NC State

Practice, youth movement begin for NC State football

Eleven minutes into N.C. State’s practice on Friday, the first song of the morning pumped through the loudspeakers.

It was by a Charlotte rapper who goes by the name “DaBaby.” That was an appropriate artist choice.

The Wolfpack opens the 2019 college football season with an astounding 51 freshmen or redshirt freshmen (including walk-ons) on its roster. That’s nearly four times as many seniors and graduates (13).

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” fifth-year senior Jarius Morehead said.

Morehead, heading into his third year as a starter, is one of only eight seniors (or graduates) who has been at N.C. State for his entire career.

Freshman linebacker Drake Thomas, one of the expected stars of the next wave, has given Morehead the nickname of “Uncle J,” as a sign of respect and to denote his status as a tribe elder.

There’s a lot of energy and talent among the massive cluster of freshmen and redshirt freshmen. There’s also a learning curve to be expected.

“You’re patient with (the freshmen) and try to explain it to them because if you yell at them, they’re not going to get it,” senior defensive end James Smith-Williams said. “I try to hold their hand as much as I can.”

Practice is the time for mistakes and to learn from them.

“We just have to be patient,” coach Dave Doeren said. “Every day, like I told them, is the only day we’re going to worry about and don’t get too far down the road with anything.”

Doeren, in Year 7, finds himself in a similar spot to where he was in 2016. There’s an abundance of young talent in place, and most of those players have clearly already have bought in to strength coach Dantonio Burnette’s regimen, but there’s still a time factor to development.

N.C. State has put 11 players in the NFL draft the past two years and had two major national award winners. The payoff for Doeren with that group was a 9-4 top-25 finish in 2017 and another 9-4 record last year.

But there are key parts from those teams who have to be replaced, notably on offense. Gone is quarterback Ryan Finley, a three-year starter and an All-ACC pick last season. A pair of 1,000-yard receivers need to be replaced as does a 1,000-yard rusher (for the third straight year).

There will be new starters up front with a hole at center left by All-American Garrett Bradbury, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

Sophomore Matt McKay leads the race to replace Finley but it will be a camp-long battle between McKay, Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman, Doeren reiterated again on Friday.

“We’ve got lots of reps we’ve got to get,” Doeren said. “Today was Day 1 install against vanilla defense. So there’s a long way to go.”

McKay worked with the first-team offense in the portion of practice which was open to the media on Friday. He looked comfortable, which was the word Doeren used. “Solid” was McKay’s preferred adjective.

“For the first practice, it was solid,” McKay said. “It was exciting just to get back into the flow of things.”

Exciting and a little sloppy, Doeren said. With so many new faces, which includes four new assistant coaches, that comes with the territory. Doeren is hoping some of his young pups can grow up quickly.

“We need some 18-year-olds to play like they’re 20 this year,” Doeren said.

Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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