True freshmen Dwayne Maddox and Dominique Ellis are listed as the reserves at weakside linebacker and cornerback respectively, but the two in-state products enrolled in January and made plays all spring. Maddox and Ellis making the organizational chart wasn't much of a surprise, at least not as surprising as it was to see Sterling Lucas listed as the No. 2 middle linebacker and T.J. Graham at punt returner.
Lucas flew under the recruiting radar before blowing up at the 2007 Shrine Bowl where he was named defensive MVP for South Carolina. He would earn offers from NC State, UNC, South Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest and Michigan State before eventually inking with the Wolfpack.
Extremely productive, Lucas totaled 161 tackles and five sacks as a senior at Orangeburg (SC) Wilkinson High School, and he was tabbed the No. 23 middle linebacker prospect in the country by Scout.com.
"It's going real good for me," said Lucas. "I'm learning a lot and trying to make plays. I feel like I did well in the scrimmages, but there's always room for improvement. The coaches evaluate the film and tell me what I did good and what I need to improve on. We build on that."
Starting in front of Lucas at middle linebacker is Ray Michel, and the redshirt junior speaks highly of the talented newcomer.
"Sterling Lucas is there with me now," said Michel. "He's doing good... he's good. He came in early, and he's really getting to know the plays. He came in and took a different attitude towards the game. He got into his playbook and worked hard right away."
"I have my coaches here, a lot of players here helping me to adapt," Lucas stated. "I'm adapting real well at 'MIKE.' The coaches are helping me and the players that have some experience at he position are helping me out... guys like Nate Irving and Ray Michel."
What has been the biggest challenge for Lucas?
"In college it's a lot faster than high school," he said. "Everything is moving faster, but the coaches are helping me adapt. I'm getting in the plays and reading the keys. It's going good for me."
Speaking of fast, T.J. Graham might be the fastest player on NC State's roster. Hailing from Raleigh (NC) Wakefield High School, Graham is one of the top sprinters in the country, and that type of speed may be used this season in the Wolfpack's return game and in the slot at wide receiver.
"It's been a different experience, but I love it," said Graham. "It's a challenge. It's really hard, but it's competive... I like challenges.
"It's a much different level from high school. There's a different feel. There is more to it than learning the routes. You learn the route, you perfect it, and then you take it to the next level by making plays. Then you add in it's not high school. All of these guys can play... you're not lining up against a guy who may be playing football for the last time."
Graham has been busy in practice. While taking as many reps as possible at wide receiver, he has also been shagging punts and kickoffs in hopes of landing one of the starting returner positions. With Jamelle Eugene's injury, Graham now slides up to the No. 1 position at punt returner, and he also could factor in at kick returner.
As it stands now, both Graham and Lucas are unsure if they will be playing against South Carolina, but they expect to be ready.
"I've been taking reps, but other than that I don't know much about playing this year," said Graham. "So far, I don't know much about playing. I'm just going to practice and playing hard. When we line up for the bus to South Carolina, I guess we'll find out the real deal then. Until then, I don't really know. I have been working hard and doing everything I'm supposed to do. I've been competing."
"That will be up to the coaches," said Lucas. "I would like to play, but that is their final decision."
Aside from football, both say they are enjoying their time in Raleigh and the life of a college freshman.
"It's a different experience," said Graham. "I just finished up summer school with a 3.0 GPA so I'm starting off on the right foot. School is a lot different. You've got to take it a lot more serious. There aren't shortcuts. You do what you're suppose to do and get it done. Socially, I'm not a very social person. I'm social, but school comes first, football... family, and friends."
"It's been great," said Lucas. "We have academic coordinators and the support staff to help make sure we stay ahead with our grades, and school has been fun. I hang out with all of the freshmen and the linebackers... guys like Nate Irving. We all hang out."