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This season hasn’t gone how any ECU football senior envisioned it, but that doesn’t take away from the emotion that the group playing its final game inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will experience this weekend.
Twenty-seven ECU players — 10 graduate students, 14 seniors and three juniors — will play their last contest inside their home stadium Saturday at noon against Cincinnati.
Among the most notable players include senior wideouts Jimmy Williams and Davon Grayson, two pass-catchers who have been with the Pirates since the 2013 season, and have experienced plenty of highs and lows in between sparkling catches along the way.
After playing as true freshmen in their initial years on campus, both Grayson and Williams have remained at ECU a year longer than they originally intended.
Williams was actually recognized as a senior in the home finale last year, but was granted a medical redshirt from missed time earlier in his career to gain a fifth season of eligibility.
“It’s going to be completely different, it’s going to be way more emotional,” said Williams, a native of Washington who has 115 catches for his career. “Last year I came in pretty much knowing I’d get another year. But I think that emotion will describe everything. There will be a lot of things going through my head.
“There are a lot of things I’m going to miss that I’ll see for the last time. It’s going to be real hard.”
Grayson, meanwhile, was forced to miss all of his original senior season last year with a back injury, and there were questions as to whether he would ever be able to play football again.
“I started to built a relationship with him away from the field more than a lot of people because he came to me a lot,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said. “He didn’t think he’d ever be able to play football again for about 4-5 months.
“He started helping other people because he didn’t think he was going to be able to play, and he grew away from the field. Then when God granted him the ability to play football again, he had grown so much.”
After redshirting in 2016, Grayson has been ECU’s most consistent pass-catcher this season, leading the team with 57 receptions for 876 yards and six touchdowns.
It’s been the type of breakout campaign Grayson has been looking for ever since he caught three touchdowns in his collegiate debut in 2013 versus Old Dominion to open the season.
“Turning back time again, I’m starting to feel like that again,” said Grayson, who tore his ACL later that season. “It’s not about the stats anymore or how much I touch the football. It’s just reminding me of how blessed I am to be out here and everything that I’ve gone through and all the times I didn’t think I’d get a chance to play again. I’m still out here and strapping up beside my same teammates.
“I’m just happy to be here.”
Missed Senior Day
Unfortunately for ECU, it will be missing one of its most recognizable offensive seniors on the playing field Saturday in wide receiver Quay Johnson.
The Knightdale native has been the team’s starting slot receiver for the past three seasons, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 31-24 overtime loss to Tulane on Saturday.
Johnson will finish his senior season with 47 catches for 464 yards.
“There’s no way that we’ll see him,” Montgomery said of Johnson’s status for the last two games. “I think Quay can continue to play football. I’m more concerned with him being able to get in training form and to have a chance to continue to play.
“Unfortunately, I was just bragging on him the other day because he’s a guy who never misses practice and never misses games, and because of that, we felt like he was going to have a great end to his season.”
Along with the 24 players who are in the process of exhausting their final year or eligibility, ECU will honor juniors offensive lineman Des Barmore, linebacker Joe Carter and offensive lineman Erik Lenzen as they have chosen to graduate and forego their final season.
Cincinnati scouting report
The Pirates (2-8, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) and Bearcats (3-7, 1-5) both come into Saturday’s contest eliminated from bowl contention.
Under the direction of former Ohio State interim head coach and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who’s in his first year with the team, Cincinnati has managed to beat Austin-Peay, Miami (OH) and Tulane.
The Cincinnati offense is ranked last in the AAC, while the Pirates’ defense is also the worst in the league. Quarterback Hayden Moore has started all 10 games this season, throwing 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Running back Gerrid Doaks has rushed for 513 yards and is averaging 5.9 yards per rush.
Cincinnati has beaten ECU the past three seasons since the Pirates entered the AAC, and six games straight overall, but ECU still leads the all-time series 12-8.