Dave Doeren's first full recruiting class finished ranked No. 26 nationally in Scout's 2014 recruiting rankings, and that group will be either true seniors or redshirt juniors in 2017. It is also a big reason why there's a lot of optimism around the Wolfpack, and Doeren expanded on that class this week.
"I mean you always hope, you know everyone asks what do you think of your recruiting class, and you really can't answer it until they get on the field for a while, so I would say that was a very good class," he said. "You look at the way these seniors have grown up and developed and not just physically but the maturity they have right now, and the focus and the way they're practicing.
"You know, when you sign a class, you don't sit there and say, 'Well four years from now we're going to be really good.' You worry about the year-to-year from that standpoint, but every class you want to see them develop into the best version of themselves that they can be and that's your goal as the head coach."
While some are redshirt juniors, NC State has 22 overall seniors with the majority being from that class. There are at least seven redshirt junior or senior starters on both sides of the ball... a group that has played a lot of football when you hear names like Jaylen Samuels, Tony Adams, Garrett Bradbury, Will Richardson, Bradley Chubb, Kentavius Street, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, Mike Stevens, Cole Cook, Airius Moore, and Shawn Boone among others.
"It's a lot different, and not to take anything away from other teams, but when you have 22 seniors and a bunch of them are starters that have a lot of valuable game experience, it's just different," said Doeren. "I mean you can't plug that in, and there's a lot invested with those guys."
NC State was able to keep most of those players in the program and developed them through repetition and game experience. They've stayed relatively healthy over the last three years and the approach for that group, and the team, is constant.
"Every rep matters has kind of been what I've been saying to most of these guys," said Doeren. "The number one thing in our program is no underachievement allowed, and so just thinking about how you can impact that game with one rep, and you talk about the national championship and the Super Bowl, watching the basketball games this weekend, I mean every single play is so important. So carrying that understanding that they all have into practice and understand how one rep in practice could really help you moving forward as a player."
Looking back, Doeren seemed to be at a loss for words when asked which of those signees surprised him the most with the progress they made.
"That's a tough one," he said. "I don't know if I can answer that one. There's a lot of them, there's so many seniors in the class.
"You're talking about over a four-year span. Airius was pretty good when he got here... he was pretty developed. Some of these guys have really worked, like Cole Cook and you just look at the body changes in B.J. Hill and Cole Cook, and those guys have really changed from when they've got here. Bradley Chubb was 230 pounds, you know what I mean?"
"Airius looks the same... his body hasn't changed a whole lot. Not that the hasn't worked hard, he's worked his butt off, but those guys have really changed their appearance."
One of those seniors expected to be a major contributor is star tight end/H-back Jaylen Samuels.
The Wolfpack's talented offensive weapon was a breakout star nationally during bowl season when he ripped apart Vanderbilt's defense for three touchdowns in the bowl victory. Samuels looked as if he was playing at a different speed than other players on the field, suggesting he certainly benefit from the multiple weeks off between the final game of the season and the bowl game.
"He played with an ankle for a lot of years, so a fresh Jay Sam's a lot different," Doeren said. "He's playing fast right now, too. He really is.
"We [played Samuels some at tailback] two years ago. Bottom line is the kid needs to touch the ball, so we've got to find ways to guarantee him touches."