Sunday, August 31, 2008

Leaving Baton Rouge, reporter told 'Pray for us'

BATON ROUGE, La. - I'm sitting in the airport here at 5:15 a.m Sunday morning., waiting to make my escape after covering the Appalachian State-LSU game.

Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on Louisiana, and is apparently straining to upgrade itself from a category 4 storm into a category 5 monster. It isn't supposed to hit the Louisiana coast until tomorrow, but after the nasty experience this area had with Katrina, it seems no one's taking any chances.

Get out while you can.

On the way to the airport, my cab driver told me Baton Rouge is already nearly out of gasoline and beer; apparently the two necessities. He said both are difficult to find.

Locals are putting up family and friends from coastal areas, and others are packing up and moving farther north. Starting today, all roads, including in-bounds lanes, lead out of New Orleans. They're calling it "the contraflow." They're not taking any chances. The governor even tried to cancel Saturday's LSU game with Appalachian State. They reached a compromise and played at 10 a.m. CDT instead of 4 p.m and still had an impressive crowd, estimated at almost 70,000.

Today is supposed to be fairly nice.

Tomorrow could bring the area as much as 10 inches of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph. Or it could be worse.

As I checked out of my hotel, the clerk smiled and said, "Pray for us." -- STAN OLSON

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oops! UNC ball misses target, lands at Duke

Duke officials were a bit surprised when, at 6 p.m. Saturday, about an hour before the scheduled kickoff, two men parachuted into the Wallace Wade Stadium and landed at the 35-yard line with a game ball.

Problem was, the Blue Devils — who were warming up along with opponent James Madison — weren't expecting it.

"All we know is, they must have missed their jump site,'' a team official said.

And they did — because the jump site was meant to be eight miles away.

North Carolina was scheduled to receive its game ball via aerial team at about that time in Chapel Hill. According to UNC assistant athletics director for promotions Michael Beale, the plane was in the air, but the jumpers from Virginia-based Aerial Adventures opted to cancel the leap into Kenan Stadium because of a bad weather front -- which eventually delayed both games.

Evidentally, when the clouds eventually opened, the pilot thought they were over the correct stadium, and the skydivers jumped — only realizing when they landed that they were in the wrong place.

The two men immediately scrambled off the field with the game ball, and when UNC associate athletics director Rick Steinbacher was informed by a reporter of what had happened, he immediately called Duke officials to confirm the miscue, and offer his apologies.

"In about five years, maybe this will be funny,'' Steinbacher said. "Right now, I'm just glad no one was hurt."

- Robbi Pickeral and A.J. Carr, (Raleigh) News & Observer

LSU pressure overwhelming

BATON ROUGE, La. -- While Appalachian quarterback Armanti Edwards had poor numbers in today's 41-13 loss at LSU, it would be foolish to blame it all on Edwards. The quickness of the Tigers' defense dramatically limited what he could do.

"The passing game-Armanti will tell you this-didn't throw the ball very well," ASU coach Jerry Moore said. "He had people in his face a lot. There would be a ball where somebody would say, 'We should have caught that ball.' Well, the ball would be knee-high, or the ball would be high. There was somebody right in his face, too."

Edwards still scrambled well enough to be sacked just twice, but LSU also was credited with five QB pressures, and that didn't seem to be nearly enough if you watched the game.

His final numbers included 12 rushes for a net of 23 yards, and he completed 13 of 31 passes for 155 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Moore pointed to LSU's tremendous "closing speed," giving that credit for slowing down his dangerous quarterback.

"That makes all the difference in the world," he said.

Edwards added, "Speed was the difference; they're so much faster than Michigan was." -- STAN OLSON

Thursday, August 28, 2008

3 defensive backs 'questionable' for Tar Heels

Three North Carolina defensive backs — Charles Brown, Johnny White and LeCount Fantroy — are questionable to play against McNeese State on Saturday, according to the team injury report.

Brown, who started nine games last season, has been slowed most of training camp with a sprained ankle. White, a converted running back, has an injured thigh, and Fantroy has a hurt hand. The Tar Heels' secondary faces an early test against the Cowboys, who use a spread offense and have two speedy receivers.

Two other players were listed on the weekly injury report. Wide receiver Cooter Arnold is doubtful to play because of an injured ankle, and linebacker Linwan Euwell is doubtful as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

Robbi Pickeral, (Raleigh) News & Observer

ASU-LSU game still on despite threat of storm

Things could get messy this weekend in Baton Rouge, La.

Predictions have suggested that at some point, Tropical Storm Gustav could smack into Louisiana, possibly causing problems for the Appalachian State-LSU opener there.

On Wednesday, Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva met with the Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and staff from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to discuss the situation.

