ACC Football: N.C. State holds Media Day
RALEIGH ó Russell Wilson knows that almost any talk about North Carolina State’s chances of competing for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship this year starts with him.
“I’m an athlete ó there will be expectations, good or bad, every year,” Wilson said Monday during the team’s preseason media day. “You can’t really worry about it. You’ve just got to focus on what you can do and what you can control and things you can get better at.”
Of course, pressure is sure to follow when a player does what Wilson did last year as a rookie, namely becoming the first freshman quarterback to be voted first-team all-ACC. His defender-frustrating mobility and nearly mistake-free style is a big reason why the Wolfpack crawled out of a 2-6 hole to reach a bowl game, and why the Wolfpack figures it’s poised for another step forward in coach Tom O’Brien’s third season here.
Only a year ago, Wilson was one of five players who entered preseason camp with a shot at the starting job. This time, Wilson is the Wolfpack’s unquestioned leader.
“He’s got a lot of work still to do,” O’Brien said, “but if he can build upon last year and get better than he was, we’re in a much better starting spot today at quarterback than we were last year.”
Wilson’s rookie year got off to a bumpy start when he suffered a concussion in the opening loss at South Carolina, but he went on to throw for 1,955 yards and 17 touchdowns while running for 388 yards and another four scores. He also threw just one interception all season and carries a school-record 249-pass streak without a pick into the opener against the Gamecocks at Carter-Finley Stadium on Sept. 3.
Wilson’s importance might never have been more evident than the Papajohns.com Bowl against Rutgers. He had thrown for 186 yards and a score before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half, allowing Rutgers to rally from a 17-6 deficit for a 29-23 victory.
It’s one reason why O’Brien joked that the best play of the team’s recent preseason scrimmage was that Wilson slid to avoid a hit.
“I feel like it’s a privilege and an honor to play with an established quarterback like Russell Wilson and a guy who makes the plays he does,” running back Jamelle Eugene said. “It’s not something every team is afforded and has the luxury of having.
“He instills a lot of confidence in not only himself but the team, just knowing you have a guy you can really count on.”
Still, Wilson says that last year doesn’t matter anymore. Instead, he’ll worry about improving his game and helping to mentor redshirt freshman Mike Glennon, who will play in the opener to develop some depth behind Wilson.
“The experience definitely helps,” Wilson said. “You hear the cliche about how the game slows down the more you play and the more experience you get. … Having that one year under my belt, I could definitely notice the game slowing down for me ó and that’s a positive.”