PLAYERS TO WATCH:
#97 Defensive End Michale Spicer (6-3, 260, Sr.)- Spicer's considered the Catamount's best player, Southern Conference preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and a pre-season All-American by several publications. As a junior, he registered 11 sacks, 53 tackles, and 26 tackles for loss, breaking the Western Carolina single-season record for TFL. Michale is looking to make a name for himself this season as NFL scouts have taken notice of the Senior Defensive End. NOTE: Spicer has been termed "probable" for the N.C. State game with an ankle injury according to the Western Carolina Sports Department.
#74 Offensive Guard Jason Whaley (6-3, 275, Jr.)- As a sophomore, Whaley earned second-team All-Southern Conference Honors and enters his junior year with preseason first team All-American status (Street & Smith's) and preseason first-team All-Southern Conference mentioning. He's an athletic offensive guard who's also a star in the classroom, posting a 3.91 GPA in Computer Information Systems.
#75 Defensive End Nick McNeil (6-3, 245, Sr.)- The Catamounts have the most dominating Defensive End tandem in the Southern Conference, as the aforementioned Michale Spicer's joined by Senior Nick McNeil. McNeil's a two-time 2nd team All-Southern conference selection and preseason First-Team pick in his final year. Last year he tallied 77 tackles and 5 fumble recoveries after leading Western in sacks his sophomore season.
#7 Linebacker Rod Dunlap (6-2, 235, Sr.)- A 2nd team All-Conference pick last year, Rod Dunlap's considered by most to be the leader of the defensive from his linebacker position. He led the Catamounts with 101 tackles as a junior, adding 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. In his final year, Dunlap's a preseason first-team all-conference pick.
#6 Quarterback Brian Gaither (6-3, 220, Sr.)- Despite only being a part-time starter the past two seasons at Western Carolina, Quarterback Brian Gaither is the top returning passer in the Southern Conference, passing for 1,411 yards and 5 touchdowns. Gaither's a preseason second-team all-Southern pick who will be instrumental this year for the Catamounts.
#8 Lamont Seward (5-11, 200, Sr.)- It's time for Lamont Seward to step up and replace three-time All-Southern Conference pick Michael Banks. Seward's career at Western started on a high note, with him being named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 after amassing 1,000 receiving yards. A preseason second team All-Southern pick, Seward should be Gaither's #1 target on Saturday and will likely meet "The Blanket," Wolfpack Defensive Back Lamont Reid, early and often.
EXPERIENCE A STRENGTH FOR CATAMOUNTS: Western Carolina enters the 2003 season with 19 seniors, up from 13 in 2002. Counting part-time QB starter Brian Gaither, the Catamounts return a total of 15 starters (8 Offense, 7 Defense). On special teams, PK Chris Vought and P Stanton Horne return for their third seasons as starters.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN THE CATAMOUNTS HAVE THE BALL: A passing game that will attempt to mix in the run. In 2002, the Catamounts led the Southern Conference in passing with 243.5 yards per game, a total which ranked 26th nationally in Division 1-AA. With that being said, Western managed a mere 127 yards on the ground and must improve on that statistic this year in order to have more success.
QB Brian Gaither takes over for the Catamounts this season after being a part-time starter last year. He'll try to strike quickly against the Wolfpack to his favorite target, WR Lamont Seward. Expect NC State's Lamont Reid to shadow Steward all day long, as he's quickly becoming one of the conference's best Defensive Backs.
RB Manny DeShauteurs paced the Cats last year with 606 yards on the ground and the senior's back to improve the rushing attack in his final year. With three offensive line starters back (led by Whaley) on the Offensive Line, a running game could at least keep Catamounts in the game this weekend for some period of time. The Wolfpack's defensive front is very young and a good running game could be what it takes to move the ball against the fast, athletic NC State defense.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN THE WOLFPACK HAS THE BALL: Look for NC State to come out early and try to end it…quick. If Jerricho Cotchery's healthy, Philip Rivers will have his full arsenal of weapons and he will try to attack the Western defense early and often. Then T.A. McClendon will begin to do his thing on the ground and it could be a long day for the Cats.
However, the Catamount defense has some weapons, led by an outstanding pair of Defensive Ends. Spicer and McNeil are expected to have huge seasons, but against Linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Colmer look for them to be neutralized. Dunlap at linebacker's a playmaker, but it's asking too much of him to lead this defense against the high-powered Wolfpack offense. Expect WRs Cotchery, Richard Washington, Sterling Hicks, and Tramain Hall to all have big days against a small Western Carolina secondary.
The game will be won on this side of the ball, as the Wolfpack offense will prove to be too strong for the out-manned Catamount defense.