Currently, there is no change in the game's starting time of 5 p.m. (EDT), but LSU and state officials are watching the storm closely. Latest projections from the Weather Channel have the storm not arriving until Monday or Tuesday.

We'll let you know if anything changes.

-Also, a limited number of reserved seats for Appalachian State's home opener against Jacksonville Sept. 6 have become available and can be purchased online at, by phone at (828) 262-2079 or in person at the ASU athletics ticket office in the Holmes Center in Boone.

- Stan Olson

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

UNC coordinator returning to coach's box

Last year, North Carolina offensive coordinator John Shoop was on the sideline during games so he could communicate with freshman quarterback T.J. Yates face-to-face.

So it’s a sign of Yates’ development that Shoop will back up in the coach’s box for the season-opener against McNeese State on Saturday, communicating with Yates and the offense via graduate assistant Wes Satterfield.

“It’s going to kind of be like listening to coach Shoop through him, because he’s going to be talking directly to him, and he’s going to be giving us the signals,’’ Yates said. “It’s going to be a little different when I get off the field because I’m going to have to put on the headphones and talk to [Shoop], instead of sitting next to him and talk to him.

"… He won’t be out there to coach us up on every little thing, so we’ll have to prepare more and be more focused and confident as a whole in our offense.”

New defensive coordinator Everett Withers will also work from the coaches’ box (which is adjacent to the press box), head coach Butch Davis said. Last year’s defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, worked from the sideline for the same reason as Shoop — to communicate new defensive schemes better with the young players. But there are advantages of being up rather than down.

“All of the places I had ever coached before, the coordinators were in the box,’’ Davis said. “It not only gives them the chance to see the field better, see personnel groupings. It cuts down one extra communication to someone in the box to someone on the sidelines to identify what the other team’s personnel, what they’re getting into. …It’s a little bit more of a quiet environment to collect your thoughts, you’re not quite in all the chaos.”

Indeed, while Yates said communicating via graduate assistant and headsets will be a personal adjustment, he knows Shoop’s move will help the offense make better adjustments, overall.

“There’s definitely some things on film where he was mad that he wasn’t up in the box [last season],’’ Yates said. “We could have taken advantage of some coverages and some flaws in the defense that he saw in the film room on Sunday, which is never a good feeling. So he wanted to be up there.”

-Robbi Pickeral, (Raleigh) News & Observer

Q&A with N.C. State QB Russell Wilson

Four questions with N.C. State redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson, who will start Thursday night at South Carolina:

Q: Are you nervous?
I’m not nervous. I’m more excited than anything. I’m trying to make some plays and help my team. South Carolina is a great team and it’s going to be a challenge. I’m definitely ready.

Q: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve played in front of?
Probably around 10,000. In baseball at Florida State, I played in front of around 9,000 people. That’s baseball. That’s a lot of people for a college baseball game. Clemson had a lot of people. Georgia did, too. Georgia was right up on you. It was really loud. I’m not really worried about the crowd. It’s almost like the more you are in front of a crowd, the more you focus. As soon as you get out there you hear a lot of noise, but it will slowly go away. You get in a zone and it’s almost like you’re on the practice field.

Q: How many texts, phone calls and e-mails have you gotten congratulating you (on winning the starting job)?
I’ve gotten hundreds of texts and e-mails and stuff like that. A lot of people care about me. There are a lot of people I haven’t been able to keep in touch with because I’m always running around. And they can’t wait to see me play.

Q: Which Bible verse will you write on the tape on your wrist Thursday night?
I’m not sure. I have a daily Bible verse (book) in my locker that my grandmother gave me. Every day the verse changes, and whatever the verse is, that’s (what I write).

– Ken Tysiac

Ties between Clemson, Alabama astonishing

When Clemson meets Alabama Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, it will be the first time the programs have met since 1975.

That's almost hard to believe given the ties between the programs.

Four of Clemson's head football coaches are Alabama grads - Frank Howard, Hootie Ingram, Charley Pell and Danny Ford.

Tommy Bowden didn't go to school there - he's a West Virginia grad - but he coached at Alabama under Bill Curry.

Bowden had expected to be part of the Alabama staff earlier because he expected his father, Bobby, to be hired in Tuscaloosa after the 1986 season.

Tommy had gone to Birmingham to be with his father and Florida State for a bowl game against Indiana. "I went to a bowl game all four years I was coaching at Duke," Tommy joked.

"They were just his."

His dad interviewed with Alabama officials but didn't get the job.

"I was in the room when he came back from the interview and slammed the door and said the job was going to someone else," Tommy Bowden said. "As soon as he slammed the door, I slammed one, too, because I was out of a job."

Tommy Bowden had been on Steve Sloan's staff at Duke, but Sloan had left to become the Alabama athletics director.

