Wolff: 'We Know What People Are Saying'

Besides having one of the greatest last names of anyone to ever put on a Wolfpack uniform, Earl Wolff made everyone take notice whenever he took the field last fall with the scout team.

Besides having one of the greatest last names of anyone to ever put on a Wolfpack uniform, Earl Wolff made everyone take notice whenever he took the field last fall with the scout team.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder impressed graduate assistant Bobby Blick with his anticipation of passing plays and his aggressiveness around the football.

"Wolff is a guy that grew leaps and bounds over the course of the season," said Blick. "Incoming freshmen have a lot on their plate, adjusting to new surroundings and circumstances.

"But as Wolff began to feel more comfortable with our schedule and practice tempo, his confidence and ability really started to show quickly. He was always active on every play, and we relied upon him quite a bit as the season went on."

Hailing from Raeford, North Carolina, Wolff's recruitment was a unique one. Summer football camps are always an important evaluation tool for any staff and that was certainly the case with Wolff. He was a virtual unknown on the recruiting trail before putting on a show at the Pack's camp in 2007. At the time, Wolff wasn't being recruited by any other colleges and quickly committed.

As a senior for Hoke County (NC) High he was one of the top playmakers in the state. At safety he totaled 89 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, five interceptions, one sack, and an astounding seven forced fumbles. Offensively he rushed for just under 1,000 yards and nine scores at tailback.

A big-time hitter, Wolff has made the transition to strong safety. He continued his strong play in the spring, and this fall is currently the backup rover behind senior Clem Johnson. While some players hoped they could have played as a true freshman, Wolff is happy he was able to redshirt in 2008.

"Things are going well," he said. "To tell you the truth, I'm glad I redshirted. I learned a lot. I was able to get faster, stronger, and smarter.

"This year I feel like I'm getting better everyday. I'll be prepared to play when the season opener comes around."

Wolff better be ready because he will likely log major minutes. Returning starters Clem Johnson and Justin Byers are back at safety, but J.C. Neal graduated and Jimmaul Simmons recently left the program.

"It will open the door for someone else to come in and play," Wolff said of Simmons leaving. "I'm playing with Clem at strong safety right now, but one of the safeties will step in and help us win with Jimmaul gone."

"[Earl Wolff] looks like he's learning," said head coach Tom O'Brien. "That's what you expect out of him. He's much more comfortable than he was in the spring and certainly a lot better than he was last preseason.

"It's a journey and a process. He really works hard, he's enthusiastic out there, and he goes at it full speed all the time so he can only get better."

Wolff won't be the only freshman expected to contribute. NC State could have as many as five freshmen contribute at defensive back, including a pair of true freshmen who are already turning heads.

"The cornerbacks are looking good," said Wolff. "Jarvis Byrd and Rashard Smith... I think they might be ready by September 3rd. Rashard is a ballhawk. He goes up and gets the ball... he just makes plays. Jarvis is the same way. Both of those guys can play, and I think they are going to help us out this year.

"I also think if I had to pick one defensive player to surprise this year it would be Justin Byers. I think he has progressed a lot. He's stronger and faster and he's making plays. I believe he's going to help our defense a lot this year too."

Most fans and pundits have concerns about the Wolfpack's secondary. One of the worst pass defenses in the league in 2008, NC State lost two of its top playmakers in Neal and Jeremy Gray, and projected starting cornerback Dominique Ellis transferred. With freshmen and inexperience at safety and cornerback, it's no surprise that the back four have been labeled the defense's weak link.

"We know what people are saying about us," said Wolff. "We talk about that everyday... we're using it as motivation. We know how people feel about our secondary. It's pushing us to go harder and get better."

A big key for the secondary will be if State's front four can stay healthy and apply pressure. With four seniors projected to start, it's an experienced unit capable of creating a lot of havoc. That pressure might decide the Wolfpack's season. Wolff is confident that the unit will do its job.

"The defensive line makes our job easier," he stated. "The ball comes out faster, and it gives the offense less time to make plays. It makes the quarterback put the ball in the air before he's ready and we can do our job."

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