ECU alumnus and WWII veteran Nick Zuras is escorted onto the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Nov. 7. Zuras, now 97, conducted the coin toss as part of military appreciation at ECU's football game against the University of South Florida. Zuras was a member of East Carolina's undefeated 1941 football team. (Photo by Rob Goldberg, ECU Athletics Media Relations)

WWII veteran Nick Zuras ’43 conducts coin toss vs. USF

Nov. 9, 2015

By Jackie Drake
For ECU News Services

At 97, World War II veteran and former Pirate tailback Nick Zuras ’43 still remembers as much about tactics for college football as he does about D-Day.

This East Carolina alumnus conducted the coin toss as part of military appreciation at Saturday’s football game against the University of South Florida. In a way, it was his first play on the gridiron since he was a member of the undefeated 1941 team.
ECU alumnus Nick Zuras is pictured with the undefeated 1941 East Carolina football team. Zuras (No. 35) is on the back row, far left. (Photo courtesy of University Archives)

Nicknamed “the Greek,” Zuras helped lead his teammates in a classic single-wing offense to the Pirates' only undefeated season to date before graduating in 1943. He then enlisted in the Navy and went on to storm Omaha Beach in 1944 and fight in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

“Of course I’m excited to come back to ECU,” Zuras said in a recent phone interview from his home in Annapolis, Maryland. “Yes indeed, I had lots of good memories at East Carolina. I got a great education.”

Zuras transferred to East Carolina from High Point College, now High Point University, where he actually played against the Pirates. After attending high school in the Washington, D.C. area, Zuras came to High Point on a football scholarship.

“High Point played ECU the year before I went there, and it was a very good game,” he said. “So I decided to go to East Carolina.”

Eventually, after sending a telegram to the college with his request, Zuras was able to transfer. “I was incredibly fortunate. East Carolina was a godsend,” he said.
Zuras is shown above, left, in a photo from the 1943 East Carolina yearbook and, right, while serving the country during WWII. (Contributed photos)

Zuras majored in physical education with a minor in history. He also had a job in the dining hall to help pay for his education.

“I had some terrific professors who gave me a lot of encouragement. The team was well-schooled and well-coached. I met a lot of wonderful guys, and girls too,” he said.

During the war, Zuras became commander of a rocket boat with a seven-man crew. Crews like Zuras’ were sent ahead of the first wave of Allied troops landing in Normandy to try to destroy German defenses during D-Day, the largest amphibious assault in history.

At the end of the war, Zuras was stationed in Japan. Afterward, he went on to earn his master’s degree at the University of Maryland and taught history and coached football in high schools in Maryland and Virginia.

“ECU helped me become a good teacher,” Zuras said. He added that the education he received at East Carolina “can’t be beat.”