The true freshman wide receiver had two scoring grabs called back due to procedural penalties at Clemson last week, leading to two celebrations that went for naught.
"It hurt because those were my first two touchdowns, but I'm going to bounce back," said Dunlap. "I was a little hurt, but all it will do is just make me work harder. It'll just make me go out there on the field and lay it out again."
The 6-3, 225-pounder is quickly becoming one of the rising young stars on the NC State offense, so don't expect the temporary setbacks against the Tigers to slow him down. He played a season-best 49 snaps at Death Valley, and with junior wideout Richard Washington out with a knee sprain, that role is likely to increase.
Washington leads the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (348), and is tied for tops on the squad with two touchdown grabs. He also has 133 rushing yards on the campaign. However, coach Chuck Amato said that the fact that the Wolfpack uses so many different receiving targets – six players have at least 10 receptions this year – and a number of promising youngsters should help alleviate the loss.
"Everybody has to step up. Thank goodness we spread the ball all over the field to so many receivers," said Amato. "He's an impact player, and somebody else has a chance to show the other team that they can be an impact player in this league."
Dunlap is quickly showing that potential. He has two 30-yard-plus catches on the season, with four grabs for 77 yards in all. Displaying an impressive blend of size, speed and elusiveness, he has 46 yards after the catch on those four receptions.
His gradual improvement, in part due to assistance from older receivers, has led to more and more playing time. After Tuesday's practice, redshirt junior Tramain Hall and Washington interrupted a question to tell Dunlap that he made a "rookie mistake" by accepting an interview before his post-practice work was done. Redshirt junior Sterling Hicks came by to mock Dunlap for meeting with the media as a freshman.
"They're all helping me out with all the plays and stuff, making sure I know everything, making sure I'm aligned right," said Dunlap. "They've just been helping me out throughout the whole process.
"I think, from the first day, I've been working hard and working hard. Now the coaches are giving me the opportunities to go out and make plays, and I'm taking advantage of them."
He has been wearing No. 82, the number worn by former Pack standout Jerricho Cotchery, and admits that "those are big shoes to fill." Like Cotchery, he has made a name for himself early on with blocking downfield (four knockdown blocks) and on special teams, where he ranks second on the team with six tackles.
"Blocking is more valuable than catching," said Dunlap. "The route-running is the easy part, so to go out there and get the blocking done … If you can do that, you'll be OK."
Dunlap was the object of a fierce recruiting battle as a senior at Chaminade-Madonna in Hollywood, Fla. In the end, he and teammate tight end Octavius Darby elected to run with the Wolfpack, shocking many in the area who assumed they would wind up as Hurricanes. That backdrop made the recent Pack-‘Canes matchup even more special for Dunlap.
"I have two [former] teammates that play down there, Jon Beason and Glenn Cook, so it just felt good playing against them and knowing I was going against my hometown and some of the coaches who recruited me," Dunlap said. "That was a good learning experience, and I had a heck of a time with it, but it's sad we lost.
"I'm happy here. All along I've been happy with [the decision]."
He's also happy playing wide receiver. With his size and obvious athletic skills, Dunlap was targeted as a linebacker by many on the recruiting trails. His early success at wide receiver may have put those plans on hold, but is that a temporary or permanent situation?
"I'm not worried about that. I'm just doing whatever I can do to help the team out," Dunlap said. "I don't really want to play linebacker, but if, in time, that can help the team, I'll make that sacrifice."