If newcomer Carson Wise is worried about the importance of his role at N.C. State, he’s not showing it.
The laid-back, soft-spoken graduate transfer from a Division II school is prepared to help the Wolfpack upgrade its kicking game this season.
“I’ve been doing this awhile, and I feel good about (the season),” Wise said.
Coach Dave Doeren has praised Wise’s consistency in practice in the run-up to Saturday’s opener with South Carolina at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
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The Wolfpack enters the 2017 season at 3 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte with the hope of breaking out of a 7- or 8-win cycle. The simplest path to improvement is in the kicking game.
Since the start of the 2015 season, N.C. State ranks last in the ACC in field goals made (16) and field-goal percentage (51.6). The Wolfpack is the only ACC school that has made less than 60 percent of its kicks over that time span.
Despite the kicking problems, N.C. State has posted back-to-back 7-6 seasons. A few more made kicks last year would have translated into one or two more wins.
The Wolfpack returns eight starters each on offense and defense. There’s confidence among the players for another step forward by the program.
“This team has a chance to be special,” said Wise, a junior in eligibility. “I’m excited for the opportunity to help.”
Flush with veterans and playmakers on both side of the ball, N.C. State needs special teams help. Doeren has landed a commitment from North Davidson’s Chris Dunn, the top kicking recruit in the country. But Dunn won’t be here until the 2018 season.
In search of a stop-gap, Doeren was intrigued after he saw a highlight tape Wise had put together.
“I sent out the tape to as many people as I could,” Wise said. “N.C. State was actually the first school to get back to me.
N.C. State’s kicking problems last season are well-documented. A 33-yard missed field goal at the end of regulation cost the Pack a chance to knock off eventual national champion Clemson.
Kyle Bambard and Connor Haskins combined to go 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) on field-goal attempts last season. That percentage ranked 121st (out of 128 teams) in the FBS. In 2015, Bambard made 7 of 14 attempts (or 50 percent).
N.C. State and Pitt (58.8 percent) were the only two Power 5 programs last year to make less than 60 percent of their field-goal attempts and finish the season with a winning record.
Wise, who began his career at Virginia Tech, made a combined 23 of 31 field-goal attempts (74.2 percent) for Carson-Newman in 2015 and ’16. He made a game-winning kick, an 18-yarder in overtime, to beat Wingate in 2015. He also made 5 of his 9 attempts longer than 40 yards, including a 49-yarder in ’16. N.C. State’s kickers have made just one attempt (out of eight) longer than 40 yards the past two years.
Bambard is back for his junior year and will handle kickoff duties. Wise, who started working out with the team in May, said Bambard and other returning specialists (punter A.J Cole, longsnapper Tyler Griffiths) have made the transition for Wise go smoothly.
“Really our whole room has been better than I could have asked for coming in,” Wise said. “It’s a selfless group, and we’ve all worked together.”
Wise said Bambard, who caught a lot of flak for N.C. State’s loss to Clemson, has been helpful in practice.
“It’s another set of eyes to help each other out,” Wise said. “It has been a really been a good dynamic.”
Wise, who grew up in Blacksburg, Va., will make his debut with an ACC team later than he expected. In 2014, he competed with Joey Slye for Virginia Tech’s starting job. Slye won the competition and has been the Hokies’ kicker ever since.
After a year as Slye’s backup at Virginia Tech, Wise decided to transfer to Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn. The Eagles went 9-3 in his first season there in 2015 and made the NCAA playoffs.
He went 13-of-18 on field-goal attempts in 2015 and made his last eight attempts. He got off to a slow start in 2016, and the Eagles’ record dropped to 4-7.
“We had a completely different operation (snapper and holder) from the previous season, and it took us a game or two to get in the rhythm,” Wise said. “After we hit our stride, I felt really comfortable and I thought we did well. We just had to get everything together.”
Wise made 8 of 13 attempts in 2016 and made 4 of his last 6 attempts, including his career-long of 49 yards.
If Wise can make his kicks at N.C. State at the same rate as he did for Carson-Newman, the Wolfpack will be grateful for Wise’s career detour took him to Raleigh.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio