RALEIGH – If N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren proved one thing his first year as the Pack’s football leader, it’s that he’s not afraid to play true freshmen.
Ten of them saw the field this season. Eight of them had varying degrees of prominent roles, with only defensive backs Sean Paul and Dravious Wright limited to primary special teams coverage jobs
The trio of receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jumichael Ramos and Bra’Lon Cherry combined to catch 54 passes for 611 yards and three touchdowns (all by Ramos). Their fellow wide out Johnathan Alston did not catch a pass but was NCSU’s primary kick returner, averaging 18.8 yards per runback, before getting hurt at FSU around midway through the year.
Running back Matt Dayes ran 63 times for 252 yards and four touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 173 yards and another score, leading all running backs in total TDs. When starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell was injured in the opener, freshman Bryant Shirreffs came in to play the role of the running quarterback and ended the year with 34 rushes for 158 yards and a score and also completed four of five passes for 17 yards and another touchdown.
Defensively, defensive tackle Monty Nelson and cornerback Jack Tocho ended the year as starters. Nelson was second among linemen with 32 total tackles, eight of which went for losses, and he forced a fumble. Tocho had 25 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups in his rookie year.
An early examination of the roster coming back suggests though that members of this year’s well-regarded recruiting class, assuming all sign with the Pack in February, will have equal opportunities to make a quick impact.
The most glaring need is at defensive end. If everyone eligible to return does indeed come back next year (attrition can be common during the immediate years following coaching changes), the Pack will return just four on the roster next year. One of them, redshirt freshman Joe Wright, barely played this year at all, and another is Drew Davis, Wright’s classmate and a converted linebacker.
Thus it is easy to see why Kentavius Street from Greenville (N.C.) Rose High, rated five stars by Rivals.com and four stars by other recruiting services, is believed to be favoring NCSU over Ole Miss, LSU and Miami. Street though will not be alone.
Bradley Chubb from Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove High, whose older brother Brandon plays linebacker at Wake Forest, and Deonte Holden from famed DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., are both reputed speed pass rushers. Justin Jones is a bigger defensive end at 6-4, 275 pounds rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect from Austell (Ga.) South Cobb High.
It’s almost certain that one if not more will have to line up in the defensive end rotation for NCSU. There could be an opening too at linebacker, where State must replace two starters. Tackling machine Coult Culler of Wilmington (N.C.) Laney High and athletic Germaine Pratt of High Point (N.C.) Central have both committed to N.C. State. Pratt, like Jones, is rated four stars by Rivals.com.
The offensive line, which ended the season by giving up five sacks to Maryland, will get extensive evaluations during the spring and next preseason, and two incoming offensive linemen have committed to enrolling early, giving them a chance to find a comfort zone. They are Terronne Prescod, whom NCSU outdueled Auburn for out of Decatur (Ga.) Columbia High, and Tony Adams, a center from the always well-respected Charlotte Independence High.
Even at receiver, despite the contributions from freshmen this year, there is a need for depth. Bo Hines from Charlotte Christian and Stephen Louis from Palm Beach Lakes High in West Palm Beach, Fla., are among the six recruits expected to enroll early. N.C. State also remains in the mix for four-star talents Johnnie Dixon from Dwyer High in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Trevion Thompson from Durham (N.C.) Hillside High.
There will be a clear opening at tight end, as well. Redshirt freshman David J. Grinnage had a nice season in his debut, catching 15 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. But there is just one returning tight end on the roster, and he is redshirt sophomore Benson Browne, who logged all of six snaps this year and none in ACC play.
N.C. State is set to bring in at least three tight ends: Garrett Bradbury from Charlotte Christian, Cole Cook from Carrollton (Ga.) High and Micah Till from Upper Marlboro (Md.) Wise High. There could be a couple from that list that find their way on the field. He’s not a true tight end, but athlete Jaylen Samuels is expected to play an H-back role for NCSU and is having a huge senior season for Charlotte Mallard Creek High, arguably the top team in the state.
Quarterback Shuffle Coming
It may be a longer shot, but quarterback Jalan McClendhon from Charlotte’s West Mecklenburg High cannot be discarded as a potential true freshman candidate. Ranked by Scout.com as a four-star recruit and the target of continued recruitment by Tennessee, McClendon is a physically gifted 6-4, 200-pounder.
There is little doubt that Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who will be a redshirt junior next season, will be the starting quarterback for NCSU. There are already reports that one backup candidate, sophomore Manny Stocker, is transferring. Few would be surprised if redshirt junior Pete Thomas joins Stocker in leaving, especially if Thomas gets his college degree and would be eligible to play right away next season.
That would leave just Shirreffs coming back among scholarship quarterbacks, and it should be noted that early in preseason he moved from signal-caller to fullback until Mitchell was hurt. The only other quarterbacks will be walk-ons Josh Taylor and Garrett Leatham. Ideally McClendon would be redshirted, but he may also be N.C. State’s best option if Brissett gets hurt.
Doeren fielded a young team in 2013. Odds are, that will not change next fall. The good news is that the true freshmen class had early passing grades. Doeren will hope for similar results next year.