Montgomery-Sirk reunion could give East Carolina a lift

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Coach Scottie Montgomery helped make Thomas Sirk a starting quarterback at Duke. He could do it again at East Carolina.

The surroundings may have changed, but Montgomery and Sirk are together once more. Montgomery enters his second season as the Pirates’ coach while Sirk followed him from Durham to Greenville a few months ago after he lost his starting job with the Blue Devils following a pair of serious injuries.

Now a graduate transfer, Sirk is spending the preseason in a battle for the position with Gardner Minshew. If Sirk wins it, how well he meshes with his new teammates could determine how successful Montgomery’s second season as the Pirates’ coach will be.

Montgomery says Sirk has brought veteran leadership and maturity to the team – as expected from a 23-year-old who’s been through three Achilles tendon injuries, including two since last February that kept him sidelined for the 2016 season and – after it became clear that he wouldn’t reclaim his starting job – led him to transfer.

In 2015, Sirk led Duke in passing (2,624 yards), rushing (809 yards) and rushing touchdowns (eight) and became the school’s first quarterback since 1961 to win a bowl game when he earned co-MVP honors during the Pinstripe Bowl victory over Indiana.

”He’s mature on the field now when I talk to him,” Montgomery said. ”It’s almost as if I’m talking to an NFL player. … There’s a certain level of maturity that has changed.”

He hopes the same goes for the rest of the Pirates after a debut season in which they knocked off instate rival North Carolina State before ending a 3-9 season with nine losses in 10 games with an injury-depleted roster. None of the final eight were closer than 12 points, and none of the final four were closer than three touchdowns.

But that’s in the past, the Pirates are healthier now and Montgomery is confident they have learned from that experience and will avoid a repeat.

”We’re in a good place right now,” he said. ”You’re going to hear me say `vibe’ a lot. Our vibe, our spiritual vibe, the spirit of this team is where it needs to be.”

Here are some things to know about East Carolina for the 2017 season:

KEY PLAYERS: Montgomery has sprinkled several FBS transfers throughout the roster, including a handful from power conferences. In addition to Sirk, he brought in defensive back Tim Irwin (Auburn), running back Tyshon Dye (Clemson), lineman James Dematto (Louisville), defensive end Gaelin Elmore (Minnesota) and punter Austin Barnes (Eastern Michigan).

KEY GAMES: The chip-on-the-shoulder Pirates always seem to get primed to play power-conference opponents, and they’ve got a couple of them on the schedule – at West Virginia in Week 2, then at home against Virginia Tech the following week.

PREDICTION: Win 6, Lose 6.

SEASON OPENER: East Carolina opens Sept. 2 at home against James Madison, the defending champions of the Championship Subdivision.

More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25