Bowden interviewed for several jobs, including with Steve Spurrier at Duke and Bobby Ross, who was replacing Curry at Georgia Tech. He eventually wound up at Tulsa but lasted only six weeks because a job came open on Curry's staff in Tuscaloosa.

-Ron Green Jr.

LSU's starting QB? We'll find out Saturday

On paper, LSU's problems at quarterback are a huge advantage for Appalachian State, which plays the Tigers in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

Ryan Perrilloux, the expected starter, was booted off the team in May, and now any of three players could wind up with the job - pick one.

But the thing to keep in mind that while inexperienced, all three are national-caliber talents, far more highly recruited than the Mountaineers' marvelous quarterback, Armanti Edwards.

"They've got quarterbacks," said Appalachian coach Jerry Moore. "It's just a matter of which one they're going to play."

The candidates are Andrew Hatch, a sophomore transfer from Harvard; redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee; and true freshman Jordan Jefferson.

Lee might be the most talented of the bunch, but Hatch reminds some of Matt Flynn, who led the Bayou Bengals to the national crown last year.

LSU said it would not name a starter until Saturday, and Tigers coach Les Miles wasn't giving anything away in his weekly conference call.

"Our quarterbacks, I have great confidence in all three of them to be honest with you," he said. "I can’t tell you who will take the field first. I can tell you I’ll be comfortable with whoever that is. I would not be surprised if all three played at certain times."

The main reason it won't matter who starts all that much is that LSU has so much talent returning at other offensive positions.

"The great thing about a quarterback is it's news if you have a veteran team around him," Miles said. "Receivers that know where they're supposed to be, an offensive line that can give him protection, some guidance and veteran backs that know how to carry the football.

"We're going to ask him to do the things we need from the quarterback slot but not to do anything that they're not capable of doing."

- Stan Olson

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ASU QB: LSU will be louder than Michigan

Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards said that playing at LSU Saturday will not be the same as playing at Michigan last season, where the Mountaineers upset the Wolverines.

"We've got a couple of players who played there as freshmen or sophomores," he said on a morning conference call, referring to the Tigers' 24-0 victory in 2005. "They told us it'd be a lot louder than Michigan. We're working on going on the silent (snap) count and not getting confused by the fans.

"The whole world is going to be watching us. They told me about the atmosphere and what to expect.'

The Mountaineers also know that unlike Michigan, LSU will be ready for their spread offense, which opens up the field.

"The passing game will have quick throws to get the ball out as quick as we can," Edwards said. "Run away from them and hope they get tired by the second half."

A number of observers believe that Baton Rouge will bring a heat and humidity that could overwhelm Appalachian State. Edwards, who has been training in cooler Boone, doesn't see that as a problem.

"No sir," he said. "The air's pretty thin here, so I think we'll be better when we get off the mountain."

- Stan Olson

Monday, August 25, 2008

LSU coach: ASU talented, but we'll be prepared

LSU coach Les Miles - and his players - have watched a whole lot of Appalachian State-Michigan tape.

Miles, speaking on a conference call today, gave the Mountaineers no bulletin board material as the two teams complete preparation for their game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday night.

"Absolutely," Miles said when asked if he had shown the huge upset to his players. "That's a great example for our team, that they've played quality teams well and played them on the road. We've seen a lot of the Michigan game."

Miles was nothing but complementary when talking about Appalachian State.

"We like that we're playing a talented opponent," Miles said. "Our guys prepared very, very well based on that. ...They've (ASU) made a tradition of playing great teams. They played N.C. State. They played Auburn very well."

Listening to the call, you could tell Miles and his guys are ready to play. Every Tiger is healthy (with one exception, whom Miles wouldn't name), and it was obvious Appalachian State won't be sneaking up on LSU, which might have been part of the problem for Michigan.

The Tigers could play as many as three quarterbacks in the game, Miles said.

Three - sophomore Andrew Hatch, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and freshman Jordan Jefferson - have been taking snaps during practice. But while quarterback is a questionmark, LSU appears to be loaded elsewhere.

- Stan Olson

Evans remains gracious despite 'Russellmania'

Following last week’s quarterback announcement at N.C. State, it would be foolish to ignore the plight of last season’s starter, senior Daniel Evans.

Amid the excitement over new redshirt freshman starter Russell Wilson (call it “Russellmania”), Evans has been gracious and accepting of his new role almost beyond belief.

“I’m still living a dream,” he said. “Playing football at N.C. State is something I’ve always dreamed of.”

Evans still is expected to play some during the first half in Thursday’s opener at South Carolina to give Wilson a break. But losing the starting job couldn’t have been easy to accept. Evans has started 17 games over the past two seasons. Though N.C. State was 6-11 in those games, Evans quarterbacked during a four-game winning streak that got the Wolfpack into bowl contention in 2007.

