GREENVILLE — Perhaps the tallest obstacle to be scaled at any college football spring practice is a walk-on garnering significant attention from his coaches.
Chris Love had the eyes of East Carolina’s coaches and everyone else in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday afternoon when the player listed on the Pirates’ roster as an inside receiver continued to make a splash as a tailback. In the late stages of ECU’s Purple-Gold game, Love cut to the left side on a running play and broke into the open field for a 71-yard touchdown.
It was a magic moment, but the real trick now is to make his coaches remember his overall spring performance when they’re reunited for August camp.
“Going into spring I guess I was kind of questionable as far as what my role would be, and I’m still kind of lingering on the questionable side, but I feel like I had a pretty good spring,” said Love, a former standout at Wake Forest-Rolesville.
“I’ve still got a lot of stuff to work on.”
There was nothing questionable about Love’s speed in the open field on one of just two rush opportunities afforded to him in the team’s final scrimmage of spring camp.
Although it takes more than one play to make a player, Love has been on the minds of ECU’s coaches since the beginning of drills, and was still there on Monday when the team closed camp with one final workout.
“You saw (redshirt freshman tailback) Marquez Grayson, Chris Love and (quarterback) Kurt Benkert got a lot of reps,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said of the heavy last day for the team’s walk-ons and freshmen on Monday. “The older players were coaching up the younger players.”
Like many before him, Love said the biggest adjustment so far has been speed and learning to use his against much faster defenders than the ones he encountered in high school.
He is also paying mind to how quickly his running lanes get clogged at the collegiate level, and he hopes such attention to detail will give him the same dream-come-true results as former walk-on and now two-time 1,000-yard receiver Justin Hardy.
“If you talk to a player and he tells you he doesn’t want to be the main guy on the team, he’s not telling you the truth,” Love said of his developing role. “(The touchdown) felt good, and I feel like it meant a lot, but I’m not sure. The whole offensive line picked it up, the hole opened up and all I really had to do was run.”
The first of numerous big plays in the Purple-Gold game happened when sophomore receiver Jimmy Williams reeled in a Benkert pass on a crossing route and dashed to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
Williams, a Washington native, showed no lingering effects of a broken foot that ended his promising freshman season after just two game appearances.
“It was go even harder than you did before,” said Williams, who’s not only back from his foot injury but has also overcome a minor shoulder injury this spring, of his approach to rehabilitation. “You’ve got to get into better shape, get back up to par with everybody else. My mindset was to go harder and harder than I did before, when I had to find my role.”
Williams admits it was a painful few weeks following the initial injury, which in total took about five months to heal completely.
He said scoring in the spring game gave him not only a memory for family members in attendance but also a little personal redemption.
“I think it was like my second play, and it was especially good doing it in front of the fans,” Williams said of the TD. “They don’t really know me because they haven’t really seen me. I’ve only played two away games.”