Tomorrow A Showcase Day For NC State, Fans

ESPN College GameDay analyst Lee Corso eating fried Twinkies at the State Fair. Tom Gugliotta having his jersey honored at the annual Red-White scrimmage.

NC State football making a serious bid to turn the "Big Three" of Miami, Florida and Florida State into a "Big Four" by leaning heavily on 30 players from the Sunshine State to try to pull the upset over the third-ranked Hurricanes.

All those things could happen tomorrow in Raleigh, when a convergence of events combine to make what could be one of the more memorable days in NC State history.

First, the State Fair is in town, ensuring good times to be had by people of all ages – and a spike in sales for brake-pad carriers. Second, NC State will host ESPN's College GameDay in conjunction with welcoming the ‘Canes to town. The GameDay crew – host Chris Fowler and analysts Corso and Kirk Herbstreit -- will come to Raleigh today to tape a segment for Sportscenter that evening, then will host ESPN College GameDay beginning live at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

"I always see [GameDay] happening [on television], but I never thought it would happen at NC State," said senior linebacker Patrick Thomas. "I'm always looking at the TV like, ‘When are they going to come [to NC State]?' It's exciting."

"I think it's great," added coach Chuck Amato. "How many times do you have that opportunity to be front stage from 10:30 in the morning to midnight?

"I think it's a tribute to the league, to Miami for being No. 3 in the country and the fact that they think we have a chance. It's exposure for the city, campus, team and everybody involved."

The key will be for as many Pack faithful as possible to be on hand when GameDay airs both this evening and early tomorrow. Out of all the venues in the land, ESPN chose Raleigh this weekend, and a boisterous showing by Wolfpack fans could help sway the network to send GameDay Raleigh's way again in the future.

Some fans will no doubt head to the State Fair after the GameDay taping, and Amato hopes that they return in time for the "Walk of Champions" at 5:15 p.m. When the Pack program moved into the Murphy Center, the football operations center, Amato started a tradition that involved fans being on hand to welcome the team buses. Cheerleaders and the band were also standing by as the players got off the buses and walked into the building to begin preparations for the contest. Amato hopes that the busy atmosphere on Saturday doesn't affect turnout for the budding tradition.

"It is very important," Amato told the media yesterday. "The athletic department has done a great job of spreading everything out. Get to the Walk of Champions and make these kids' day. You can crank these kids up so much. Then go to … the Red-White Game -- but don't forget to get back for kickoff.

"It's a great thing, and the more the merrier. It means a lot to our kids."

Half an hour later, State supporters will get the first opportunity to watch the 2004-05 version of the Wolfpack men's basketball team. The squad will play two 12-minute halves, and NC State will also honor the jersey of former standout Gugliotta.

"We have a couple of special activities involved with this year's annual Red-White Game," said coach Herb Sendek. "First, we're going to bring Tommy Gugliotta home, certainly one of the all-time great Wolfpack players … who has had a tremendous NBA career. And we're going to put his numbers up in the rafters where they belong, where they deserve to be.

"In addition to that, we're fortunate and blessed to have two legendary coaches [Jim Valvano and Norm Sloan] who are no longer with us, but we also are going to honor them in a special way. First, we're going to help raise some money for the V Foundation by shooting free throws, and we're also going to raise some proceeds for the Norm Sloan Scholarship Fund by also shooting free throws. So fans will have a chance to make a pledge on the main concourse during the game and they can also log onto"

The Wolfpack players are eager to play in front of the crowd at the RBC Center once again, especially junior Tony Bethel, who had to sit out last year as a transfer from Georgetown.

"I can't wait," said Bethel. "I don't want to be too excited, I want to take my time. But I'm very excited."

"I had that feeling when I was out for my ACL," said senior forward Levi Watkins, a friend of Bethel's since childhood. "I couldn't wait to come back to play. And I know how competitive Tony is and how much he loves the game, so sitting out that year, it's only going to add to this game. So I know he's going to be ready to play come Saturday."

"I remember last year was my first time being in there and it was really fun," recalled sophomore guard Engin Atsur. "I'm sure this year is going to be a good experience again, and we're going to meet the fans again. It's really exciting, and we're going to try our best, even though we've just practiced for a week."

With so much going on, one wonders if it could affect the Pack football team's preparation. After all, the normally quiet area around the NC State practice fields has been bustling with traffic buzzing by, people milling around and noise from the nearby State Fair. However, with the arrival of the Hurricanes, the Wolfpack players aren't about to let anything affect their focus.

"It's not just about guys from Florida; it's the No. 2 team [in the BCS] in the country," said junior linebacker Oliver Hoyte. "You can't help but be up for that game. With the No. 2 team in the country, everybody is up to the challenge. They're a great team with great athletes, and we think we're a great team with great athletes. So we're ready to play Saturday.

"I don't want to say it's a distraction, but there will be a lot of stuff going on. So we just have to stay focused and get the job done."

It's going to be a long, action-packed day for State fans as well. The State Fair, ESPN College GameDay, the Red-White Game and an NC State-Miami matchup likely won't ever come together again on the same day in Raleigh, so Wolfpack fans need to take advantage of the opportunity to give the school and the respective programs the great exposure they deserve. So bring your coffee, your lungs, your spirits and your school spirit tomorrow to Carter-Finley Stadium and the RBC Center, and make the most of what could be one of the most storied Saturdays in Pack annals.

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