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Defense Is Given A Youthful Makeover

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

November 6, 2007

RALEIGH — We hate to admit this, but Tom O'Brien got us again.

Early in the season we detailed how O'Brien's comments about his team's injuries were to be taken with a big grain of salt. That probably should have had us on guard three weeks ago when O'Brien was asked if there would be personnel changes coming out of the N.C. State bye week.

"I think we're playing the best players we have," O'Brien said before the Wolfpack played East Carolina. "I think that's the conclusion we came to, and we've just got to make those guys better."

Actually, N.C. State was in the midst of a major defensive overhaul — we just didn't know it at the time, and O'Brien — as is his custom — wasn't about to clue us in. It had started subtly before the Wolfpack's bye week when Willie Young moved into a starting role at defensive end and DeAndre Morgan displaced J.C. Neal at cornerback. It became obvious when State rolled out a completely revamped secondary against the Pirates.

DaJuan Morgan moved from a starting position at strong safety to a starting role at free safety. His move made room for Javon Walker at strong safety and bumped Miguel Scott, a three-year starter at free safety to the bench. Meanwhile Jeremy Gray moved aside Jimmie Sutton III at the corner position opposite DeAndre Morgan. All told, all four positions in the Wolfpack defensive backfield have different starters now than the ones who began the season.

"The whole secondary got changed," O'Brien said.

The changes didn't stop there. Markus Kuhn was moved from defensive tackle to defensive end where's he seeing significant time as a backup and Nate Irving is now sharing a starting role at outside linebacker with LeRue Rumph.

In almost all the moves — except switching out Neal for Gray, a fellow junior — State went younger. Young is a sophomore, Kuhn is a true freshman and DeAndre Morgan is a redshirt freshman, as are Irving and Walker. Maybe O'Brien finally did go with the youth movement that many had thought would happen, or maybe he just finally found the right defenders to put on the field.

"We've got guys in the game that are doing things the way we want them to be done," O'Brien said.


N.C. State's most recent commitment to its Class of 2008 recruiting class is further evidence that the Wolfpack is serious about recruiting in Georgia, particularly the southern part of the state.

Roy Mangram, a safety from Brunswick, is the second recruit in this class — and the third since O'Brien came to N.C. State — from the Peach State. They've all been brought in my linebackers coach Andy McCollum, State's primary recruiter in Georgia.

Other targets on State's radar include fullback Colby Jackson, safety Elton Ford and cornerback A.J. McCray. None come highly rated on the star system of recruiting services, but take that with a grain of salt when it comes to a state like Georgia. It might seem counterintuitive, but the states with the most high school football talent (and Georgia would probably rate just behind the big three, Florida, California and Texas) also tend to be the ones that also have the most players that fly under the radar.

So it's a good secondary recruiting ground for State, and in McCollum, who recruited this area heavily when he was the head coach at Middle Tennessee State, the Wolfpack already has someone with contacts that are bearing fruit.


Speaking of Georgia, that's been a frequent traveling location for State's top basketball recruiter, associate head coach Larry Harris. Harris is after three of the Class of 2009's top targets, center Derrick Favors, swingman Noel Johnson and shooting guard Lorenzo Brown.

It's a continuation of a pipeline to Raleigh that goes back to the days when Harris helped the Wolfpack land Damien Wilkins and Josh Powell. Last year Harris was the main recruiter for J.J. Hickson, the prize of N.C. State's current freshman class.

One player from the Class of 2009 that won't be getting much of Harris' attention though, is one that's from just down the street in Raleigh. John Wall, one of the top point guards among high school juniors, would seem to be one of the easiest blue-chip recruiting jobs Sidney Lowe and his staff would ever have to undertake. Wall lives just a few miles from campus and is reportedly a huge ACC fan.

It's a bit more complicated than that, though. Wall's AAU program, D-One Sports, is run by Brian Clifton, and Wall's team is coached by Clifton's younger brother Dwon. Brian Clifton is believed to be on poor terms with Harris going back to the days when Dwon Clifton was a high school star at Westchester Academy in High Point. The two allegedly differed on Dwon Clifton's potential — Brian Clifton thought his younger brother was ACC-worthy, while Harris did not. Dwon Clifton eventually ended up signing with Clemson and then transferred to UNC-Greensboro after two years.

Bringing it back to the present, it's Wolfpack assistant Pete Strickland, not Harris, who is taking on the primary recruiting role with Wall. Strickland is ordinarily seen as Lowe's X's and O's assistant, but he also plays a role in recruiting local area talent — of which there is a rare abundance in the Raleigh area in the 2009 class. Strickland is also the lead recruiter for Ryan Kelly, a 6-9 forward at Raleigh Ravenscroft High School.

The biggest competition for Wall may come from Kentucky and Oklahoma State. One of Clifton's former D-One players, Marshall Moses, is currently a freshman at Oklahoma State.

North Carolina is believed to be interested in Wall, but friction with Clifton may also be an issue here. This time it centers around Eric Wallace, a former D-One player who played his high school ball at Glenn High School in Kernersville, N.C. Wallace was originally thought to be headed for Chapel Hill before the Tar Heels cooled in their recruitment of the 6-5 swingman. Wallace has since landed at Ohio State, but allegedly bad feelings still exist between Clifton and UNC.