A Sign Of Growth

It simply would not be NC State football if there had not been some controversy or rotten luck.

The Belk Bowl berth that seemed within reach fell by the wayside. Wolfpack fans have certainly felt the ebbs and flows over the years that come with supporting its school but this season has been as unique and contrasting as they come.

It must been one of the most gratifying moments in Dave Doeren’s coaching career when he watched his young team destroy the North Carolina Tar Heels on the road to close out the regular season. Putting the bitter rivalry aside—which is not easy to do—the Wolfpack’s romp in Chapel Hill had several ramifications.

Doeren has pointed out on several occasions that the program is headed in the right direction and he did so again after the victory in Kenan Stadium. The way NC State defeated the Tar Heels, with a remarkable rushing attack, dominance on from both sets of lines and hard hitting on defense, was enough to give pause to at least some of the second-year coach’s harsher critics.

Postgame speeches have been an adventure for Doeren while at NC State, with his ill-fated remarks after the home loss to Boston College being the nadir of his exchanges with the press corps. He has tended to blurt out things in the heat of the moment on Saturdays. Doeren can be a quote-machine at times, and that has gotten him in trouble.

After the win over North Carolina, Doeren spoke about the type of team he wanted to have. With a khaki pants barb at UNC, along with some agriculture, manufacturing and engineering statements regarding NC State, he not only embraced the type of fans and alumni that the University is comprised of, he also effectively neutralized the stereotypes that State’s rivals have used to ridicule the school with over the years. The jokes about farming and such seem trivial when those being picked on in fact are quite proud of who they are.

Looking at the work Doeren and his staff has done on the recruiting trail over the past two seasons it is easy to be impressed. Players like Darian Roseboro, Emanuel McGirt, Reggie Gallaspy and Quentez Johnson, among others, had the talent to attend schools in the SEC, and were courted by local rivals, but picked NC State instead.

In Gallaspy’s case, the star tailback actually signed scholarship papers before Doeren had won an ACC game. The trust the NC State staff has established among high school coaches, particularly those within state, has been remarkable and the momentum is building. It is hard not to wonder what type of high school players the staff can attract if the Wolfpack was to reach double-digits in victories, compete for conference titles and earn major bowl bids.

NC State’s 2014 recruiting class was ranked No. 26 in the nation by Scout, with only Florida State and Miami ahead of the Pack among ACC schools. The incoming class for 2015 will not be ranked as high and several ACC schools will rank above the Wolfpack but that should be kept in perspective.

State will not have nearly as deep of a class next season as the incoming freshmen who enrolled this year. The quality of the 2015 class is what is setting it apart with the likes of Roseboro and such. The walloping of the Tar Heels to close out the regular season caught the attention of high school kids for future classes as well.

Doeren forfeited a chance to coach in the Orange Bowl when he was hired by NC State, which ironically would be the postseason game the Wolfpack would most likely play in if the team was to win its first ACC title since 1979. State was 7-5 in 2012 when he was lured away from Northern Illinois and in only two seasons he has returned the Pack to that level, with prospects for growth looking good.

It is easy to rue the developments that led NC State to the Bitcoin Bowl in St. Petersburg instead of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte that most fans coveted. A trip to the Queen City, fertile ground for blue-chip high school athletes, against Georgia, a school that like others in the SEC has made incursions into North Carolina for recruits in the past, presented the Wolfpack with a golden opportunity.

Yet there are chances for growth with the first bowl game of Doeren’s tenure at NC State. After the Wolfpack thrashed South Florida in Tampa back in September, Doeren spoke of how Florida was a state that he planned to visit often on the recruiting trail and he reiterated that on Sunday at the teleconference to announce the bowl berth. With 12 players from the Sunshine State, the Pack has a sizable contingent that will make a homecoming for the holidays and a primetime game to show kids in area that ACC football in Carter-Finley Stadium will be exciting over the next few years.

Given the winless season in league play last year, along with the wild swings of winning and losing streaks that have marked this campaign, the blowout victories at the end of the regular season probably brought some relief to Doeren and his staff. There will be work for the Wolfpack to do at Tropicana Field on December 26 against Central Florida and the time building up to the bowl game will also be beneficial for the future.

NC State football has made an important step.

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