Photo: Kendall Futrell
GREENVILLE – A year ago, East Carolina’s former coaching staff thought as preseason camp ended it had a special year coming from a rapidly developing defensive end. They were right, but they had the wrong guy.
Former head coach Scottie Montgomery predicted a big year from Kendall Futrell, but it was the defensive end Nate Harvey on the other that side put together the breakout season. Harvey, now on injured reserve with the New York Giants, led the nation in regular-season tackles for a loss with 25.5 and was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
This year, Futrell is coming off a performance in the Pirates’ second straight win over Old Dominion that seemingly had the Monarchs wondering if Harvey had returned. In the Pirates 24-21 victory, he led the Pirates in tackles (seven), sacks (three) and tackles for a loss (three-and-a-half).
“It felt good to have a good game,” said Futrell, a senior who played through last season with nagging injuries. “My teammates played well, and I have to thank them. I’m excited for this week. We’ve got to win some conference games. I’m ready to play them to show what we’re about.”
Winning conference games confronts the Pirates (3-2, 0-1 AAC East) for the remainder of the season starting with Temple (3-1, 0-0 AAC East) in an ESPN Thursday night game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Temple is an example of conference foe ECU needs to show it can play with physically under new coach Mike Houston after three straight 3-9 seasons. The Owls routed the Pirates 49-6 in Philadelphia last year and 34-10 and 37-10 the previous two seasons.
Although ECU plays the same basic 4-2-5 scheme under new defensive coordinator Bob Trott, Futrell is playing more gap control responsibilities and in a three-point stance after playing as a a stand-up defensive end with freedom to slip blocks.
For the season, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder from South Central High in Winterville leads the team in tackles for a loss (6.5), TFL yardage (36), sacks (four) and sack yardage (30). He is tied for second on the team with 30 tackles.
“I think we’re playing hard and playing physical,” Futrell said. “We’re doing our assignments.”
Against Old Dominion, ECU’s fourth sack of the night was recorded by junior Chance Purvis, Futrell’s partner this year at defensive end.
“I thought both of them played very well on Saturday,” Houston said. “I think they’re continuing to improve. I thought Kendall in particular, stats wise, put some pretty impressive numbers, but both of them played really hard.
“Kendall, they had a real hard time with him in the pass rush. That was a factor in the ball game because we were able to do a pretty good job of shutting down the run game on Saturday night, which forced them into a little bit more of a passing attack that we were facing. That’s where Kendall really came in and impacted the game in the second half.”
The public expectations on Futrell followed by injuries and Harvey gaining a national stage might have worn on some players. But Futurell played on, enjoying his friend’s success, and then looked ahead to 2019.
“Nate is my brother, and I was happy and proud of him,” Futrell said at the start of the season. “I had a good start last year, but injuries derailed me. I don’t want to make excuses; injuries happen. I’m really excited about this year.”
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