During the offseason, he rehabilitated his throwing arm after having shoulder surgery. His father, former N.C. State All-American Johnny Evans, said he saw Daniel undergo a lot of emotional growth and develop more mental toughness during that process.

“He’s never had to deal with an injury before,” Johnny said last week. “He’s worked hard with that injury thing. There’s always uncertainties with an injury like that, especially when you’re a right-armed quarterback and it’s your right shoulder.”

Evans had mixed results as N.C. State’s starter. He led the team to an incredible comeback win against Boston College and a nationally televised defeat of Florida State, then lost nine starts in a row.

He has thrown more interceptions (24) than touchdown passes (17). But you couldn’t fault his effort, attitude or love for N.C. State.

The Wolfpack is fortunate to have him, whether he’s on the sideline or under center.

– Ken Tysiac

Friday, August 22, 2008

5 things to know about Pack QB Russell Wilson

Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson was named N.C. State's starting quarterback on Friday afternoon.

Here are five things you should know about him as he prepares to start the season opener Aug. 28 at South Carolina:

1. He has athletic blood lines. Patenal grandfather Harrison Wilson Jr. played baseball and basketball at Kentucky State. Father Harrison III played football and baseball at Dartmouth and spent a brief time with the San Diego Chargers. Brother Harrison IV played baseball and football at Richmond and played at N.C. State in the 2004 season opener won by the Wolfpack 42-0. Harrison's most memorable moment that day was being hurdled by future No. 1 draft pick Mario Williams, who raced into the backfield to make a tackle on the first series of the game.

2. He attended football camp at North Carolina. Charlie McFall, Wilson's high school coach at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., said North Carolina (Mike Paulus), Virginia (Peter Lalich) and Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor) all had highly regarded quarterbacks they'd promised scholarships and were afraid of losing if they offered Wilson a scholarship. Then Wilson became enamored with N.C. State. "Russell loved the facilities at State, and it was close to home," McFall said.

3. He's already been featured in Sports Illustrated. The "Faces in the Crowd" section profiled him after he threw for 291 yards and ran for 223 more in a state championship win.

4. As he came off the practice field Thursday evening, Wilson had "John 10:9" written in marker on athletic tape wrapped around his left wrist. According to the Bible the N&O's A.J. Carr keeps on his desk, that scripture reads: "I am the door, and the person who enters through me will be saved and will be able to come in and go out and find pasture."

5. He was one of the team's most popular hosts for winter recruiting visits. "I'm not going to take you to a wild club or anything like that where you'll get into trouble," he said in January. "I'm going to take you places where you'll see people you need to see. See other football players. See basketball players. See guys and girls. Not surround you with bad things."

– Ken Tysiac

N.C. State's depth chart offers few surprises

There were few surprises on the depth chart N.C. State released for the Aug. 28 opener at South Carolina.

The choice of redshirt freshman Russell Wilson over senior Daniel Evans at quarterback might be a bit of a surprise, but the N&O's preseason practice preview correctly predicted that Wilson was ahead of the four other players at that position.

Aside from quarterback, the right side of the offensive line is the only spot on the depth chart for the offense or defense that lists a different starter than the preseason depth chart for reason other than injury.

Meares Green, the preseason starter at right tackle, now is the starter at right guard. Jeraill McCuller has moved into the starting spot at right tackle, and former right guard starter Curtis Crouch is backing up Green.

At wide receiver, sophomore Owen Spencer has moved up into the spot vacated by Donald Bowens, who's out for the year with a spinal injury.On special teams, Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown are listed as kickoff returners, with Eugene and freshman T.J. Graham of Raleigh set to return punts.

– Ken Tysiac

Big hands offset N.C. State QB's lack of size

After practice Thursday, I asked N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson to hold up his hand so I could see for myself. I'm about 6-foot-3, with hands that I think are average for somebody my size. Wilson is 5-foot-11, and one of the criticisms he has always faced is that he's small for a quarterback.

"The only drawback I've ever heard about Russell in any way, shape or form is his height," Charlie McFall, Wilson's former coach at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., said Thursday.

Wilson held his hand up to mine. Sure enough, even though he has to tilt his head just a bit to look up at me, his hands are bigger than mine. Why is this important? Because the ability to see over linemen is only one reason coaches like tall quarterbacks.

Taller guys also tend to have bigger hands, which can help them handle the ball better and perhaps even throw more easily.

Wilson was named the starting quarterback Friday.

Wilson has an asset you wouldn't expect him to have - big, strong hands that also make him a successful infielder for N.C. State's baseball team.

– Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 21, 2008

N.C. State can't go wrong with tailback rotation

One of N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien's most difficult decisions heading into the Aug. 28 opener at South Carolina might be how to rotate talented tailbacks Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown.

Eugene surpassed 100 yards rushing three times in the last seven games last season and was tabbed the starter entering training camp. Brown ranks 12th in N.C. State history with 1,772 career rushing yards entering his senior season.

