Ed Emory grew up with a speech defect so severe, he recalls now, "I couldn't say 'twenty' until I was 22." All through school he was the big, silent, frustrated kid who sat in the corner. About the only place where he didn't feel ashamed was on the football field; in 1959 he made himself into a 210-pound Little All-America lineman for East Carolina College.
Since then, Emory and his alma mater have done some serious achieving. East Carolina gained university status in 1967 and established a medical school in 1979. The next year, when the school ambitiously decided to play more big-time football games, it found someone just as ambitious to be its coach—a now loquacious Emory.
His tenure with the Pirates, much like his speech, has been marked by relentless work and steady improvement. With a 24-11 victory over Temple at Philadelphia's Franklin Field on Saturday, East Carolina ran its record to 5-1, firmed up its burgeoning reputation as one of the top independents in the country and moved closer to getting its first postseason berth since 1978, when it beat up on enough Marshalls and William & Marys to go to the Independence Bowl.
"They don't have a lot of depth, but they have more great players on their squad than any team we've faced this year," said Temple Coach Bruce Arians after the loss. And, remember, the Owls have played Pittsburgh, Penn State and Boston College this season.
Arians had reason to be particularly impressed by Pirate Free Safety Clint Harris, an honorable-mention All-America last year, who returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown, and Wide Receiver Henry Williams, the NCAA's leading kickoff returner, who had a 55-yard punt return for a TD. Harris and Williams both run the 40 in less than 4.3 seconds.
Even though East Carolina was a solid 7-4 last year, it raised some eyebrows in the first game of 1983 when it led highly regarded Florida State most of the way before losing 47-46. Since then, the Pirates have beaten North Carolina State, Murray State, Missouri and Southwest Louisiana, along with Temple, en route to the SI Top 20.
A team with two guys named Quick—Norman and Greg—and one named Speed—Darrell—should be fast, and East Carolina's Option-I offense, led by Quarterback Kevin Ingram, looks as if it could be programmed into a video game. The Pirates' most impressive speed is on the offensive and defensive lines, where every starter can break 5.0 in the 40, a collective feat that is rare even in pro football.
Meshing that speed with strength, East Carolina wins most of its wars in the trenches. Epitomizing the combination is senior Offensive Guard Terry Long, an Outland Trophy candidate whom the Pirates bill as the strongest college football player in the nation. Long shocked everyone in March when he won the North Carolina Powerlifting Championships with a combined 2,203 pounds, the third-highest total ever lifted. Long, who was competing in a powerlifting meet for the first time, had a 501-pound bench press, a squat of 837 pounds and an 865-pound dead lift. At 6 feet, 280 pounds, he also has 4.8 speed and a 34-inch vertical leap. "You just don't see good college defensive linemen getting put on their backs or driven five yards off the line of scrimmage," says Pirate Offensive Coordinator Art Baker. "But that's what Terry does to people."
Emory, who also weighs about 280, is building his Pirates on such pillars. In 1980 he succeeded Pat Dye, now the coach at Auburn, who was 48-18-1 in six seasons at East Carolina. Emory went through a rocky 4-7 that first year but is now 21-18 overall, and there's good reason to believe the best is yet to come.
A native of Lancaster, S.C., the 45-year-old Emory expels his drawl in a succession of quick, intense bursts. He even named the youngest of his six children Battle; "It fits my family's image," he says. Beginning in 1960, he coached North Carolina high school teams for 13 years, amassing an 80-12-4 record before serving as an assistant at Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech.
Although Emory can turn the air an electric blue on the sideline—"You don't go in his direction if you mess up," says one of his players—he's a tireless recruiter who, along with his wife, Nancy, easily charms no-nonsense mothers from North Carolina's rural areas into letting their boys become Pirates.
Emory works so hard because he hasn't forgotten the feeling of failure his speech defect gave him and the amount of effort it took to overcome it. "That's the biggest thing about Ed Emory," he says, fixing his visitor with eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep. "I'm afraid to be a failure. It motivates me more than anything else."
