Notebook: State Opens at USC

NC State opens the season tonight with a road game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

The series with South Carolina is one of the oldest in the history of NC State football. The two teams met for the first time in 1900, with the Pack losing 17-5 in Columbia. The two teams faced each other four times in the first decade of the 20th century, then played each season from 1923-35.

The two schools were both charter members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was founded in 1953. The Wolfpack and the Gamecocks met on the gridiron every year from 1956 - 91 (with the exception of the 1967 season), even though South Carolina left the ACC in 1971.

The last time the teams played was on September 4, 1999, in what was former Wolfpack head coach Lou Holtz's first game at the helm of the Gamecock program.

NC State won that game that was played in the driving rains of Hurricane Dennis, 10-0, at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State holds a slight advantage in the series - 26-24-4, and posts a 10-3-1 mark over the Gamecocks in Carter-Finley Stadium.

Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson will start at quarterback for NC State in the 2008 season opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C, head coach Tom O'Brien announced on August 22.

Russell Wilson

Wilson, from Richmond, Va., will be just the third Wolfpack signal caller since 1971 to start as a freshman in his first collegiate game. He is also just the eighth freshman quarterback to start a game over that time frame.

"As I've said from the beginning, the decision would be made on who we feel gives us the best opportunity to win the football game, and right now we feel Russell Wilson will do that," said O'Brien. "He will be our starter as we go but we certainly feel that Daniel [Evans] has some things he can contribute to this football team, as well. Russell is the starter and Daniel is the backup, but as Daniel knows he is one play away from being the starter."

Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson didn't have much of an ‘off' season. Wilson spent the spring and summer competing with the NC State baseball team, which advanced to the Super Regionals of the NCAA tournament. During the five weeks of spring practice and the multiple weeks of 6 am winter workouts, Wilson went through all of the football drills with his gridiron teammates, then spent the rest of his time practicing and competing with the baseball team. On April 12, he threw for 172 yards and three touchdowns in a long, physical scrimmage, then was in uniform at Doak Field for a baseball game that night.

Wilson, who plays second base in baseball isn't the first be the first NC State player to excel in football and baseball. Terry Harvey set career records for passing yards and total offense (which have since been broken) in the early 90s, while also adding career records for pitching wins, innings pitched and games started on the baseball diamond.

When Russell Wilson makes his first career start against South Carolina, he will be the fifth quarterback in the last five seasons to start a game for NC State. Prior to that run starting in 2004, Philip Rivers started an NCAA-record 51 straight games from 2000-03.

Dating back to 1971, NC State has had 22 different quarterbacks start games, but only three (Harrison Beck, Terry Harvey and Kevin Scanlon) has made their first start on the road. Harvey (who ALSO played NC State baseball) was the only one of the three to win his start.

NC State quarterbacks are 11-10-1 in their first career starts.

NC State returns its leading rusher from last season: Jamelle Eugene.

Andre Brown

NC State returns its leading rusher from the season before that: Toney Baker. AND NC State returns its leading rusher from the season before that: Andre Brown.

Senior Andre Brown, redshirt junior Toney Baker and junior Jamelle Eugene all return for NC State in 2008, giving head coach Tom O'Brien and running backs coach Jason Swepson what looks (on paper at least) to be plenty of depth.

However, that didn't end up being the case last season. Baker, who rushed for 688 yards to lead the team in 2006, was named the starter for the season opener, but suffered a knee injury after just 26 snaps and ended up missing the rest of the season.

Enter Brown, who was the Wolfpack's leading rusher in 2005, gaining 667 yards. Brown started the next five games before breaking his foot at Florida State. Enter Eugene, who would start the last six contests and ended up rushing for 667 yards (ironically the exact same number of yards Brown gained as a sophomore). Baker missed spring drills as he continued to rehab from knee surgery and Brown reinjured the foot in spring practice, so Eugene and sophomore Curtis Underwood, Jr., were once again the only backs left standing. Baker (1,272), Brown (1,772 - 12th in school history) and Eugene (726) have combined to gain 3,770 yards and rush for 31 touchdowns in their careers.

