It seems that one thing ECU football tends to get right more times than not, is the quarterback position. The years have been good to the Pirates when it comes to the guys who have played in the pivot in the Purple and Goal.
From ECU’s first-ever draft pick (Cleveland) Roger Thrift in 1951 to Carl Summerell who dominated for the Pirates from 1972-74 to the dual threat QBs like Mike Weaver (1976 Southern Conference Champions) and Kevin Ingram (1981-1983) to playmakers like Marcus Crandell (1993-96) to game managers like James Pinkney (2003-06) and coach-on-the-field types like Dan Gonzlez (1994-97)…there have been studs whose games have been the perfect fit for the times/needs of the program. There have also been some very good “fill in” guys like Dominique Davis (2010-11), Blake Kemp (2015), and Philip Nelson (2016). And of course, those two guys who left the program but did pretty well in Gardner Minshew II (2016-2017) and Kurt Benkert (2014-2015).
And of course, we could be watching the career of another in this line of great ECU QBs as current starter Holton Ahlers looks to follow his breakout Sophomore season with a truly special Junior campaign.
The point is, there have been some amazing QBs and I didn’t even list many of the most notable. That’s because I wanted to build the perfect ECU quarterback for me…for my likings. I considered just four qualities, two physical, one mental, and intangible and came out with the ingredients for my Perfect Pirates QB:
Passing: Jeff Blake (1988-91)
The ECU all-everything QB who took the Pirates to it highest-ever final ranking (No. 9 in 1991) and finished in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, leaving the ECU fans a season to always remember (11-1, Peach Bowl champions.
Was he also a great leader? He was, but it seemed to emerge in 1991 and was mostly his play that stood as example. Was a good running QB? Yeah, he was and he used his legs to extend plays. Yes, he could manage a game. But man, his passing and his big arm were something to behold.
And while his completion percentage was in the 50s, he played at a different time and he was a QB who went downfield…a lot. Not only could he drop the proverbial bomb better than anyone, he also knew how to work the pocket, could get rid of the ball in a hurry, and really spread the ball out all over the place. He had a bevy of talented receivers, but I really feel like it was his accuracy, touch, and field vision that made these receivers so great. He had a 146 quarterback rating for a reason.
Running: David Garrard (1998-2001)
David Garrard was a very good passer and in fact, was the poster boy for consistency by air but it was his rushing game that really always mesmerized me.
When his former Coach Steve Logan inadvertently nicknamed him “the beer truck” when trying to describe what it must be like to tackle Garrard, fans could hardly disagree and I am sure many a badass linebacker was humbled by the Pirates physical QB. Sure Garrard was a physical runner and it was no doubt fun to watch him buckle a seasoned linebacker’s legs, but his decision making when it came to the run was unique. Not only on the option, but on a designed QB run and when escaping the pocket. Fearless and, well, a “beer truck” on the loose.
As a Pirates QB, Garrard took the Pirates to 23 wins during his three seasons under center, including three bowl trips, the most notable decisive win over Texas Tech. He was also one of the greatest ECU ambassadors a program could ever dream of having.
Game Management: Patrick Pinkney (2007-09)
When you have a talent in the backfield like RB Chris Johnson and a defense featuring not one, not two, but three future NFL defensive linemen, your job as the ECU Quarterback is to manage the game offensively. And none, IMO, did so better than Patrick Pinkney, son of former ECU great Reggie Pinkney. In the ECU QB lore, Pinkney’s name isn’t the first to come to mind, but when you take a closer look at what he did as a Pirate, it is pretty outstanding.
For one, Pinkney is one of only two ECU QBs to lead their teams to back-to-back conference championships. Summerell accomplished it, leading the Pirates to the Southern Conference titles in 1972 and 1973. Then, Pinkney turned the feat, leading the Pirates to the 2008 and 2009 Conference USA titles.
His job was to operate an offense that complemented the defensive style. In 2008 and 2009, that meant long drives, lots of running plays, and take advantage of the short field your defense gives you. Coach Skip Holtz was all about possession and keeping the C-USA pass happy QBs watching from the sideline. Pinkney delivered and did so very well.
Leadership: Shane Carden (2012-14)
Everyone called him “The Captain” for a well-deserved reason…probably one of the best pure leaders to put on the ECU jersey. Look, his passing numbers were ridiculous, just 9 yards shy of 12,000 in 3 seasons. Career rating of 144.0. Rushing efficiency…outrageous with 24 rushing TDs.
But of all things, what made everything go for the Pirates was his ability to ignite the talent around him. His fearless playing style endeared him to his linemen who frankly played over their heads for the Captain. As fans, you just knew that he would make the play, he would find a way. And he did so again and again, leading the Pirates to 25 wins in his nearly three seasons as the starter, including 4 wins over ACC foes and a bowl win.
Carden was the face of ECU football in a way that few other have been in the history of the program.
So, there you have it…my perfect ECU QB if I could blend them together.
Love to hear what your perfect ECU QB would look like.