It will take every bit of Emory's drive to get East Carolina into the limelight. Located in Greenville, N.C., a town of 38,000 in the eastern part of the state, it has been the poor cousin in a university system dominated by the bigger institutions in Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
Greenville has had an image problem since 1791, when, during a presidential visit, George Washington described the tavern he had dined in there as "a trifling place." And the question "Where the hell is East Carolina?" has been asked by everyone from newly hired faculty members, who, in search of their place of employment, have mistakenly turned up in Greenville, S.C., to thousands of Missouri fans, who last year at a game in Columbia wore buttons emblazoned with that inquiry. East Carolina left the Southern Conference in 1977 to become an independent and has never had a capacity crowd of 35,000 for a home game at Ficklen Stadium. The Pirates are the only team of North Carolina's five Division 1A teams that's not in the ACC. East Carolina fans would like nothing better than to see their heroes beat the University of North Carolina, and the public is starting to clamor for a rematch between the teams. The Pirates and Tar Heels have played eight times—North Carolina leads the series 6-1-1—but to East Carolina's chagrin, no future meetings are scheduled. The Pirates' 22-16 win on Sept. 10 over N.C. State in Raleigh drew 57,700, the largest football crowd in the state's history.
Being the odd team out in a state that is crazy about college sports tends to breed insecurity, but according to Pirate Strength Coach Mike Gentry, that's healthy. "Our whole team is driven," he says. "Our players have never run with the big boys before, so they overcompensate in the weight room. They're going to make sure they make it."
The most remarkable of these well-muscled specimens is Long. He can dunk and do a running no-hands forward flip. He has a 58-inch chest, a 38-inch waist, 32-inch thighs and a 20-inch neck. Teammates occasionally call him Mr. T, but his open expression and religiousness run counter to the TV character's malevolent appearance.
Long's lack of height worries some pro scouts, but it's likely his strength and sound technique will make him a high draft choice. If a pro career doesn't pan out, Long would love to compete in weightlifting at the 1988 Olympics.
Football hasn't been his major activity for all that long. His father died when he was 15, and young Long worked as a janitor until his senior year at Eau Claire High School in Columbia, S.C. rather than participate in sports. He played part time that season as a 160-pound nose-guard. He remembers he could bench-press 135 pounds when he graduated.
He blossomed physically in the Army, where he started pumping iron three hours a day while he was a paratrooper at Fort Bragg. In his three years in the service he did 60 parachute jumps, defying Galileo, he asserts, by "always being the 14th out of the plane and the first one to hit the ground." He requested, but was denied, permission by Emory to jump into Ficklen Stadium for the Pirates' home opener this year.
Long, 24, says that he began lifting weights in high school. "When I don't lift," he says, "I feel weak mentally. I get irritable. Coming out of the weight room is like coming out of church." Says Gentry, "Terry lifts like someone has just kicked sand in his face."
Williams, the 5'6", 180-pound junior flanker, is in perfect counterpoint to Long. He's the Pirates' comic, with a running routine on the adventures of Roscoe, his pet rat. The last time Williams was home in Tunica, Miss., he says, Roscoe kicked him out of the shower. Williams transferred to East Carolina from Northwest Mississippi Junior College, where he was a member of the national juco championship team. As is his custom, he did a front flip in the end zone a la Gerald Willhite of the Broncos after his TD against Temple.
Emory is hoping Williams will flip himself dizzy in the remaining five games. The Pirates face fifth-ranked Florida in Gainesville this Saturday, and on Nov. 5 meet ninth-ranked Miami. The coach will undoubtedly continue to urge overachievement, but the players don't seem to need much prodding.
"People may still hear 'East Carolina' and think 'small-time,' but that will change because we work so hard," says Harris. "I know one thing. After a game, no one has ever asked me 'Where the hell is East Carolina?' "