Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker
Sometimes it takes a game like Furman to reveal the emotions involved in college football.
The X’s and O’s diagramming a 49-16 win over an overmatched Paladins squad are not especially relevant going forward. The competitive nature of the schedule will kick back up next week in an unusual week 4 showdown with a Florida State squad that has not played since the opening weekend.
But there is still a joy in playing the sport, as three separate NC State players for different reasons can testify.
For redshirt junior right tackle Will Richardson, it has been a personal struggle to sit out two games with a suspension doled out in the spring. His absence has been felt with the running game struggling in the first two contests, rushing for just 89 yards in a loss to South Carolina and 144 yards in a win over Marshall. Richardson did the most he could in that time. He felt that he grew as a leader while trying to mentor his opening game replacement, redshirt freshman Justin Witt.
However, not being on the field for what Richardson feels is the closest offensive line unit he has been a part of took its toll on him.
“It was a hard time,” Richardson acknowledged, “but I felt like I made the most of it.”
During pregame warmups, offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford leads a huddle designed to hype his unit up. Front and center in the scaled-down mosh pit-style huddle was Richardson, with Ledford in particular taking a lead role in pumping him up.
“Nerves came in a little bit at the beginning, but after the [first] drive everything was normal,” Richardson said.
“It feels good, but I feel bad in the same way because I should have been there [the first two games]," he later added.
Fifth-year senior JuMichael Ramos had worked over 600 days to get back on the field from a serious knee injury that required surgery after his junior season. In 2015, Ramos led all wideouts on the team with 34 receptions for 457 yards and three scores.
Now he is just trying to find a role.
During the week, the offensive coaches saw an opportunity against Furman’s defensive secondary for a wheel route. On first-and-10 from the Furman 30, the timing was set to try it. It did not take long for the play to develop, and Ramos was wide open.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Ramos insisted. “I have a lot of games under my belt.”
Yet Ramos’ first catch since making five receptions for 75 yards in the 2015 Belk Bowl sparked a wave of emotion on the sideline, where the team celebrated his score which put NCSU up 14-3 with 43 seconds left in the first quarter.
"I actually called the touchdown out before J-Mike came out there," senior H-back Jaylen Samuels said. "Just to see him get back in the end zone, it was a good moment for him and our team. When he got back to the sideline, everyone was cheering for him. We know how hard he worked just to get back on the field, especially with his senior year."
“I got a lot of respect from all them guys,” Ramos said. “They love me, and I love them. They just really gave me the love. … It was great.”
As good as the team felt to have Richardson back and Ramos make a big play, the player clutching a game ball tightly in his arm during postgame media availability was senior nickel Shawn Boone.
Boone is from West Palm Beach, Fla., and his family back home sustained damage during Hurricane Irma, with a part of the roof caving in on the family room. When Boone made a 47-yard pick-six to put NC State up 42-13 with 3:52 left in the third quarter, there was perhaps another source of emotion for him.
A year ago against, ironically, Florida State, Boone dropped an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter with NCSU up 20-17. A play later, the Noles scored the game-winning touchdown in a 24-20 triumph. A devastated Boone dedicated his entire offseason to never having that feeling again.
“That’s what drives me, that game, not letting things like that happen again,” Boone said.
Head coach Dave Doeren noted that no player works harder on his ball skills than Boone, and indeed when he saw the pass floating Boone's way his one and only thought was: “Look it all the way in.”
Boone then took quick looks to his left and right and soon realized that he was about to score his first touchdown since he was on the freshman team at Dwyer High playing option quarterback.
He tried to think of a touchdown celebration but drew a blank. Nevertheless, the feeling was sweet, and Boone knows one that could be even better: a redemption win over Florida State.
“Last time I was there, sophomore year, I pulled my hamstring, so I wasn’t able to finish the game,” Boone recalled. “Then there was last year. To me, this is my rivalry game. I take this one personally.”
• Talk about it inside The Wolves' Den
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, The Wolfpacker
• Follow us on Twitter: @TheWolfpacker
• Like us on Facebook