A former quarterback at West Virginia (1979-82), Cignetti has also coached at Pittsburgh, Davidson, Rice, Temple and Pittsburgh, and he has worked with six players who have gone on to NFL careers during his time as an assistant. His father, Frank, is the coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his brother, Frank, Jr., is the offensive coordinator at Fresno State.
We caught up with Cignetti in the days after Signing Day to hear his assessment of the Pack's Class of 2005. The never-ending recruiting process admittedly took its toll on the Cignetti, but his weariness was tempered with a belief that the Wolfpack once again struck gold on the recruiting trails.
As recruiting coordinator, you have helped NC State bring in highly ranked classes every year under coach Chuck Amato. Looking at the Class of 2005 as a whole, how do you feel about this year's group of new Wolfpackers?
I think we feel real good about his class and the way it turned out. It was a great team effort and everyone contributed and rose to the occasion – even though we were a couple of coaches down.
Linemen were a big priority because we were short on linemen, and that showed up last season. The lack of quality depth, in the middle part and end of our season, with injures, really affected us offensively. We were going to take all the linemen that met our standard, and I think we did job accomplishing that goal.
Every year, Amato talks about "putting a fence up" around the state of North Carolina. This year, you brought in 10 more kids from this state, including several of North Carolina's very best prospects. How crucial is it to the Pack's efforts to continue reeling in the top players from your backyard?
Well, I think no matter where you are, it all begins in your own state, because homegrown talent is always going to take a look at you. We have to put a product out there that is impressive to all the in-state kids. And while we've made and scored some big hits in recruiting, you can always improve. That will be our goal next year.
When he was hired as State's new offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman repeatedly mentioned that, in doing research on college football, he heard terrific praise for Amato and the Wolfpack from around the coaching community. Amato reiterated that on Signing Day, saying that the national perception of NC State is through the roof at this point. How has that helped the recruiting job that you and the rest of the staff have been able to do?
The university has made a huge commitment in football -- and everyone recognized that -- through facilities. And we've been successful over a five-year period and gotten good national exposure, so we feel real good about what's transpired in the past. Right now, our focus is just to take the program to the next step.
The Pack made huge in-roads in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago when three of that state's best players – quarterback Marcus Stone, defensive end Raymond Brooks and tailback Darrell Blackman – signed with the Wolfpack. Four more recruits from the Keystone State signed with NC State this year. To what do you attribute the success in that area?
Greg Williams is from Pennsylvania and so is Chuck, who is from the Allentown-Bethlehem area. Greg has taken over that eastern part of the state and done a real nice job for us. Every year, the numbers continue to grow from that state.
In mid-January, State reeled in nine verbal commitments in a three- or four-day span. Tailback Toney Baker was the biggest name of the bunch, but how big of a boost did that stretch give to the Wolfpack recruiting season?
That certainly was a big weekend, and we had a pretty strong indication that Toney was going to come with us. We also picked up a couple prior to that, with Geron James. Then Toney committed, and then we had six or seven more from the weekend, with Curtis Crouch, J.C. Neal, to just mention a couple. And that kind of put us on track.
The only quarterback that the Pack signed in the Class of 2005 is Mike Greco of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Lighthouse Point, Fla. At 6-3, 199 pounds, he boasts terrific athleticism, but his passing numbers weren't overwhelming on the high school level. What did the staff see in Greco to make him a priority in recruiting?
He came to our camp in the summer and he impressed all the coaches. He was a tremendous athlete who also displayed good throwing ability. His high school offense didn't play as a real strong team and was not an offense that featured the pass. So there will probably be some learning initially for him, but we'll give him a look and assess where he is. I think he's got a real good future with us.
Amato mentioned that players like Toney Baker and Andre Brown have the confidence to come to NC State and compete despite the presence of other backs like Darrell Blackman, Reggie Davis and Bobby Washington. What does it say about those two young men that they still chose to run with the Wolfpack at a loaded position like tailback?
Great players who are confident in their abilities don't care who's already there. That was the case with these two individuals, and we're really happy to have both of them.
For the third year in a row, State landed the top player in North Carolina, with Baker joining defensive tackle DeMario Pressley last year and defensive end Mario Williams the year before. What kind of feather is it in the Pack's cap that you have been able to sign such high-profile student-athletes within the state?
That's everyone's goals, and we've been fortunate to have that happen. It takes a lot of team effort to make it happen. The university has made a big commitment to upgrade, and that's been reflected in the top kids wanting to come here.
So much was made of the Wolfpack being down three assistants for most of the recruiting process, after defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Doc Holliday and offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Noel Mazzone all departed Raleigh. Many felt as if working with six assistants instead of the usual nine would hamper the Pack's recruiting efforts, but all indications are that State brought in another stellar class. What does it tell you about the NC State operation that it was able to overcome the disadvantage of being short-staffed?
I just think everyone rose to the occasion. You can only put seven on the road anyhow, but that just meant we were all out every week. And we knew we'd have to be covering other territory at times.
And to some degree, our backs were against the wall – but, you know, a lot of times that's when people are at their best.
This article appears in the March 2005 edition of Pack Pride magazine.