USA Today Sports Images
We’ve already detailed how Dave Doeren’s program identity is starting to match up with his vision in year five, how senior Bradley Chubb and his fellow linemates are working to live up to the hype, and various notes from Doeren’s ACC Kickoff availability.
But there’s plenty more we heard covering the media day in Charlotte on Thursday, so we’ll empty out the notebook from what the players had to say…
Pack Prefers To Play The Best
Despite ACC commissioner John Swofford pointing to parity between the league's two divisions during his availability, there is a noticeable gap between the two halves in terms of the most prestigious accomplishments and top teams on each side.
The Atlantic Division has won eight of the 12 championship games, including the last six (and one of the Coastal’s four wins was later vacated).
And while the league had signs boasting about how the conference has won two of the last four national championships and half of the Heisman Trophies awarded during that time period, it’d be just as accurate to say the Atlantic Division is responsible for those accolades. That side of the ACC is also credited with all but one appearance from the league’s sterling 8-3 mark since 2012 in BCS, New Year’s Six and College Football Playoff games, and four of the five straight victories in the Orange Bowl.
Swofford said during his question-and-answer session that he doesn’t anticipate a change of divisional alignment on the horizon, and NC State’s seniors are more than okay with that.
“I feel like it’s a challenge," H-back Jaylen Samuels said. "I’m glad that we’re on the Atlantic side, we get to play these teams and they’re great teams."
"I came to college to play the best players every week, and I feel like in the ACC I'm doing that," Chubb added before rattling off the three quarterbacks NC State faced last year who were taken in the first 52 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft. "… I know they're competitors and want to win as bad as I do, that's what makes it fun."
A recurring question asked of the players was how frustrating it would be to improve from last year but still finish No. 4 in the Atlantic, behind Clemson, Florida State and Louisville.
“There's a lot of people that overlook us," Samuels admitted. "But that’s a good thing because I want us to stay humble as a team and to prove people wrong, to show the world that we can stay with those Clemsons, the Florida States, the Louisvilles. We showed last year that we were there, we’ve just got to finish.”
"We just worry about ourselves and play to the best of our ability," Chubb said. "… If y'all think [Florida State, Louisville and Clemson] are the best teams then y'all have your opinions, but in our opinion — me being a competitor — I feel like we're the best team in the conference."
NC State will get a chance to prove Chubb right by playing the cream of the ACC crop once again. It seems that will be an annual occurrence as long as the divisions remain unchanged.
Newcomers, Redshirts Turning Heads
Both players were asked about freshmen and guys who redshirted last year that have caught their eye during the spring or preseason workouts. Both mentioned rookie defensive tackle Grant Gibson from Charlotte Mallard Creek — the same school that produced Samuels — as one who has done well early.
“So far in the individual drills that we’ve been doing, he seems to be standing out,” Chubb noted. “I can’t talk about other positions because I haven’t really seen them. He’s a hard worker. Usually freshmen come in and they’re kind of stiff, Grant seems like he’s fluid and that he’s been working very hard in high school. I’m just excited to see what he’s going to do.”
Samuels praised two other rookies — prolific wide receiver Emeka Emezie from Waxhaw (N.C.) Marvin Ridge and early enrollee tight end Damien Darden from Pikeville (N.C.) Charles B Aycock.
“Emeka is a receiver who is going to be a great player,” Samuels said. “There are a couple of other guys in the class, it’s a huge class. It’s like how we came in. There’s a lot of guys that have a lot of potential, they just have to get adjusted to the system.
“Damien Darden … he’s got pretty good size and hands, he just needs to work on being more physical. That will come because he’s just coming out of high school. I feel like he’ll be a good player. There’s a lot of other good players that I’m probably missing.”
Samuels also commended fifth-year senior cornerback Johnathan Alston, who played wide receiver for three years before switching to the other side of the ball and redshirting last season. He could be a underrated "newcomer" for the Pack, given the team's need on the back end after graduating starting cornerback Jack Tocho, starting safety Josh Jones and the duo who split nickel back duties.
“He’s going to be a great player for us,” Samuels concluded.
Who Could Be The Next J-Sam?
