On Sunday, N.C. State will hold its annual “Meet the Pack Day” as it heads into the heart of its 2019 training camp. This year the name is especially fitting as of the four Tobacco Road football teams, the Wolfpack will have the most new faces in key roles when it opens its 2019 schedule later this month at Carter-Finley Stadium.
N.C. State comes into the season on the heels of consecutive 9-4 campaigns. Over the broader span of the last half-decade, the Wolfpack has appeared in five consecutive bowl games, winning three of them, and within the conference N.C. State has now posted back-to-back winning ACC records for the first time since 1991-1992.
Head coach Dave Doeren enters his seventh year with a record of 43-34 in Raleigh and an overall career mark of 66-38. Doeren signed a new five-year deal earlier this spring, and the consistency of his tenure has raised the level of what Wolfpack fans will expect to see at Carter-Finley Stadium this fall, even after having 13 players drafted by the NFL in the past two years.
One of the biggest offseason losses on offense was under center, as last season’s starter Ryan Finley was drafted in the fourth round by the Bengals. Finley spent three years in Raleigh after transferring from Boise State and threw for 60 touchdowns and over 10,000 yards, while emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. Reggie Gallaspy finished his college career in the backfield for the Wolfpack last fall with 18 touchdowns and 1,091 yards. He was the third different N.C. State runner in as many years to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
The Wolfpack also lost three offensive linemen to graduation including Rimington Trophy winner, center Garrett Bradbury (Bradbury was drafted in the first round by Minnesota). Wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was drafted by the Redskins in the sixth round and fellow wideout Jakobi Meyers was signed as an undrafted free agent by New England and has been getting first-team reps with the Patriots this summer.
N.C. State even lost its offensive coordinator when Eliah Drinkwitz took the head coaching job at Appalachian State. Staff members Des Kitchings and George McDonald will serve as co-offensive coordinators following the departure, and the Wolfpack should retain their familiar spread offense look with stretch zone runs that will pressure defenses on the ground.
A host of candidates will vie to replace Finley with Matthew McKay, a redshirt sophomore, out in front of the class. McKay is an unproven quantity as he attempted just eight passes last year, but showed more mobility than Finley. Also in the mix are junior college transfer Bailey Hockman (a one-time Florida State Seminole), redshirt freshman Devin Leary, and freshman Ty Evans.
In the backfield, sophomore Ricky Person Jr. had 471 yards as a freshman despite persistent injuries and will be the next N.C. State runner to push for 1,000 yards. In the spring game, freshman Bam Knight also made a good impression and will complement Person on the ground.
Replacing Meyers and Harmon out wide are junior Emeka Emezie (53 catches, 616 yards, and 5 TDs in 2018) and sophomore Thayer Thomas, who caught 34 passes last fall as a freshman.
Across from scrimmage, the defense will have a more experienced core, with eight starters returning to Raleigh. Former Wolfpack linebacker Germaine Pratt is now in Cincinnati along with Finley, and was drafted in the third round by the Bengals just ahead his teammate. Pratt was a significant loss for a defense that struggled to bring pressure last year. They’ll return senior safety Jarius Morehead who was the team’s second-leading tackler last season with 81 stops and also added three interceptions. Joining him as a returner in the secondary is safety Stephen Griffin, who started six games last year but saw limited time due to injuries.
Up front, defensive end James Smith-Williams will return to his spot at defensive end and registered six sacks in 2018. The team also has four quality in-state recruits coming in on the defensive line in Joshua Harris, Terrell Dawkins, C.J. Clark, and Savion Jackson.
The Wolfpack opens the 2019 season at home against two in-state opponents, East Carolina (Aug. 31) and Western Carolina (Sep. 7), before traveling to face the Big-XII’s West Virginia on September 14.