"Jamelle has proven he can carry the load and play a lot," O'Brien said. "But Andre is a pretty good back, too."

The guess here is that if both backs are healthy, they will start the season playing about the same number of series on offense. N.C. State also is relying on Eugene on punt returns and kickoff returns, so Brown can provide him time to rest in the backfield.

Although Brown missed time early in camp because of a still-tender foot, O'Brien said he ran hard and with good vision during Tuesday's scrimmage. O'Brien said Brown's conditioning needs to improve, but that shouldn't be much of a problem if he's only playing half the game.

The next question will be what happens in the backfield when Toney Baker returns from knee surgery. Baker hopes to be back in a few weeks. And then O'Brien and his staff will have more difficult - but welcome - decisions to make at a position that might be the deepest on the roster.

– Ken Tysiac

Crawford was wise to choose track over football

Watching the replay of former Clemson sprinter Shawn Crawford in the Olympic 200 meters Wednesday reminded me of a game at Virginia Tech in 1999.

Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore tripped up Clemson wide receiver Brian Wofford in the backfield on a reverse in the early stages of the game. Afterward, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden intimated that the play had been designed for Crawford, who dazzled the staff during his brief time with the football team that fall before quitting to concentrate on track.

If Crawford had run the play instead of Wofford, Bowden suggested, the result would have been much different because of the sprinter's incredible speed.

On Wednesday, Crawford received the silver medal for finishing in 19.96 seconds after two runners ahead of him were disqualified for running outside their lanes. He made the right choice by sticking with track and maturing into one of the best sprinters in the United States.

Bob Pollock, who was Crawford's track coach at Clemson, bemoaned his flirtation with football because he feared Crawford was jeopardizing what's become a fantastic track career.

Nonetheless, it's fun to speculate what might have happened if Crawford took the handoff from Brandon Streeter that day. It's even more fun to imagine what Jamaican Usain Bolt would do as a football player. At age 21, Bolt won gold medals in the 100 and 200 with world-record sprints. He beat Crawford by 66 hundredths of a second in the 200.

Imagine Bolt on the fast track in Indianapolis catching a 5-yard hitch from Peyton Manning and then turning on the jets. It would be breathtaking.

Then again, it will be fascinating to watch how low Bolt can take the world record with further training in an already golden career.

– Ken Tysiac

New book profiles ASU coach Jerry Moore

Appalachian State's football program has those three national titles.

Now it has a book about its veteran coach.

"King of the Mountain: The Jerry Moore Story," written by Dick Brown of Winston-Salem, started out to be a book about the program, but evolved into primarily a story about Moore, the longtime Mountaineers' coach who has more Southern Conference victories than anyone.

Brown is publishing the book himself through John F. Blair Publishing in Winston-Salem.

Brown started the book in 2005, just before the Mountaineers won their first national crown.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he told the Winston-Salem Journal.

The book offers considerable insight into Moore. For instance, he was adopted and didn't learn of it until he was 21. And he was once in a small plane forced by a storm to land on a two-lane road at night. The safe touch-down reinforced his religious faith.

Brown will sign copies of his book on Sept. 6, before the Mountaineers' first home game, in the ASU bookstore (828-262-3070 for further information) and at Kidd Brewer Stadium later in the day.

You can e-mail brown at

- Stan Olson

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ASU's Armanti Edwards rejects the 'bling'

Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards now has two national championship rings, but don't look for them on his fingers.

"They're catching dust on the dresser at home," he said recently. "I don't even like jewelry. I don't have an earring, none of that."

Edwards had an ear pierced in the fourth grade. Then his ninth-grade basketball coach mentioned that anyone who wore an earring would run laps.

"I've never put it back in since then," he said.

Edwards said he thinks his distaste for "bling" came from his father, Freddie Edwards.

"I guess I took after my dad; he probably wore one ring, but no earring, none of that," Armanti Edwards said. "I probably wore my (championship) ring to the (football) banquet. And we have something called Celebrity Serve where some of us go out to the restaurants and serve (to raise money for charity). I probably wore it three or four times this year."

According to the preseason Sports Network poll that is starting Appalachian off as a consensus No.1, that dresser might soon feature another ring, catching dust on that dresser.


Ex-Pack coach Holtz: Few positives in '08 team

Lou Holtz said he will never forget seeing offensive guard Bill Yoest spouting off in the N.C. State locker room after a practice during Holtz’s first spring as the Wolfpack’s coach.

Yoest, who didn’t realize Holtz was in the locker room, was complaining about the new coach.

The next day, Holtz took Yoest aside. Holtz told him what he’d heard in the locker room. Then Holtz said Yoest was right. The new coach was crazy.

