RALEIGH – In a year of rotten luck on the football field, it was ironic that on Friday the 13th N.C. State received perhaps its biggest football commitment since Rob Crisp in 2010. Defensive end Kentavius Street of Greenville (N.C.) Rose High, picked the Wolfpack over finalists LSU, Miami and Ole Miss.
Rivals.com rates Street as a five-star prospect, and the other recruiting services havehim as a consensus four-star recruit. The bottom line is that Street is another piece of the young core that head coach Dave Doeren will be counting on to turn around his program after a 3-9 debut season that included the Wolfpack’s first winless conference year since 1959.
Doeren’s predecessor, Tom O’Brien, was fond of saying, “You are what your record says you are.” He tried to drive home the point relentlessly to his first squad, which he inherited from Chuck Amato, a team full of swagger and a self-belief that they were better than they were.
If O’Brien’s philosophy is right, the record shows he left Doeren a team that simply lacked talent. N.C. State did not have a single player on the preseason All-ACC teams, and those prognostications were verified at the end of the year when the best NCSU could do was a couple of honorable mentions: linebacker Robert Caldwell and kicker Niklas Sade.
It did not help that Doeren had to endure a litany of injuries that decimated his depth chart during the first half of the year. When you combine the overall lack of talent with the injuries and, at best, a less than ideal situation at quarterback, you get a long year.
Auburn had a long season in 2012 and is playing for a national title against Florida State in January. Could the Wolfpack have a similar turnaround, on a much more relative scale, next fall?
For the Wolfpack to have any chance of sustained success in Doeren’s second season, it will need considerable improvement from the quarterback position. The hope for N.C. State is that Jacoby Brissett is able to provide that.
Brissett sat out this season after transferring in from Florida. The former highly touted recruit was a backup as a true freshman in Gainesville and seemed destined to take over the team his sophomore year, but a change of coordinators in the offseason preceding Brissett’s sophomore campaign led to a shift in offensive philosophies that favored Brissett’s classmate, Jeff Driskel.
N.C. State beat out West Virginia to land Brissett’s transfer, and it took very little time after this season was over for Doeren to pronounce in an interview with ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich that Brissett will be his starting quarterback next year.
The strong-armed signal-caller will potentially have a supporting cast around him that offers optimism for a much-improved offense, but that may be reliant on the status of sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton. He was named the target of an investigation in a sexual battery case, and in a related incident picked up misdemeanor marijuana charges after police executed a search warrant on his apartment.
Thornton has been suspended indefinitely. This is his second brush with the law in less than a year. He received deferred prosecution in August for an assault on a female charge brought by campus police after an incident in the school’s library. That case resulted in Thornton missing the season-opener and not working his way out of Doeren’s doghouse until the fourth week of the season.
Despite missing almost three full games, Thornton led NCSU with 165 carries for 768 yards, rushing at a pace that would have probably given him 1,000 yards. At times, Thornton appeared destined to become one of the ACC’s best running backs. Thornton’s classmates on the offensive line, center Quinton Schooley and the uber-versatile Joe Thuney, also look like future stalwarts.
Freshmen on offense who looked like they have bright futures in Raleigh included tight end David J. Grinnage, running back Matt Dayes and receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jumichael Ramos. If they grow up in a hurry, and Brissett is the quarterback Doeren is counting on, then the offense could take a considerable leap forward.
Defense Needs To Improve, Too
The question then turns to the defensive side of the ball. A young secondary will return three starters from last season but will need to find a second safety to compliment promising sophomore Hakim Jones. The defensive tackle rotation should be stout, especially after the emergence of talented true freshman Monty Nelson last fall.
The big question marks though are at defensive end and the linebacker corps. If the first year is any indication, Doeren, a former defensive coordinator himself, and coordinator Dave Huxtable are going to rely on a base 4-3 formation and not bring a lot of blitzes. Thus, it’s imperative that quarterback pressure comes from its front seven, especially the ends.
That’s where a recruit such as Street comes into play. Street is one of four defensive end commits in the fold, which also includes Rivals.com four-star prospect Justin Jones from Austell (Ga.) South Cobb High. With only junior Art Norman among the proven defensive ends returning, odds are good that a couple between Street, Jones, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic’s Deonte Holden and Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove High’s Bradley Chubb will play some if not a lot in the fall.
Junior Brandon Pittman flashed signs of being a playmaking linebacker in the last four games of the year and will anchor the linebacker corps next year, but the two other spots are wide open. Junior Rodman Noel and sophomore M.J. Salahuddin have experience, but Doeren may elect to go with youth again.
Freshmen Jerod Fernandez, Artemis Robinson (former Pack All-ACC linebacker Terrell Manning’s younger brother) and Joshua Jones all earned rave reviews while redshirting, and in-state talents Coult Culler from Wilmington (N.C.) Laney High and Germaine Pratt from High Point (N.C.) Central High are well-regarded recruits. Pratt is rated four stars by Rivals.com.
Doeren, while asking for patience after a tough first season, has repeatedly gone back to the point that he and his staff are building a program. The young talent already on the team suggests there are building blocks, and the 2014 recruiting class appears to be adding more to the foundation.