Redshirt senior tight end Anthony Hill and graduate cornerback Jeremy Gray have been named captains for the 2008 football season. The team voted on captains during a team meeting and Hill and Gray will lead the Wolfpack this season.

From the day he took the job at NC State, Tom O'Brien and his staff made a commitment to sign the top talent in the state of North Carolina.

Geron James

That goal has certainly been accomplished in a short period of time, as eight of the top 30 recruits in the state (according to signed to don the red and white in 2008 - three more than any other school (Virginia Tech signed five of the state's top 30 players). The Pack also landed three of the top six North Carolina prospects.

NC State's 2008 signing class ranked higher than any school in the state according to both and

The 2008 Wolfpack roster is made of up 54 players who call the state of North Carolina home.

Only two returning players on defense for the Wolfpack in 2008 have started more than 10 games in their careers, and the combined number of career starts for the entire defensive unit is just 54.

Defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash and end Willie Young are the only double-digit starters returning for the Wolfpack in 2008. Cash has a dozen starts under his belt and Young has gotten the nod 13 times in his career. Cornerbacks Jeremy Gray and DeAndre Morgan each have started seven contests, while free safety JC Neal has started four. Linebackers Nate Irving and Ray Michel have started four and one games respectively, while safety Javon Walker started four games last year as a rookie.

Of the 25 scholarship players who are returning on defense, nine are freshmen. Add eight incoming signees to that list and 46% (17 of 37) of the scholarship defenders are freshmen, while 65% (24 of 37) are either freshmen or sophomores.

Walk-on football players are an important group on a collegiate roster, as they can provide scout team players for practice, special teams help and sometimes add depth to a roster.

NC State is going to rely on its former and current walk-ons in 2008. Among the 44 players listed on the two-deep depth chart for the offense and defense, seven have started their career as a walk-on, including three starters among the 22 positions.

Koyal George

Meares Green has started at guard and tackle in his career and is the starting right guard in 2008. Green, the most experienced walk-on for the Pack, has played in 23 games, including 14 career starts.

Starting strongside linebacker Robbie Leonard has played in 24 contests, including 12 from scrimmage. A converted safety, Leonard will make his first career start against South Carolina.

Fullback Harrison Ritcher - son of 1979 Outland Trophy winner and four-time Super Bowl participant Jim Ritcher and brother of former Wolfpack tight end/fullback John - is slated as the starting safety, although he has never played a snap in college.

In addition, Matt White (backup left tackle), Taylor Gentry (backup FB), Koyal George (backup cornerback) and Bobby Floyd (backup safety) are all current or former walk-ons. Both long snappers - Corey Tedder and Michael Maurer - and punter Bradley Pierson also started their careers as a walk-on.

When looking at the number of key players who missed time with injuries last season, it's almost surprising that the Wolfpack managed to turn the second half of its season around.

Thirteen players who were starters at some time last season (or in the case of tight end Anthony Hill, a projected starter) missed a total of 44 games with injuries in 2007. Six of those starters missed multiple games. Several key reserves also missed time with injuries last season. In all, the Wolfpack medical staff performed 10 knee surgeries between the spring of 2007 and the end of the year.

Toney Baker

A handful of the players who were injured last season were also forced to miss 2008 spring workouts. Hill, TB Toney Baker and SS Javon Walker all continued to recover from knee surgery this spring, while quarterback Daniel Evans sat out with a shoulder injury.

... AND 2008?
NC State's injury troubles were well documented in 2007, and so far during 2008 camp NC State has already lost a trio of projected starters for the season. Junior wideout Donald Bowens, the team's top returning receiver by yardage and per catch in 2007, has a back injury that will keep him sidelined in 2008. Clem Johnson, a junior college transfer who could have started at safety for the Pack, broke his jaw in the team's second scrimmage and will most likely miss all of 2008. Safety Javon Walker, who started much of 2007, will also miss the year with a knee injury.

In addition, redshirt junior tailback Toney Baker had knee surgery to clean out some residue in his knee and could be sidelined for a few more weeks. Baker had a season-ending knee injury in the opener last season and had to redshirt.

Finally, starting tailback Jamelle Eugene is now out for the opener with an ankle injury and it is unknown how long he will be sidelined.

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