Notebook: Pack Ready for Opener

NC State opens the season today with a home game against the Western Carolina Catamounts. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 pm, and the game can be viewed online at

NC State and Western Carolina have met five times on the gridiron, all within the friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack has won all five of those contests and has done so by an average margin of 36.6 points.

On September 1, 1990, Dick Sheridan's Wolfpack squad opened the season against the Catamounts, winning by a score of 67-0. The team set a school record for rushing touchdowns with seven that day, gaining 400 yards on the ground and 592 yards of total offense.

Two of NC State's top scoring games in school history have come versus Western Carolina. The 67-0 game in 1990 ranks seventh while the 59-20 con- test in 2003 ranks 11th.

The 2010 version of the Wolfpack football team has a central theme: YOUTH. Of the 105 players listed on the roster, 60 (57%) are either true fresh- men, redshirt freshmen or sophomores (redshirt or true).

Although the youth of this year's team might be a concern heading into the season, it certainly bodes well for NC State's future. On the opening depth chart, 39% (17) of the 44 players listed on the offensive and defensive two-deep charts are either true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores.

Although a 5-7 record in 2009 wasn't what the NC State coaching staff was hoping for, a closer look at the scores shows that the Wolfpack wasn't too far away from being 8-4. Three of the team's losses last season were by six points or less: a three-point loss at Florida State, a six-point loss at Wake Forest and a four-point loss to South Carolina to open the season.

In 2008, the Wolfpack posted a 6-7 mark, winning four straight games to close the regular season and earn a bowl bid. Four of the seven losses that season were by nine points or less: a seven-point loss to BC, a nine-point loss to Florida State, a three-point loss to Maryland and a six-point loss to Rutgers in the Bowl.

In all, of NC State's 14 losses in the past two seasons, seven have been by nine points or less, five by six points or less and three by four points or less.

For the first time since he took over as head coach in 2007, Tom O'Brien does not have the luxury of having a returning starter at halfback this season. He inherited a trio of talented and experienced backs, Toney Baker, Andre´ Brown (New York Giants) and Jamelle Eugene when he took the job prior to the 2007 campaign.

This season marks that first under O'Brien that at least two of those players aren't vying for time in the backfield. Instead, a sophomore and a redshirt junior are among the top candidates to play at that spot.

Entering the 2007 campaign, those three backs had combined for 24 starts and 1,330 snaps. In 2008, those three boasted 36 starts and 2,183 snaps between them (Baker ended up sitting out the entire season with an injury). Last season, after Brown went on to the NFL, Baker and Eugene combined for 20 career starts and 1,684 career snaps heading into the season opener. Heading into 2010, the players who are battling for time at the halfback spot com- bine for zero career starts and 157 career snaps.

The biggest surprise of the opening depth chart for 2010 comes at the halfback position, where redshirt freshman Dean Haynes is listed as the starter, backed up by true freshman Mustafa Greene.

Haynes redshirted last season at safety and started off 2010 preseason camp play- ing in the secondary. He moved over to tailback just two weeks ago.

The Tunnel Hill, Ga., native played quarterback and running back in high school, leading his area in rushing with 878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.

Greene was ranked the 26th-best running back in the nation by last season at Irmo High School in South Carolina. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 18 touchdowns in eight games, averaging nine yards per carry.

Dennis Byrd, the only defensive player in Wolfpack history to have his jersey re- tired, will be honored during halftime ceremonies during the Western Carolina game. In June, it was announced that Byrd would be inducted into the National Football Foundation's Hall of Fame in ceremonies in December. In late July, Byrd unexpectedly passed away following back surgery.

Byrd was a dominating presence for the Wolfpack's famed "White Shoes" defense, competing on the defensive line for NC State from 1965-67. An adept pass rusher who combined size, agility, strength and a desire for hitting, Byrd was the Pack's first consensus All-American, earning honors in 1967. He was also the first three-time All-ACC player in league history, earning accolades all three years that he lettered. As a junior, he led the voting for All-ACC lineman and after his senior campaign, participated in four college all-star games.

Byrd was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1968.

Owen Spencer just wasn't satisfied. Even though he set an ACC single-season record for yards per catch in 2008, averaging a whopping 22.3 yards on 31 grabs, he really thought he could do better. So in 2009, he did. Last season, he bettered that mark by over three yards, leading the nation with 25.5 yards per catch and in the process, breaking his own school and conference mark.

