Notebook: Pack, Gamecocks Battle Tonight

NC State opens the season tonight with a home game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 pm, 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 5-17 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.

NC State and South Carolina 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.

Prior to last season, the two teams hadn't placed since 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 - 26-25-4, and posts a 10-3-1 mark over the Gamecocks in Carter-Finley Stadium.

NC State and South Carolina have met on the gridiron 55 times and 13 of those meetings have resulted in a shutout by one (or both) of the teams. The Wolfpack has shut out the Gamecocks seven times (including 10-0 the last time the teams met in Carter-Finley Stadium) and have been held scoreless seven times (the 1904 game ended in a 0-0 tie, so the shutout counts for both teams).

The last two times the two teams have met, the visiting team has been shut out (South Carolina, 10-0 in 1999 and NC State, 34-0 in 2008).

For the first time since Carter-Finley Stadium opened against the Gamecocks in 1966, the Wolfpack will finally be playing on a level playing field when South Carolina comes to town. Two days after NC State's 2009 spring game, the process began to remove the crown from the Wayne T. Day Family Field.

Crews lowered the field some three-and-a-half feet at the center, less around the edges. It took about three weeks to haul thousands of cubic yards of topsoil from the stadium. After installing drainage sand and gravel that met United States Golf Association specifications for golf greens, the crew spent weeks making sure the field was as level as a pool table.

Some 240 rolls of sod were used to cover the 68,400 square feet of the field, which has a synthetic buffer around the playing surface, 10 feet away from the wall surrounding the field on the sidelines and five feet away from the wall everywhere else.

NC State's football team suffered a big blow in late June, when linebacker Nate Irving was injured in a car accident. He suffered a collapsed lung, broken rib, separated shoulder and a compound fracture in his leg and has been told by doctors that he will need to spend the next six months rehabbing from the injuries.

An honorable mention All-ACC performer a year ago, Irving told reporters in August that he felt ‘blessed' to be alive after the single-car accident. He missed three complete games and most of a fourth last season with an ankle injury, but still ranked third on the team in tackles and set a record for an NC State linebacker with four interceptions.

NC State is one of only five BCS teams that will return its entire coaching staff (fulltime assistant coaches) for the third consecutive season in 2009. Only 27 schools return the same staff from last year.

Six members of Tom O'Brien's staff at Boston College picked up and followed him when he made the move to NC State in December of 2006. Two of those coaches, Don Horton and Jerry Petercuskie, had been with O'Brien all 10 of his years with the Eagles. Two others, Dana Bible and Jason Swepson, had been there for eight years. Keith Willis spent six years at BC as an assistant under O'Brien, while Jim Bridge was there four years.

One of the first orders of business for the NC State football team every season is to elect team captains. At the very first team meeting of 2009 fall camp, the team voted on the players would represent it for the upcoming season. The players elected halfback Jamelle Eugene, offensive tackle Jeraill McCuller and defensive end Willie Young.

"These three young men are great choices," said head coach Tom O'Brien. "They have shown great leadership throughout spring practice and in our summer workouts and their hard work and dedication has earned them the respect of their teammates."

A year ago, Ted Larsen had never snapped the ball in a game - not in Pop Warner, not in middle school, not in high school and not in college. Now after just a year playing center, and just a year playing on offense at the collegiate level, Larsen is a candidate for the national award given to the nation's BEST center.

Larsen's development was a key to the Wolfpack's success over the second half of the 2008 season. NC State rushed for more than 90 yards per game more in the last six games of the regular season than in the first six.

Larsen, who graduated from NC State in May, spent his first three years at NC State at defensive tackle, where he redshirted in 2005, then played in 23 games, starting five, in 2006 and 2007 combined. He was named the team's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2008.

Eight members of the 2008 Wolfpack football squad earned their degrees from NC State in graduation ceremonies in May: Andy Barbee, Harrison Beck, Jamaine Clemmons, Teddy Larsen, Bradley Pierson, Matt White, Keith Willis and Willie Young.

Tom O'Brien's squad will boast four players on the 2009 roster who are postgraduates: Barbee, Larsen, Young and Julian Williams, who graduated in December of 2008 prior to the Bowl.

In the last four graduation ceremonies (December of 2007, May and December of 2008 and May of 2009), 31 Wolfpack football players have earned their degrees.

It's been a long time since #22 has put on a Wolfpack uniform and run out onto the field. In fact, if all goes according to plan, when Toney Baker finally gets back on the playing field in the season opener with South Carolina, it will have been two years, two days and and hour or so since the last time he played in front of the Wolfpack faithful.

On September 1, 2007, Baker's life and football career took an unexpected turn when he limped to the sidelines after playing just 26 snaps. The knee injury ended up being a type that makes a torn ACL seem minor. He knew early in the recovery process that it could end up being two years before he could see action again, but Baker, who had rushed for 1,272 yards in his career to that point, approached his rehab just as he does an opponent's linebacker: he met it head-on.

Baker was cleared to return to drills in November of 2008 and went through full contact spring practice with the Wolfpack. He currently ranks sixth among active ACC players in career rushing yards and has more than any other NC State player.

Baker is listed as the starter at halfback for the South Carolina game.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 249 consecutive passes without being picked off - a school record and the longest active streak in the nation. Wilson threw just one INT last season, in the second half of the Clemson game on September 13.

Wilson didn't set that mark by making short, easy passes. He averaged 13 yards per completion, the top mark among the ACC passing leaders.

Pack Pride Top Stories