Pirates prepare for homecoming

True freshman WR Isaiah Jones (Photo -Kat Jessick)

After earning bowl eligibility with a win over Florida International in its last contest, ECU is gearing up for homecoming weekend. Inside ECU Sports was at practice to talk with players and coaches about the special weekend.

The Pirates will host Tulsa inside of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday for this year's homecoming game. The last time these two teams met, the Pirates won on a 33-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired. The final was 51-49 ECU and it was head coach Ruffin McNeill's debut game.

While Tulsa hasn't had much success this season (starting 2-6), this is still a conference matchup the Pirates have to win. Ruffin McNeill mentioned how close homecoming games are to his heart.

"It's a special weekend," said McNeill. "I try to stay humble with it, but everyone knows I brag about how the Pirate Nation is second to none. Older players and guys I've coached before have told me they'll be in town. It's going to be a lot of fun and a great place to be."

A win over Tulsa this weekend will move the Pirates to 5-1 in Conference USA play (7-2 overall) and 4-1 inside of Dowdy-Ficklen stadium.

There is no doubt earning a win during homecoming weekend is the number one goal. If a team loses during its homecoming game it can be debilitating to a locker room – especially if it's a loss to a 2-6 team.

Multiple players on this ECU roster have family members who are alumni, not only to ECU as a school, but to the football program.

True freshman wide receiver Isaiah Jones has a father who is a legend for the Pirate football program. Robert Jones, Isaiah's father, played linebacker at ECU until eventually moving on to the NFL where he won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. Jones was selected with the 24th pick in 1992 NFL draft.

His father's connection with the program has this young wide-out excited for the chance to play in such an important game.

"It's going to be a fun atmosphere and I'm looking forward to it," said Isaiah Jones. "I'm hoping for a packed house and that everybody is there. There's a lot of hype going into it, but I'm trying to keep a level head. I hope to celebrate a win with my teammates."

Coming into the season, the starting center position was a close tie between sophomore C.J. Struyk and junior Taylor Hudson. Struyk has since solidified the starting role and is really beginning to make a name for himself on the field.

Struyk is another Pirate who has kin tied to the program.

Curtis Struyk, C.J.'s father, lettered as a defensive tackle for the Pirate football program in 1984 before moving on for a short NFL career with the New York Giants.

His father already left an impression on the program, and C.J. mentioned he's looking to do the same. He spoke about what playing in this game and having his dad in attendance means to him.

"My dad tries to make every game," said Struyk. "Every home game it's nice to see him in the stands, I think he likes to see me out here living out his dream. I always play better when my dad is watching because he has coached me since I was five years old. Him being an alumni pushes me even harder, especially this weekend."

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