NOTES: NC State vs. Ga. Southern

Here are some pregame notes on NC State as the Wolfpack prepares for the season opener against Georgia Southern. Kickoff is set for 12:30, and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.

Youth Movement
NC State had the third-highest percentage of underclassmen on the first day of fall camp of any team in the nation. The Wolfpack had the second-highest number of freshmen (52) on its camp roster (Pitt has 53). The Pack ranks 13th nationally in the number of underclassmen on its two-deep.

Dave Doeren’s squad has just 33 juniors and seniors - the lowest number of upperclassmen for the Wolfpack since 1995.

Super Mario
The only player in ACC history to be selected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft will have his name and jersey number added to the row of legends on the facade of Carter-Finley Stadium during the season opener. End Mario Williams (2003-05) still holds the Wolfpack single-season and career tackle for loss and sack records. His number will be honored and future Pack players who wear No. 9 will also wear a patch commemorating his accomplishments.

Williams has recorded 76.5 sacks in his NFL career, where he now stars for the Buffalo Bills.

Pack Makes Strides Under Doeren
Head coach Dave Doeren fields one of the nation’s youngest teams in 2014, but his second Wolfpack squad boasts greater depth and improved talent at the QB position. His squad has also posted its highest team GPA in at least 15 years, has turned in over 3,100 hours of community service since he arrived on campus and his 2014 signing class was ranked higher than any Wolfpack class in a decade.

Eight Degrees Of Separation
Eight members of the 2014 Wolfpack squad have already earned their degrees from NC State. The Wolfpack ranks among the national leaders in postgrads.

Graduate defensive end Art Norman is in rare company in terms of career sacks. He currently ranks 7th in school history with 17, just 8.5 from tying the school record held by Mario Williams.

Tough Competition
NC State has the distinction of being just one of 20 FBS programs that will face three teams that finished the 2013 campaign ranked in the top 15 nationally. The young Wolfpack will face those three opponents (defending national champion Florida State, Clemson and Louisville) in a four-week span from Sept. 27 to Oct. 18, with two of the contests on the road. Losing Linebackers
The linebacking corps has taken a big hit due to injuries in 2014. In the spring, promising incoming 23-year-old freshman Ty Linton suffered a knee injury. In fall camp, possible starter M.J. Sallahudin also suffered an injury that will keep him sidelined for a while. Coult Culler, another promising incoming player, has also been out due to injury.

The Depth Chart: Digging Deeper

  • The offensive line returns five players who have started multiple games in their careers.

  • This is the Pack’s first year in a 4-2-5 defense.

  • Three true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen could get the start in the opener (OG Tony Adams, WR Bo Hines, DT B.J. Hill).

  • The full depth chart has 17 seniors, 12 juniors, 18 sopho­mores and 17 freshmen.

  • Two seniors will vie for the start at weakside linebacker (Rodman Noel and Brandon Pittman), while two freshmen are listed at MLB (Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore).

  • The Pack’s starting center, starting right guard and starting right tackle are all 300+ lbs. The average weight of the 10 players on the two-deep at o-line is 305.

  • The RB position returns three players with solid game expe­rience from a year ago. Combined, they have played in 66 career contests.

  • The CBs are the youngest position on the field with one ju­nior, three sophomores and two freshmen in the three-deep.

  • The starting placekicker, punter and long snapper are all in their fourth years as starters. Both kickers are on preseason “watch” lists for the national awards for their position, while the long snapper was an All-American last year according to Phil Steele College Football.

  • The three tight ends on the Pack depth chart, Benson Browne, David J. Grinnage and Cole Cook, are all over 6-5.

  • In the six man rotation at defensive tackle, two are seniors (McGill and Teal), one is a sophomore (Nelson) and the rest are redshirt freshmen (Kenton Gibbs) or true freshmen (B.J. Hill and Justin Jones).

  • Four receivers saw valuable playing time as freshmen in 2013: Bra’Lon Cherry, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jumichael Ramos and Johnathon Alston. Two true freshmen (Stephen Louis and Bo Hines) are expected to see meaningful snaps in 2014.

  • The combined number of snaps played at NC State by the three quarterbacks is 28

  • all by backup Garrett Leatham.

  • Freshman quarterback Jalan McClendon has the strongest arm at that position.

  • Five projected starters on offense already have their NC State degrees.

  • Backup wide receiver NaQuan Brown is a senior who walked on who was very impressive in fall camp. Be on the lookout!

    No. 1 In Our Hearts
    Jarvis Byrd never thought he’d still be at NC State by the time the 2014 season rolled around, but three ACL surgeries later, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He has worked his way back up the depth chart at strong safety and is one of the top leaders on the 2014 squad.