Know for being just as effective running or catching the ball, Samuels is such a unique weapon that the preseason All-ACC squad basically invented a position for him, the all-purpose back. He was caught in tweener limbo during last year's event when, after being named the first-team All-ACC tight end following his sophomore year, he was left off the preseason all-conference team.
This year, he was one of only two nominees for the new spot, along with Pittsburgh's Quadree Henderson.
After logging 700 rushing yards, 1,258 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns (plus a scoring pass) over the first three years of his career, Samuels is obviously a huge cog to the NC State offense. His versatility will be hard to replace after he moves on to the NFL.
Yet that’s what NC State will be tasked with doing in 2018, and after a short pause to think about it, Samuels had what some may think as a surprise contender for who will help fill the big vacancy he’ll leave behind — sophomore wideout Kelvin Harmon. The youngster hauled in 27 passes for 462 yards and set a NCSU rookie record with five touchdowns last year — much better first-year numbers than Samuels, who had just 239 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage as a freshman.
Harmon surprised Samuels with how quickly and successfully he transitioned to the college game after being a four-star recruit coming out of Palmyra, N.J.
“I see him being a first- or second-round pick in the future. The way he worked is crazy,” Samuels explained. “To see he come in last year and do what he did as a freshman, you don’t see that from too many freshmen. He didn’t [enroll early], he came in the summer.
“I didn’t think he would be good. I saw him, but I thought it was just going to be hype. But he came in and actually worked, I was surprised. I’ve got all the respect for him, and he knows that. … I’m looking forward to playing with him my last year. He’s definitely improved — got stronger, got faster, he’s working like he was last year and I’ve seen a lot of improvements.”
Harmon may not be able to take Samuels' all-purpose spot on next year's preseason All-ACC squad — he's a true wide receiver, at least so far — but according to the senior, he can become the Pack's next go-to weapon.
Chubb Breaks Down D-line
Chubb noted that the Pack defensive line pushes each other to be at their best on and off the field. One needs to look no further than the video released by strength and conditioning coach Dantonio “Thunder” Burnette Thursday, in which senior tackle Justin Jones squats 635 pounds, only to be topped by classmate end Kentavius Street's 675.
— Dantonio Burnette (@CoachThunder45) July 14, 2017
Chubb noted that he views himself, Street and fellow end Darian Roseboro, a junior, as similar players. The trio each checks in north of 275 pounds, and all three are good enough they would be able to start and earn high accolades at most schools across the country. At NCSU, they’re simply a terrorizing three-man Wolfpack.
“Kentavius is very explosive, very strong; Darian brings the same thing to the table and I can bring the same thing to the table as well," Chubb explained.
Meanwhile, he’s quick not to discount the boost the defensive tackles provide from the interior. They play an important role in everything the ends accomplish.
“I’m a firm believe that nobody makes a play by themselves, they need the whole collective group to make a play,” he said. “We help them, and they help us."
Chubb also broke down the other four top linemen individually:
On senior tackle B.J. Hill: “I feel like the amount of work he does when nobody is watching [is what makes him so good]. The little things he does like take up two blocks to help Kentavius Street come free, to help myself come free, to help Justin come free. He’s just willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and I feel like that’s what makes him so great.”
On senior tackle Justin Jones: “His explosiveness, his willingness to work [are his biggest strengths]. He’s just a great player, and just everything he does to help the team, just like B.J. They don’t care about stats and awards, they just want to win and be the best player they can be. That’s what makes them so amazing.”
On Street: “That man is a freak of nature. I’ve never seen anybody who can lift as much weight, run as fast as him and be in a 280-pound frame. Having him on the other side of me is just amazing. We came in together, were roommates our freshman year and just to see him grow from not having any stats really to having this breakout year that he had is amazing to see, and I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”
On Roseboro: “He’s been a lot more willing to work [as he got older]. A lot more willing to come in at 10 — we lift at 4 — and watch that extra film and do that extra work. To see him progress and mature as a player has been amazing to see. I definitely feel like we pushed him, having the senior leadership that we do. B.J. has been playing since he was a true freshman, I feel like he looked up to him because he was playing as a true freshman too. To see the success B.J. has had, I feel like he’s chasing that, just doing the same things B.J. did when he was in that position.”
More of The Wolfpacker's ACC Kickoff coverage:
• 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