“You’ve really got it figured out,” Holtz said he told Yoest. “These other guys aren’t as smart as you are. You keep it to yourself.”

Holtz said Yoest changed after that conversation. Yoest went on to become a team captain and a consensus All-American in 1973.

He is just one of the players Holtz loves to brag on from the four seasons (1972-75) he spent at N.C. State. During a phone interview Tuesday, Holtz reminisced about playing pickup basketball against the players and getting roughed up by Mike Devine, who made All-ACC as a defensive back in 1974.

“Johnny Evans, Ted Brown,” he said, rattling off the names of some of his favorites. “Good Lord, Pat Hovance, Pat Kenney, the Druschel brothers, Justus Everett. . . .Willie Burden, Charley Young, Roland Hooks, Steve Lester - who couldn’t run but always could get open.”

Holtz, 71, now works as a studio analyst for ESPN. He obviously has fond memories of his time at N.C. State, but doesn’t have much hope for the team this season.

“On paper this year, it looks like they’re going to struggle,” Holtz said.

His notes on the Wolfpack rustled in his hands. He saw that N.C. State returns just four starters on defense and lost all three linebacker starters.

He saw that the team might start a freshman at quarterback and has a new kicker. Holtz makes a nice income as a motivational speaker, but even he found it difficult to paint a positive outlook for the current team despite his fondness for the school.

“There isn’t a whole lot to be optimistic about there,” he said, “except for (coach) Tom O’Brien.”

- Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mountaineers are No. 1 - again

Appalachian State just announced that it has been picked to make it four national championships in a row.

The Mountaineers released the Sports Network's preseason poll for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The poll has ASU ranked No.1 again. Appalachian received a whopping 97 of 101 first-place votes.

The school is the preseason favorite for the third straight year No.2 is North Dakota State, which had one first-place vote, followed by Northern Iowa, Richmond and Massachusetts. James Madison, which had the other three first place votes, was picked sixth.

Four other Southern Conference teams are also nationally ranked — No. 13 Wofford, No. 15 Elon, No. 17 Georgia Southern and No. 23 The Citadel. Appalachian has been ranked in the top ten for each of its last 37 games.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Mountaineers healthy as LSU game approaches

BOONE - With their opener at LSU 12 days away, Appalachian State’s Mountaineers continue to push through practice in remarkably good health.

Only one player—defensive back/special teamer Anthony Cruver (thumb injury) - stands to miss the game at this point.

Also still recovering from an ankle injury suffered in last year’s high school playoffs is former Independence High star running back Rod Chisholm. Since the ankle remains sore, there is a strong possibility Chisholm might be redshirted, and in any event, ASU is deep at running back.

The Mountaineers practiced late this morning in Kidd Brewer Stadium with the good taste of the team’s FanFest scrimmage from Saturday still fresh in their mouths.

An estimated 10,000 fans showed up first to get autographs and then to watch, and the offense in particular put on a show, collecting 599 total yards on 15 possessions, with 425 of that coming on the ground.

- Stan Olson

Sunday, August 17, 2008

UNC Starting Slots Still up for Grabs

By Robbi Pickeral
(Raleigh) News & Observer

CHAPEL HILL - With two weeks left before the season opener against McNeese State, North Carolina sophomore Kendric Burney has almost certainly wrapped up the starting position at one corner. But coach Butch Davis said after Saturday's scrimmage that he's still a ways to naming a starter at the other.


"All of the rest of them are pretty much unknown commodities,'' Davis said. "Jordan Hemby has never played in a game; Johnny [White] and Richie [Richh] are new to the position, so they're battling. We're watching guys, and another guy we haven't talked a whole lot about this fall is Tavorris Jolly' he's one of the players where the light's starting to come on."

In addition, sophomore Charles Brown, who started nine games in the secondary last season, has been sidelined by an ankle injury; Saturday marked the first time he had practiced in a week, and he's still not at 100 percent.

Other scrimmage/practice notes:

* The first 45 minutes of practice focused on special teams, where Jay Wooten and Casey Barth are still competing for kicking duties. Davis has not ruled out using both, in different situations.

"As soon as we finish next Saturday's mock game, we'll probably know . what role each of those guys will have,'' Davis said. "Is one guy going to be the extra point and short field goal guy because of the trajectory? Is one guy going to be the long field goal guy, the kickoff guy? Or is one guy going to do like Connor [Barth last year] and do everything? . It's more important that the kicker is the right guy for that kick, regardless of being able to say, 'I'm the starter, and I'm going to take all 120 kicks over the course of the season on kickoffs, field goals and extra points.'"

Davis said it appears as though Lowell Dyer is going to be the starting extra point and field goal snapper; and Mark House has a "slight lead" on deep snapping duties over Trevor Stewart for punts. But those positions aren't 100 percent settled.

