Versatile Newby Emerging As A Vital Blocker

Redshirt sophomore lineman has been critical to NC State's success on offense this season.

Prior to this year, Wolfpack offensive lineman James Newby was best known as an answer to a couple of trivia questions surrounding the NC State program: Who is the NC State player who played at the same high school – Athens High School in Athens, Ala. -- as quarterback Philip Rivers? And who is one of the five Pack players who are married?

Newby shares the same alma mater as Rivers, and the redshirt sophomore is also joined by redshirt sophomore guard/center Leroy Harris, junior wide receiver Brian Clark, redshirt senior offensive guard Rickey Fowler, and redshirt junior wideout Fred Span as Pack players who have tied the knot. Newby and his wife, Lindsay, have been married since before he came to Raleigh to attend NC State.

Starting in spring drills, however, Newby's name began popping up not in conjunction with trivia questions, but as one of the up-and-coming youngsters on the Wolfpack roster. He was tabbed as the Most Improved Offensive Lineman following spring drills, and coach Chuck Amato went out of his way to praise Newby's strong play on a few different occasions. Part of the reason was that, in the span of a year, he gained 14 pounds, reduced his body fat by four percent, increased his bench press by 65 pounds and improved his power clean by 70 pounds.

Now, the 6-5, 281-pounder is listed as the starter at left guard on the Pack's ever-thinning offensive line depth chart – as well as the backup at left tackle and right tackle. He earned his first start at Virginia Tech in the season's third game, playing the first quarter at right tackle, then moving to left tackle for the remainder of the game after Chris Colmer left with an injury. Newby responded by grading out as State's best lineman against the Hokies, recording two knockdowns and one Raleigh Railroad in 60 plays.

He then started at left guard at Maryland and against Miami, after Leroy Harris was shifted to center following Paulsen's injury. In the overtime victory over Wake Forest, Newby lined up at left tackle, left guard and right tackle. When asked if it can be difficult to keep the assignments and positions straight from play-to-play, he offered a chuckle.

"I'm trying to keep it all straight; I'm up to four different positions now," Newby said. "But it helps the line to have guys who can play different positions, and I want to do anything I can to help. It can be hard from play to play if you're moving around, but I've been able to do OK with it."

Newby has done more than OK. After appearing in four games and playing just 30 snaps, with one knockdown, as a redshirt freshman, he has notched eight knockdowns in 302 plays in seven games and four starts this year. Due to injury, he and relatively untested youngsters such as redshirt freshman Jon Holt and redshirt sophomore Jon Holt have been thrust into action by offensive line coach Mike Barry.

"Coach Barry has done a great job rotating us in all year," said Newby. "It's tough, but Luke Lathan has been doing a good job. And Jon has played before, at Virginia Tech, and [starting right guard] John McKeon is working some at center, too."

The center position has become a nightmare for the Wolfpack. After senior offensive captain Jed Paulsen was lost to a severe ankle injury, the Pack had to move Leroy Harris, a Freshman All-American at guard a season ago, to center to take his place. Then, Harris sustained a shoulder injury against Miami that has cast a bleak outlook on his season, and Lathan was called upon to handle snapping duties against the Hurricanes, the third-string center against the third-ranked team in the land.

"It hurts any time you lose someone like Jed," Newby said. "Because not only is he a great player, but he's a great leader, too. But like I said, we have guys like Luke and Jon who can pick it up, and they will."

Despite the rash of injuries that has beset the offensive front, Barry hasn't let his troops panic. In addition to the injuries suffered by Paulsen and Harris, right tackle Derek Morris has a high ankle sprain that will knock him out of action for at least a game. Reserve Merci Falaise has been unavailable much of the year after sustaining a knee injury that forced surgery on Sept. 28. And left tackle Chris Colmer has been nicked up by a series of ailments that have occasionally forced him from games.

Newby said that Barry's calm demeanor has been key to keeping things together up front.

"He is doing great, and I thought he'd be a lot more nervous than he is," said Newby. "He has a lot of people saying a lot of things to him [about injuries], but he just keeps working and finding a way."

Newby hasn't been nervous, either, despite becoming a valuable part of the Wolfpack offensive line in short order. He said that his former high school teammate, Rivers, gave him advice in his first two years, and it helped to have familiar faces in Rivers and his family nearby.

"I haven't spoken to Philip recently because I think he's been a little busy," said Newby with a smile. "But we talked a lot when he was here, and he offered encouragement. And his father was nearby, and he has always been a friend as well."

The Pack has been held under 100 rushing yards just once this season, and has racked up 1,251 rushing yards at a 4.3-yards-per-attempt clip through seven games. Junior T.A. McLendon is second in the conference with 100.6 rushing yards per contest.

The NC State offensive line has taken pride in the fact that, no matter who is playing, it has been able to carve out holes for the running game while protecting quarterback Jay Davis well.

"That's true, but T.A. has a way of making little holes look like big holes," Newby said, chuckling.

Thus far this year, the Wolfpack has answered disappointing losses with big road wins. At Clemson on Saturday, State is charged with turning the same trick, and Newby and his linemates know that a successful outcome will depend largely on their shoulders.

"We have a lot of injuries, but we're going to continue working hard," said Newby, before adding with a grin, "and hopefully T.A. can keep making those little holes look like big ones."

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