    To recognize his commitment, loyalty and his unwavering determination to return to the field, Dave Doeren changed his jersey number to 1 the week before the season

    Super Sade
    Senior placekicker Niklas Sade has already set one NC State career record with 121 career PATs - the 18th-best mark in ACC history. With 43 career field goals, he is seven shy of tying Mike Cofer’s school mark.

    Leaning Left
    The left side of the offensive line should be in sure hands for 2014, as talented veterans Joe Thuney and Rob Crisp return.

    Thuney was Mr. Versatility for the Wolfpack last season, starting games at right guard, right tackle and left tackle. This season, he’s back to his natural position of guard.

    Crisp missed the last 10 games of 2013 but was granted another year of eligibility and is making the most of his opportunity.

    Revving Up The Run
    The Wolfpack rushed for 162.7 yards per game in 2013 - the highest average for a Wolfpack squad since in 16 years (when the 1997 squad rushed for 178.8 yds/game). This year, Dave Doeren and staff expect the run game to be improved, with increased size, depth and experience on the offensive line and three returning backs who have great game experience.

    The three backs each have strengths that make them unique according to their position coach Des Kitchings. Junior Shadrach Thornton is a powerful back, sophomore Matt Dayes is good at catching the ball and in the open field, while graduate Tony Creecy is a combination of both.

    NC State has the unique benefit of having nine ‘un-freshmen’ on its 2014 squad. These nine players graduated from high school early and enrolled in school this past January, going through the entire offseason conditioning program, spring practice and summer workouts with the veterans. Of the eight position players in that group, one (linebacker Ty Linton) suffered a knee injury and will not play this season. Of the remaining seven, three are possible starters for the season opener and two more are listed as backups on the depth chart.

    Keeping Up With The Joneses
    To keep up with the Joneses at NC State, just take a look in the defensive backfield.

    Redshirt junior Hakim Jones is the returning starter at free safety, has played in every game of his career (25) and is the second-leading returning tackler on the squad.

    Redshirt freshman Josh Jones enters the season as the starter at strong safety and will see his first collegiate action against Georgia Southern. He spent his redshirt campaign at linebacker and safety.

    The Wolfpack is one of only two programs in the power five conferences that boasts a placekicker, punter and long snapper who will be starting together for the fourth straight year. Groza Award candidate Niklas Sade, Ray Guy Award candidate Wil Baumann and returning All-American long snapper Scott Thompson all came to NC State together in 2011 and have been the starters at their respective positions since the first game of that season.

    Pump Up The Volume
    In their first few months on campus, football players usually see great changes in their bodies - either bulking up or dropping fat. Members of NC State’s football team have completed reshaped their bodies under the STATE STRENGTH program and with the help of the program’s two full-time nutritionists. However, no changes have been more impressive that those of two of the Pack’s mid-year enrollees.

    Freshman safety Germaine Pratt was listed at 200 pounds when he arrived on campus in January. Now at 230, Pratt is listed behind veteran Hakim Jones at the free safety spot heading into the opener. Freshman B.J. Hill was listed at 262 pounds last season at West Stanly High School. Now he’s listed as the starter at defensive tackle and tips the scale at 300 lbs.

    A Scholly, By Golly
    Dave Doeren says one of the most rewarding things about being a head coach is being able to award scholarships to deserving walkons. This fall, he’s been able to do that four times. Quarterback Garrett Leatham, cornerback Charlie Twitty, linebacker Ernie Robinson, and fullback Devin O’Connor.

    The Wolfpack coaching staff remained mainly in tact after last season, as only cornerbacks coach George Barlow is new in 2014. Barlow came to NC State from Vanderbilt, where he had spent two seasons.

    Pack In The Front Office
    Not only does NC State boast an impressive number of former players on NFL rosters, but the Wolfpack also is becoming a pipeline to the league’s front offices. His Wolfpack teammate, Morocco Brown, who played linebacker from 1994-97, was recently named Vice President of Player Personnel for the Cleveland Browns after spending six seasons as Director of Pro Personnel for the Washington Redskins.

    When Brown left for the Browns, another former State player, Alex Santos (1996-99) took over as the Director of Pro Personnel at Washington after working in the personnel department for seven years.

    Another former ‘Pack linebacker is in charge of the Pro Personnel department in Chicago, as Kevin Turks (1995-98) holds that position with the Bears.

    Several former players are also working as NFL scouts, including John Ritcher (2002-05) with the Cardinals, Harrison Ritcher (2007-09) with the Browns, Darrell Moody (1968-70) with the Bills, and Ray Agnew (1986-89) with the St. Louis Rams.

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