For his career, Spencer has averaged 23.3 yards per reception (1,529 yards on 66 grabs), and is on pace to set the ACC's career mark of 22.0 as well (currently held by Herman Moore of Virginia). Spencer led the team with 16 plays of 20+ yards last season. He also led the team in 2008 with 13 plays that went over the 20-yard mark.

Senior wideouts Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer spent a good bit of the preseason promoting a talented group of Wolfpack players that happens to include ... THEMSELVES! The Pack's prolific pass-catchers are touting the combination of themselves, tight end George Bryan and quarterback Russell Wilson as "The Perfect Storm."

Williams and Spencer claim that offensive coordinator Dana Bible came up with the nickname, signifying the contributions of those four players to the Wolfpack offense. Bryan, Williams and Spencer combined to score 78% (23 total) of NC State's passing touchdowns last season. All but one of those TDs were thrown by WIlson, who was responsible for 35 TDs in 2009 (31 passing, four rushing).

The season got off to a happy start for the Wolfpack football team this summer, when offensive coordinator Dana Bible was declared cancer free. Last November, Bible was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and immediately began a 30-day treatment program at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, followed by six months worth of chemotherapy treatments. Except for a stint in the hospital right after the diagnosis, Bible was never gone for long. During spring drills, he was on the field following chemo treatments.

In June his two primary oncologists told him that the treatments had resulted in a "complete molecular response," meaning that his body is free of cancer. With a heightened sense of excitement and anticipation about the upcoming season, Bible is looking forward to working non-stop with the Wolfpack offense and calling plays on game day – free of cancer, chemo and antibiotics.

While many of the Wolfpack players were involved in seven-on-seven drills this summer, one key element of the team was 2,000 miles away. Russell Wilson, the Pack's starting quarterback each of the past two seasons and a utility player on the Wolfpack baseball squad in 2010, was drafted in the fourth-round of the Major League Baseball draft in June by the Colorado Rockies. He spent the summer playing in that franchise's affiliate in Pasco, Washington: the Tri-City Dust Devils.

Wilson, who hit his first professional home run on July 11, will play for that squad through July, then head back to Raleigh in time for the opening of preseason camp on Aug. 3.

Wilson's not only multidimensional when it comes to playing two sports, he even pulls double-duty in the sports that he plays. For the Wolfpack baseball team in 2010, he saw action in the infield, outfield and even pitched some. On the gridiron, he only plays one position, but don't try to peg him as a one-dimensional signal caller. Wilson is NC State's top returning rusher from last season and has rushed for 648 yards in his two-year football career.

He's the most prolific runner for a Wolfpack quarterback since Vince Evans stood under center from 1982-85 (Evans tallied 1,920 rushing yards during his career).

In terms of passing, the Richmond, Va., native already ranks fifth in school history with 4,982 career yards and third in career touchdown throws with 48.

Last season, NC State was one of just a handful of schools that had boasted the same football coaching staff for three straight years. For 2010, the staff has one change, as linebackers coach Andy McCollum left for Georgia Tech and Jon Tenuta joined O'Brien's staff.

Tenuta's resume reads like a who's who in college football, as he has now coached at five different ACC schools and in his three decades of coaching has spent 16 years as a defensive coordinator at seven different places.

His latest stint was at Notre Dame, where he served as Assistant Head Coach, coordinated the defense and coached linebackers.

It's been a long time since No. 56 has run out of the tunnel at Carter-Finley Stadium and it would be a tough call to decide who is looking forward to him doing it again on September 4th more: Nate Irving himself or the Wolfpack fans.

Irving was a huge key to the NC State defense heading into 2009. In 2008, he was an honorable mention All-ACC performer, but would have battled for first-team honors if he hadn't been slowed by injuries. He tied for third on the team in tackles despite missing three complete games and most of two more, and he led the team in interceptions with four -- the most ever by a Wolfpack linebacker. He was looking forward to a huge campaign in 2009 and was on several preseason All-ACC squads.

However, early in the morning of June 28, 2009, his season came to a standstill. He decided to leave his home in Wallace, N.C., in the wee hours of the morning to make the hour-and-15-minute drive back to Raleigh, where he would begin summer school classes the next day. Just 20 minutes from his destination, he fell asleep and ran off the road. The mammoth SUV he was driving flipped multiple times, hit several trees and when he came to he was in a hospital.

Irving sustained a multitude of injuries, including a collapsed lung, broken rib, separated shoulder and a compound fracture in his leg. He spent three days in the hospital and months rehabbing.

Although he says that the most painful part of the accident was missing football, Irving knows he is blessed to be alive. He lost almost 30 pounds during the ordeal but has gained most of that back and is counting down the days until he makes that first tackle.

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