* The scrimmage, which was only open to the media for the first drive, pitted the first-team offense against the second-team defense, and vice versa, in order to judge "how second-team players would play if they have to go into the ballgame,'' Davis said. It also gave the players a chance to play against different competition.

Davis said there were more turnovers than he preferred, something the Tar Heels will continue to work on with two weeks before the first game.

* Wide receiver Cooter Arnold and safety Melvin Williams both sustained ankle injuries, although X-rays were negative. Wide receiver Dwight Jones was still not in pads; Davis said earlier this week he was recovering from a thigh bruise sustained when he was practicing at Valdosta State.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Morgan brothers draw strength from each other

Every day, two N.C. State brothers separated by half a continent talk football on the phone.

Former Wolfpack safety DaJuan Morgan is going through his first NFL preseason as a third-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. Little brother DeAndre Morgan is competing for a starting position at left cornerback for N.C. State.

"He tells me to go hard, and I tell him the same," DeAndre Morgan said.

DeAndre started seven games last season, breaking up eight passes and making 31 tackles as a redshirt freshman. He plays the field cornerback position, which means he often is left alone in the open field against an opponent's best receiver.

Morgan has the speed to handle that responsibility but at 5-foot-10 is at a disadvantage against bigger receivers. He said he has gained four pounds during the offseason and now weighs 170. That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but Morgan said his improvement is significant.

"I'm doing way better than I did last year, and I feel more comfortable back at corner now, especially against the bigger receivers," Morgan said. "I'm able to give a bigger challenge now because of my strength."

N.C. State needs Morgan and right cornerback Jeremy Gray to be strong in the secondary.

The safety position has been depleted by injuries to Javon Walker last season and Clem Johnson this fall. DaJuan Morgan could have helped that situation, of course. But he's off earning a paycheck in Kansas City following an outstanding junior season. And DeAndre encourages him on the phone every day.

"I’m doing way better than I did last year, and I feel more comfortable back at corner now, especially against the bigger receivers," DeAndre said. "I’m able to give a bigger challenge now because of my strength."

– Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nothing unfair about how Pack decided on QBs

After junior Harrison Beck and sophomore Justin Burke were eliminated from N.C. State’s starting quarterback race, fans sent e-mails asking why.

The short answer is that coach Tom O’Brien didn’t go into detail about their shortcomings. He simply said that N.C. State continues to search for the best player for the job and is moving forward with senior Daniel Evans, redshirt freshman Russell Wilson and freshman Mike Glennon.

That’s as it should be. O’Brien doesn’t owe the public an explanation, especially when anything he says would reflect poorly on Beck and Burke.

One e-mailer was off the mark in suggesting that O’Brien was being unfair by not allowing Beck to participate in Sunday’s scrimmage. If the coach already had seen enough in practice to determine that Beck and Burke weren’t right for the job, he would be doing a disservice to the team and the two quarterbacks by pretending otherwise.

This is difficult for some fans to believe, but O’Brien needs and wants to win as much as N.C. State fans do. His livelihood – and the livelihood of his staff members – depends on it.

If Beck or Burke gave N.C. State the best chance to win, O’Brien would play them. Instead, we’ll wait to see whether Evans, Wilson or Glennon can get the job done.

It’s natural to feel sorry for Beck and Burke, who have worked their whole lives in hopes of starting for a program such as N.C. State. But only one quarterback lines up behind the center on any given play, and the cold reality is that hearts are broken every year at this time when players fall short of their dreams.

– Ken Tysiac

Why did UNC schedule McNeese St. over ASU?

Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore was asked recently if the Mountaineers had tried to schedule North Carolina. His response was a mild grimace.

"We never had a chance,” he said. “Charlie (ASU athletics director Charlie Cobb), I know he’s had dialogue with them. I think that would be a great game.”

It won’t happen, despite the fact that with NCAA Bowl Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) teams are now allowed to play 12 games, usually no more than one is against a team in the Football Championship Series (formerly I-AA) without hurting its bowl chances.

The Tar Heels chose to play McNeese State, a school in Louisiana.

“Why they’d play McNeese State? I don’t know,” Moore said.

UNC coach Butch Davis has said it’s because his program wants to recruit in that area, and there is probably some truth to that. But the bottom line is that North Carolina was 4-8 last year and rebuilding and Appalachian State has won three straight FCS championships.

If the Tar Heels played the Mountaineers and lost, it would do their image no good—look at how much flak Michigan took when Appalachian State upset the Wolverines last year — and North Carolina is nowhere nearly as talented as Michigan was.

Put simply, area BCS schools are afraid of the Mountaineers. The last time the Mountaineers played a Big Four opponent they lost 23-10 at N.C. State in 2006. They’ve only gotten better since then. They used to play Wake Forest regularly, but the Deacons ended that series after the 2001 season.

