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It seems somewhat outlandish for a college football team to be five games into a season and still be struggling with leadership, but it appears that’s exactly where ECU is.
The Pirates, who are now 1-4 after their 61-31 loss to South Florida on Saturday, have struggled in the second half of games for the majority of this season.
After ECU was blown out in the fourth quarter this past Saturday, senior tight end Stephen Baggett made mention of the fact the team seems to be looking for answers with vocal leadership in particular, especially when things start to go wrong on the field.
“As I senior I could step up more, become a more vocal leader,” said Baggett, who caught his first career touchdown in the loss. “I tend to lead by example. Our team struggles with leadership, we don’t have many vocal leaders and we need that. Every good team has vocal leaders. We have to work on that.”
Right now, the record and statistics indicate just what Baggett said: That ECU isn’t a good team.
Head coach Scottie Montgomery was asked the question about the lack of vocal leadership among players during his weekly press conference on Monday. The second-year head coach said while graduate transfer quarterback Thomas Sirk is beginning to become more of a leader, the team does indeed still need to work on things in that department.
“I think the one person that is vocal on the team is probably Thomas Sirk,” Montgomery said. “Stephen Baggett has started to do a little bit better job of that. I think Thomas had to get a little bit more comfortable with people. (Sunday) we saw a comfortable Thomas at practice when guys didn’t get quite lined up as quickly as he wanted them to. So I think there are probably some conversations between Baggett, Thomas and other people on the team that they do need some vocal leadership, especially when they feel like they have a chance to be pretty good at certain spots. So we do need a little bit more of that and I am sure it will grow as the season continues.”
The growth of Sirk into a more vocal position isn’t exactly a surprise. Often times, teams with established quarterbacks count on those players to lead both by example and with what they say. Sirk, a graduate transfer from Duke, lost the starting quarterback battle in the preseason to Gardner Minshew, and was brand new to his teammates when the season opened.
Now a few months into the season, and after Sirk played his heart out with a big performance on Saturday, it makes sense for the quarterback to have gained enough respect from his teammates to step into the much-needed leadership role.
“I think guys start to respond to you because you’re out there with them on the field,” said Sirk, who accounted for 389 yards of offense and totaled four touchdowns in the USF loss. “For me, that’s kind of the nature of who I am anyways. Coming into a new role here, obviously as a transfer, your role kind of changes because you have to learn people. For me, that was my biggest thing, is understanding how different players respond to different types of leadership.”
Davon Grayson, a senior receiver who’s played with several different quarterbacks over the course of his Pirate career since 2013, indicated the growth in Sirk as a team leader has been easy to see.
“Every day, he’s becoming more and more confident on the field and off the field here,” Grayson said. “He’s more of our friend now. That allows him to say certain things and speak at certain times. He has everybody’s eyes and everybody’s ears now.”
ECU will try to gain its first win of the season inside the friendly confines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday against a Temple team that has also struggled.
While the Owls are 2-3 with wins over Villanova and UMass, their offense is the worst in the conference statistically. Last year’s AAC champion, Temple lost a ton of talent both offensively and defensively and is now under a new coach in Geoff Collins after Matt Rule left for Baylor.
The Pirates have lost to the Owls all three years since joining the AAC in 2014.
“We are just motivated to get into the conference and get another conference win,” said Montgomery, whose team has been outscored 159-62 at home this season. “We talked about the conference a lot, this conference is changing and you can see the changes all over the conference. There is some transitioning and some staffs which always changes some of the play and the way that some of the guys are playing and the scheme. But we really just want another win in conference.”
ECU’s only win of the season came on the road at UConn in week 4.