In 2004, Stroud coached Mario Williams and Manny Lawson to first-team and second-team All-ACC honors respectively. Williams was just a true sophomore, and Lawson was playing his first season ever at defensive end, after working at outside linebacker his first two seasons for the Wolfpack. Both players return and anchor a defensive line generally regarded as the nation's best.
Lawson, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior from Goldsboro, North Carolina, is noticeably bigger after a strong summer in the weightroom. Stroud never considered his lack of prototypical size to be a problem for Lawson because of his natural athleticism and amazing quickness.
"His size wasn't an issue last year," Stroud said. "He really didn't get knocked around last year. If you play with leverage, there's not much difference between 220 and 240 pounds.
"Manny is at 238 pounds right now, and that's going to be an advantage. At the end of last season he was playing at 218 pounds. It's going to give him a little more power to play with then he had last year."
Stroud served as NC State's strength and conditioning coach for four seasons before being promoted to assistant head coach/defensive line coach in 2004, and he explains why Lawson hasn't been able to put on a lot of weight during his stay at NC State.
"Manny is an ectomorph," Stroud said. "That means he is a lean-physiqued guy with a very small bone structure, but he is tall and athletic. His limb size overcomes his lack of body weight, and he can use that to get more leverage on people.
"When his metabolism does shift, and it might three or four years down the line when he's in the National Football League, he will gain weight very fast."
The lack of weight didn't hamper Lawson's production last year, as he finished with 50 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks and five pass breakups. His signature performance came at Virginia Tech, where Lawson recorded six tackles, three sacks, and two quarterback pressures in the Wolfpack's surprising 17-16 win over the eventual ACC Champions.
Considered the ACC's most athletic lineman, Lawson sports a 4.5 40-yard dash and a vertical jump that is off the charts. He's a nightmare for offensive linemen and when teamed with Mario Williams, they form a lethal tandem.
|'I want him to be able to dominate the game.'|
Williams garned first-team All-ACC honors after posting 57 tackles, 19 quarterback pressures, 15 tackles for loss, six sacks, and two pass breakups. Like Lawson, "Super Mario" also had a signature performance against an ACC foe when he had ten tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and two quarterback pressures against the Florida State Seminoles and St. Louis Rams first-round NFL draft pick Alex Barron.
He enters the season on several "watch" lists for college football's top individual awards in cluding the Lombardi Award, the Bednarik Award, the Walter Camp Award, given to college football's top player, and he has been named preseason National Defensive Player of the Year by Blue Ribbon College Football. Despite the preseason accolades, Stroud wants to see even more from Williams, given his immense natural ability.
"If you are 6'6 and 290 pounds, you ought to dominate a game," Stroud said. "If I was 6'6 and 290 pounds when I played [at Florida State], I'd probably be just retiring right now.
"Mario has been given a great gift, and he has to use his gift. He's just starting to be able to use his gift right now. I want him to be able to dominate the game."
Williams is still maturing as a football player. Standing 6-foot-7 and 290-pounds, Williams continues to grow into a frame that is unmatched on the collegiate level. As his instincts catch up with his physical talents, the sky is the limit for the Wolfpack's heralded junior. Each day he continues to improve as a football player.
"Mario can continue to improve on fundamentals," Stroud said. "Fundamentals and the mental aspect of the game... down-and-distance, reading stances, formations... all of those things will be vital to his ability to improve."
Because NC State has probably the best set of defensive ends in college footall, the reserves rarely receive any mention. Sophomore Ray Brooks would have been the top reserve, but he will miss the 2005 season for undisclosed reasons. However, Stroud still feels that he has a quality pair of backups in Willie Young and Renaldo Moses. "We've got two real good backups in Willie Young and Renaldo Moses," Stroud said. "Willie is a young Manny... that's what he is.
"He's 6'5, and he's around 230 pounds. He has a little different frame than Manny. His twitch probably isn't as fast as his either, as far as top-line speed, but Willie has great football instincts."
Young's arrival at NC State was delayed a year due to academics, and he spent a year prepping at Hargrave Military. He enrolled at NC State in January as a 210-pound defensive end and Young has already gained 20 pounds of muscle since enrolling.
"As a young player Willie has those great football instincts, and he has done a great job for us," said Stroud. "He is a guy that's going to be 260 pounds when he leaves here, and he will be a great player."
|Moses figures to have a bigger role in '05 for the Wolfpack.|
Joining Young as a reserve will be redshirt senior Renaldo Moses. With the emergence of Brooks and Lawson's move to defensive end, Moses received less playing time in 2004, after recording 26 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore. This year the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Moses should get a chance to play more in his final season.
Behind Moses and Young will be a trio of newcomers that Stroud feels have bright futures at NC State.
"Matt Kushner, Quinton Brown, and Littleton Wright are also doing an exceptional job for us right now," he said. "Littleton would be the next guy that I work with after Willie and Renaldo. Physically, he's the next guy that is ready to go.
"I'd like to be able to redshirt all of those guys that we're talking about. That would be the plan."
Wright is a junior college transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College, while Kushner hails from Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholich High School. Brown is an intriguing long-term prospect who was ironically recruited personally by Stroud out of Orlando (Fl.) Edgewater High School. He started at left tackle for Edgewater his final two seasons, but will play defense for the Wolfpack.
"Quinton's moving over from the offensive side of the ball, and he has shown a lot of promise," said Stroud. "He's a 6'6 kid, and when he got here he weighed 226 pounds. He's eating three square meals a day, and he's 244 pounds now. He could grow to be an inside player or stay on the edge. The sky is the limit for him."
When recruiting defensive ends, Stroud stresses the need for speed while also evaluating players who may play elsewhere on the high school level.
"We can look for bigger linebackers that may not be quick enough to play [linebacker] in our scheme, but they have the frame to gain some weight," Stroud said. "We don't put a size limit on our linemen, as far as height. We take the best available players. If they have a little twitch and a propensity to put on some muscle mass and grow, then we are going to recruit them.
"We're just looking for guys that have speed and the quickness to play there for us."
Other players who could eventually figure in the mix might be Martrel Brown and John Amanchuckwu. Both could play defensive tackle or end for the Wolfpack, given the circumstances, because of their athleticism and frames.
With players like Lawson, Williams, Young and Moses at the top of the depth chart, NC State's defensive end position is in great shape for the 2005 season. Coupled with the defensive tackles, Stroud has arguably the top unit in the country.