The first installment of our five-part series on NC State's 2009 Scout Team focuses on the Wolfpack's quarterbacks and wide receivers!
Most years, scout teams – especially on the offensive side of the ball – have a long adjustment period to the college game because they are typically made up of true freshmen that have never played at this level.
These players often need additional time to learn the nuances of their respective positions, understand the plays they need to run in practice, and know how to handle a first-team defensive squad. But the Wolfpack's 2009 offensive scout team unit had such a solid mixture of experience and talent, there was little time wasted on the learning curve.
From day one, the squad had an experienced look to it – and that was a welcomed sight for graduate assistant Jeff Archer. The son of defensive coordinator Mike Archer, Jeff had nothing but praise for the leadership displayed by his third offensive scout team.
"Our core group of guys had a more veteran makeup than in years past," he said. "We had more second year scout team players that have been around and knew their responsibility. They knew where to go, where to line up – I didn't have to tell them much at all, which made it a lot easier on me and hopefully helped our first team defense out over the season."
Archer also noted that another prevalent aspect of the 2009 scout team was the leadership that was demonstrated by key players time and time again, and no one exhibited that trait more often than quarterback Daniel Imhoff.
A junior walk-on (who will be a senior in 2010), Imhoff played significant minutes in the 2009 spring game and was able to see the field a few times early in the 2009 season. Imhoff used that experience to better lead the offensive scout team in 2009 and help prepare the first team defense throughout the season.
"I think that experience helped him out tremendously last spring, and it made him feel very comfortable with us in the fall," said Archer. "Granted, he's not the biggest guy in the world, but he does everything you tell him to do and he's actually one of those quite leaders. When someone's not doing what they're supposed to do, he'll just walk up and tell them."
With Russell Wilson focusing on baseball this spring and Everett Proctor being moved to safety, Imhoff will once again have an opportunity to run the second team offensive unit while Mike Glennon runs the first team. He will be pushed by fellow walk-on Ross Snotherly, but Imhoff has already demonstrated the experience and leadership to play a back-up role should injuries become a factor for the quarterback position in 2010.
Outside of Imhoff, another key leader of the offensive scout team was junior Paul Horst. Another former walk-on, Horst has been a scout-team regular at wide receiver over the past few years, and his skill level made him a valuable asset in practices and even earned him some playing time toward the end of the year. However, Archer noted that is was his leadership that made him so indispensable this past year.
"If I didn't have Paul Horst, I'm not sure what I would've done," said Archer. "Most people with the scout team are just out there doing their job, but this kid worked at it. He was my main guy depending on what team we were playing each week. Like last year, he was the guy I could count on when I was trying to organize the group in the huddle. He was like an assistant coach."
While listed as a receiver on the 2009 roster, Horst's versatility allowed Archer to move him back and forth between slot-back, h-back, tight end and receiver. This off-season, Horst added enough weight to his frame to allow the coaches to move him to tight end, which is where he will play in the Spring Game and throughout 2010.
At 6-4, 230 lbs., Horst looks like a natural fit for the position, and when he takes the field this year, you can bet he'll be one of the hardest working players on the offensive side of the ball.
"He's worked extremely hard," added Archer, "and he's earned a spot."
While Horst was counted on to simulate multiple positions last year, the one player who simulated an opponent's most athletic player – and often turned heads at practice while doing so – was none other than freshman Morgan Alexander.
The 5-11 speedster didn't arrive with the accolades of a five-star prospect, but coaches speculate he will be a game-changer for NC State. He is lightning-quick with the ball in his hands, and incredibly elusive when he hits the open field. Even Archer expects him to have an immediate impact when he hits the field in 2010.
"He's not the biggest kid in the world," he said, "but if you give him any bit of space, he's gone. The amazing thing about him is that he may not be very tall, but he can jump and he can run with the best."
Alexander is expected to line up as a slot receiver in 2010, and will likely return kicks, as well. On the 2009 scout team, he even filled in at quarterback to simulate the "Wildcat" formation utilized by some opponents, and there is a possibility that he may line up in a similar formation for the Wolfpack in the near future. Without a doubt, the speed Alexander brings to the roster, along with that of burners like T.J. Graham and incoming JUCO transfer Tobias Palmer, will make the Wolfpack even more dangerous in the passing game next year.
"It's going to allow us a lot more flexibility," said Archer. "Our passing game won't just consist of the deep outs and the long ball – it'll also be short stuff, where he'll make a move and he's gone."
Another receiver who may contribute in the near future (although more likely in 2011 than in 2010) is South Carolina product Quintin Payton. This rangy freshman is still developing, but already has the size (6-4, 190 lbs.) to be a valuable contributor down the road. According to Archer, he's already learned how to use that size to his advantage.
"Quintin learned very quickly that, in college football, you can't be up very high as a receiver – you've got to stay low," he said, "and because of his size, it was a little tougher for him. As time went on, we were able to throw him a lot of deep balls and send him across the middle, and he never shied away from contact because he's got that size and knows how to use it."
Payton played opposite Ben Areno, another walk-on who earned a reputation for being a "pit-bull" when going up against the first team defensive backs. Archer commented that Areno's workman-like attitude came in handy when preparing the cornerbacks throughout the season.
"Ben's not afraid to start something with you," said Archer. "We try to prove points to our DBs that receivers may hold in this league and it won't always be called, so they've had to get used to it. When we sent Ben out there, he would get under their skin a lot – he'd grab their face mask, get under their pads. Hopefully, it will make our DBs better in the long run."
According to Archer, the attitude displayed by the scout team receivers was indicative of the entire unit. The fact that they had such a good blend of experience and talent gave them a sort of "swagger" that carried on throughout the season. In fact, Archer used that attitude as the basis for his Tuesday night event, which he called "Swag Out" Tuesday.
"On Tuesday," he said, "all the guys on the scout team came out with eye black, wrist tape, gloves, sweat bands, and everything – and they talked trash. I mean, they got up in our starters' face, and they were talkin' smack, they had fun doing it, and they backed it up. And I think it made those young guys on defense realize they had to grow up quick. These guys had a lot of fun, but they did their job as well."
Stay tuned for part II of Tales From The 2009 Scout Team, where we will focus on the running backs, tight ends and offensive line!