Dantonio Burnette, who is in his first season as Director of Strength & Conditioning at NC State, was a former star linebacker for the Wolfpack. A first-team All-ACC pick in 2002, Burnette was a team captain as a senior so he certainly values leadership.
Offensively, one player he singled out was sophomore quarterback Jalan McClendon when talking leadership.
"Jalan McClendon has taken a step forward," said Burnette. "It's crazy. When Jacoby Brissett was here, he was almost okay with just sitting back and letting Jacoby do his thing. But, as we got to the end of the year, the end of the season we started pushing Jalan forward... him and Jakobi [Meyers]. We told Jalan, 'You need to step up, you're going to be the next leader here.'
"He's taken it to a whole another level. He organizes a lot of stuff that they do together as a team. It's amazing just to see him step forward. He tells the offensive linemen to get up front. That's amazing."
McClendon isn't the Wolfpack's only leader on offense.
"Gavin Locklear is a phenomenal leader for us," said Burnette. "He's a former walk-on that works his butt off. He is one of the hardest working guys on the team. Steph Louis is another, and of course Jaylen Samuels."
Junior Jaylen Samuels is coming off a breakout 2015 season where he was named first-team All-ACC at tight end. A versatile weapon, Samuels also gets it done in the weight room where he power cleans over 340 pounds with a 530+ pound squat.
"He's just a natural athlete," Burnette said of Samuels. "He's quiet, very low key, but you put him in the weight room and you see him throw weight around. He moves weight. His moves are very efficient, just like when you step on the field, everything is smooth and efficient. It's the same thing in the weight room.
"Jay Sam... he's a do-it-all, especially on the field. He's a tight end, a running back, a fullback. He squats... I think he's a 530, 540-pound squatter as well. He's really strong... just moves weight around."
NC State's group of tailbacks are squatting at or above 500 pounds and that has been a point of emphasis.
"That was my thing, seeing guy's legs get stronger. A majority of our running backs squat over 500 pounds with full depth also. We don't do quarter squats or half squats. We do full depth coming up out of the bottom. It really translates over to their vertical jumps going up also."
The wide receiver group features plenty of skill talent, including dynamic track standout Nyheim Hines. Hines was named freshman All-American in 2015 as a returner, and late in the year he started to become an even bigger factor on offense. This spring he ran a 10.42 100 at the ACC Championships, and his 4.01 pro agility is currently tied for second-best on the football team.
For Burnette, the Wolfpack was looking to ease him back into the mix this summer, and he believes Hines is just scratching the surface as a playmaker.
"Nyheim is one of those gifted athletes you're blessed to be able to coach," said Burnette. "With football and track he really hadn't had a break since he got on campus. After track was over he was right back with football and hit the ground rolling. You love guys like him because they pick things up so fast and work so hard. He's going to always be in great shape, and it's never a situation where he won't be prepared.
"Like I said, he's very gifted. He's a player that you just polish up some because he has God-given ability and can make coaches look good."
Another player Burnette is high on is wide receiver Stephen Louis. The sophomore redshirted last season which led to him spending a lot of time with the strength and conditioning staff.
"Steph is one of the hardest working guys on our team," said Burnette. "He puts in so much extra work and is a driven guy. He was out last season because of shoulder surgery, and he is hungry. Like I said, he's very driven. He's now bigger, faster, and stronger.
"The thing about Steph is guys on both sides of the ball highly respect him because of his work ethic. I believe they also feel like he's going to have a big year for us because he brings it everyday. He works hard and gives you everything he has. That is a testament to his character and work ethic. Steph is another one of our leaders in here."
Several of the Wolfpack's offensive linemen have made notable gains in the weight room.
"Garrett Bradbury has done a great job of taking on a leadership role with that group," said Burnette. "He worked really hard this offseason. I think he's going to be a special football player. Tyler Jones took a big step forward. He got a whole lot stronger this off season, which was one of his goals was to get stronger. Peter Daniel, one of our walk-ons, is another. He has made unbelievable strides since he first got here, and I always root for guys like that because the walk-ons are paying their own way and putting in so much hard work.
"I'm excited to see those guys who recently moved from the defensive line to the offensive line. Coult [Culler] is almost 295 pounds. I think he was pretty almost 260-something at one point... 268. We have guys moving in the right direction, they're getting bigger."
One of the newcomers working with Burnette is South Alabama transfer Joseph Scelfo. A grad transfer with one year of eligibility remaining, Scelfo is projected to start at center after being named first-team all-conference in 2015 at South Alabama. A team captain for the Jaguars, Scelfo is eager to be a leader for the Wolfpack, but this summer was a huge adjustment for him.
"When Joe first got here, he said a lot of the stuff we were doing, he had never done before," said Burnette. "He would say, 'Coach, I want to lead, but I'm just trying to figure out how to lead because I'm trying to learn also and these guys have been doing this stuff for a long time.' We would go out and do our conditioning, like 110s, and he talked about he'd never ran that much. He'd be puking all over the place but within two weeks he started to catch up and get up to speed with what everyone else was doing. I just saw the light switch turn on in him from being the guy that was worried about maybe someone thinking he is this or that because he came from South Alabama.
"I told him, 'Just do what you do. We both... we're undersized guys, but we're hard working dudes. Just do what you do.' He did that, and it was so exciting to see him when we went through our testing week. He was so excited and jacked up because he saw a lot of his numbers change. He talked about how he'd never felt this good in his life... his body felt good. He said he felt like he was in the best shape of his life. He said to me, 'I'm so glad you pushed me.' He really worked hard."
Burnette knows it all starts up front for the offense and one of his jobs has been working with developing and re-shaping the bodies of the Wolfpack offensive linemen. Under Doeren NC State has targeted offensive line prospects with long, lean frames and room for growth over heavy prospects who need to shed a lot of weight.
"When I see a big long, long 6'4'', 6'5'' guy that has a seven-foot wingspan but the guy is maybe 250 or 260 pounds, I'm like, 'Thank you Jesus,'" he said, laughing. "I look at that as if it's Christmas. That lets me know that I don't have to worry about him missing a training phase. If he's too big when he comes in, we have to melt him down and lose all this weight. If you're losing weight, it's going to be hard to get stronger too so you don't have to worry about that with those guys.
"If I get a guy with that frame right away, we can bring him in here, get him stronger, get him on a really good nutrition plan. We can help him understand recovery, educate him on why we are doing what we're doing. That's amazing to see those guys bodies change over time. It's a pretty unique thing to see."
How does Burnette feel about not just the offense, but the entire team heading into fall camp?
"I cannot wait for this season to see them go out there and perform," he said. "Once again, not only have they developed on the football field but mentally their mindset has changed. I believe that they feel like they can do anything... they can conquer the world which is a great thing. I'm excited. I'm real excited about it."