Kendall coming off his best performance
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Kendall coming off his best performance

Pirates defensive end reaching potential after injury-plagued season

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.” link

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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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light

— Book on Michigan State’s leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty’s untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; “History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.”

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer,, and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."