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After fleeing Hurricane Florence, East Carolina trying to keep routine in Orlando before USF game

There is nothing normal about the situation East Carolina's football team finds itself in after Hurricane Florence.

The Pirates' last scheduled game (against Virginia Tech) was canceled. After evacuating campus a week ago, they remain sequestered in one of the giant hotels off Orlando's International Drive. As their classmates returned to school Wednesday in Greenville, they were practicing at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex to prepare for Saturday night's game at USF.

But to the players and coaching staff, the abnormal setting is irrelevant. The clichéd business-as-usual approach applies, even after a hurricane dumped more than 8 trillion gallons of rain on their home state and left some players' families displaced.

"We're not seeking any normalcy," Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery said. "What we are seeking is a great start to our conference schedule. That's why we're here right now."

They're also here because they had to go somewhere. Staying in Greenville wasn't an option.

As Florence approached the Carolinas last Tuesday, East Carolina canceled classes. A day later, the university evacuated its residence halls, and the team bussed the 600-plus miles down I-95. No matter what happened in Greenville, the Pirates would be able to play the Bulls in their AAC opener.

"The overwhelming part of it, was that our parents were so relieved that their kids were in a safe place," Montgomery said.

After the storm made landfall Friday morning, players began contacting their families back home. Everyone is safe, Montgomery said, although some have been staying in hotels inland. FaceTime calls have been frequent.

"That brings a greater sense of ease," Montgomery said.

That doesn't' mean they've been completely eased.

At least 27 people have died from the storm in North Carolina. Flooding remains a problem in the Carolinas, where 73 players are from.

"We're all definitely focused on this weekend, but at the same time we've got the eastern part of North Carolina in our hearts…" quarterback Reid Herring said. "We're going to get the W for them."

Since arriving in Orlando, the Pirates have tried to keep everything as routine as possible.

Although they couldn't play last week, they watched USF's 25-19 comeback win over Illinois together. They have study halls, just as they would on campus. Their practices and meetings are the same, too.

"You're just doing it in a different room," right tackle Garrett McGhin said.

The hardest adjustment, the 6-foot-6, 302-pound McGhin said, has been sleeping in a different bed.

If anything positive comes of the situation, it's the possibility of closer bonds on an already tight team. Aside from practice, recovery and meetings, they haven't had much to do other than hang out with each other in the hotel — often watching football.

"We talk about being each other's keeper, am I my brother's keeper?" linebacker Cannon Gibbs said. "We always say, 'Yes, we are.' This is a situation where you can honestly live that out."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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