018 and into next spring. Construction for the entire project, which ECU has already raised $30 million for, won’t be complete until the 2019 season.
Not only will the new Southside facility incorporate a new state of the art press box, but more importantly will feature premium seating for 1,000 fans in the form of loge boxes and suites.
Compher said he and his staff members took a tour to Cincinnati, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Houston to get a feel for what ECU could incorporate into its project that’s expected to greatly increase the value of the fan experience inside the venue.
“It’s just great to see this thing get off the ground, or out of the sky or whatever you want to call it,” Compher said. “To see the progress thus far, I’m really excited about the vision that it took to get it done and all the people it took to get here along the way.”
The project marks the first true overhaul for the Southside of ECU’s stadium since the 1970s. The brick facade update will match the look of the stadium’s Northside and end zone seating sections.
“People are going to see a whole new perspective on our stadium,” Compher said. “They’re going to see it as more modern and more up to date. I think they’ll see it as having the kind of things you expect at a high level Division I athletics program. It legitimizes the progress that we’ve made as a university as well as an athletics program.”
Among other speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony was head coach Scottie Montgomery, who tied the current events around the stadium into his own team, which has compiled a record of 6-18 the two seasons since his arrival.
“We’ve had two years of construction in football. I don’t run away from that,” Montgomery said. “That’s where we. We’re in construction. But come this fall, just like we’re seeing now (with the expansion), the finished product is starting to take place.”
PLAYERS ALSO GET UPGRADES
While most of the attention with the project has gone to the luxury seating and press box upgrades, perhaps the most important portion of the $60 million investment are for the players themselves.
For the first time in a decade, ECU’s football program will have some new player amenities to take advantage of when it opens the 2018 season.
With the ongoing construction of Ward Sports Medicine Building, Pirate players will be displaced for spring practice into the visitors locker room, but come fall, will have a brand new home locker room space, player lounge area and sports medicine center.
It’s the first time Pirate football players have had a legitimate amenities upgrade since the old locker room was refurbished in 2008. Montgomery said the upgraded facility will give him a chance to show off the area to recruits, instead of avoiding it when prospects are brought in on visits.
The Ward Sports portion of the project is expected to be completed by August of this year in time for the football team’s preseason camp.
“The biggest thing was I was avoiding the training room and the team room and our locker room,” said Montgomery, who admitted his entire team and coaching staff can’t even fit into the team meeting room at one time as it stands now. “This will be the first time since I’ve been here where I can give a tour and include those things as part of the tour and not as a part of somewhere we’re walking through and don’t spend a lot of time in. As far as the pitch on the road it’s, ‘Come to campus.’
“Right now it’s killing it in recruiting because we’re going out on the road and we’re showing pictures of construction, and that’s a huge deal. That means growth. The biggest deal is when we get guys back here in May and on campus in June and throughout the summer, now they’re going to be actually walking through a facility I can give a tour in.”
The 22,000 square foot renovation of Ward is not the only upgrade needed when looking at the arms race in the Pirates’ own conference, but it’s a good step in the right direction for ECU.
“If you know the life of a student-athlete, they spend a lot of time preparing for practice and after practice, and this gives them a spot to be,” Compher said. “Obviously our new sports medicine center I talked about as well, we needed to have an updated facility for our students. That hasn’t been updated since the building opened in the 1980s.
“This is a really important step for our student-athletes.”
SIGNING DAY APPROACHES
Though the Pirates signed the majority of their 2018 recruiting class during the NCAA’s new early period in December last month, ECU coaches are still scouring the market for a few late additions.
After signing 19 players in December, including 13 from the state of North Carolina, ECU has an opening for a few more signatures.
The Pirates welcomed in highly-recruited Florida running back Malcolm Davidson for an official visit last weekend and are hopeful of gaining his commitment as the Feb. 7 traditional National Signing Day approaches. Davidson, a three-star recruit, landed 20 offers during the recruiting process, including some from the ACC and SEC.
Conway (South Carolina) High School linebacker Jaylen Moody has also become a prime target for the Pirates. He’s the twin brother of wide receiver Juwan Moody, who signed with ECU in December. Jaylen Moody is also being recruited by Ole Miss, Arkansas and Georgia State. He’s expected to visit ECU later this month.
A junior college offensive lineman is another potential addition on ECU’s wish list. The Pirates hired Don Mahoney on Wednesday as their new offensive line coach, replacing Geep Wade. Mahoney, who has coached 24 years at the FBS level, was the offensive line coach at Tennessee from 2013 to 2016. He spent last season as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Concord (West Virginia) of the NCAA Division II Mountain East Conference.