During the school’s history, there have been occasional games with Clemson, South Carolina, East Carolina and the Wolfpack. But Appalachian State has never played North Carolina or Duke.

That won’t change this year. Appalachian, though, will play a better program than any of those, opening at LSU on Aug. 30.

- Stan Olson

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tar Heels' defense wins - in bowling?

North Carolina’s football team took a break from training camp Wednesday morning to try another form of competition: bowling.

The Tar Heels showed up for their scheduled 8 a.m. meeting to find out they were heading to Mardi Gras Bowling Center in Chapel Hill rather than the practice field — a way to give the players a break from the grind while promoting team unity.

The result: a bevy of strikes, quite a few gutter balls, and a lot of chuckling.

“We have nobody that’s going to threaten to be Dick Weber, but we had a great time,’’ said coach Butch Davis. “Guys were laughing, and at the end of it we had a competition, offense against the defense, the 10 best bowlers. It was a hard-fought match; the defense won 93-88.”

The best of the bunch, according to Davis: wide receivers Cooter Arnold and Brooks Foster, offensive Mike Dykes and linebacker Chase Rice.

The worst of the group: running back Greg Little, who scored roughly a 24.

Davis, who played cheerleader instead of competitor, said he always planned to give the players some sort of surprise break around the 10th day of training camp. Last year, he took the Tar Heels swimming, but rainy weather prevented that this time.

“As a coach, I know you walk a fine line during training camp: How do you get your team prepared physically, do the work that you need to work, and stay as healthy as you possibly can?” he said.

Now that bragging rights have been solidified at the alley, the team will get back on the field tonight when competition resumes at 6:30 p.m.

“I didn’t have a very good day today, bowling; I wasn’t really happy with my performance,’’ Rice said. “But the defense came up on top today, and that’s what really matters.”

-Robbi Pickeral (Raleigh News & Observer)

Injuries leave Wolfpack inexperienced at safety

Late last season, safety seemed to be a position of strength for N.C. State's future.

Junior DaJuan Morgan was well on his way to a second-team All-ACC selection.

Redshirt freshman Javon Walker emerged after the midseason open date as one of the most productive players on defense.

How quickly things changed.

Morgan left school to become a third-round selection in the NFL draft.

Walker tore a knee ligament against Miami and still isn't practicing.

N.C. State recruited a junior college transfer, Clem Johnson, who demonstrated promise at that position but suffered a broken jaw during Sunday's scrimmage.

Johnson has had surgery, and coach Tom O'Brien isn't optimistic about his chances for returning. O'Brien said he believes Johnson is eligible for a redshirt year, and it sounds like he might use it.

"With the jaw, you don't eat and then you lose weight," O'Brien said. "There's that problem of trying to get substance in him. He's going to have to start all over once it heals, which is a lengthy process anyway."

Johnson had been competing with Justin Byers for a starting position. His loss leaves N.C. State with redshirt freshmen Byers and Jimmaul Simmons, junior walk-on Bobby Floyd and senior J.C. Neal to fill two safety positions.

Neal, who made six starts last season, is the only player with any kind of experience.

"We've got some bodies back there," said defensive coordinator Mike Archer. "Luckily we've got two weeks. We've got to get somebody ready to play."

- Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

UNC's Arnold happy on offense

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina's Cooter Arnold missed having the football in his hands. First when he was switched from running back to safety after his freshman season. Then last year as a junior, when he was suspended for the first five games by new head coach Butch Davis.
So after returning from his suspension — which he said was partially because of an academic issue — Arnold asked to be switched back to the offense.
Now as a wide receiver, he's making a last-ditch grab to help the Tar Heels to a winning season and bowl berth.
"My biggest setback was my suspension, but it taught me a lesson ... not to take anything for granted,'' said Arnold, who is from Mocksvile. "So I made it a point when I did get suspended to do everything I could to get back on.
"... I had it decided in my mind that I was going to come back harder than ever, and I was going to bust my tail to get everything done to prove myself."
At first, Arnold said, he talked to Davis about returning at tailback, where he started his first game as a Tar Heel in 2005 and finished the season with 187 yards on 48 carries. But the coaches instead tried him out as a scout team wide receiver, liked what they saw, and made the switch during spring practice.
Playing in the secondary for two seasons has actually made the change more seamless, Arnold said, "because it's a little bit easier to know what the defense might be in, or makes the coverage easier to read."
And although the Tar Heels already boast a star corps of wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster, Arnold is hoping to get the chance to make a catch or two, while also likely playing on special teams.
Anything to get his hands on the ball again.
"I just want to be the best I can be, help my team out ... help bring the ACC Championship home,'' he said.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What is ASU's back-up plan at quarterback?

Everyone who follows Appalachian State football - and many who don't - know about spectacular quarterback Armanti Edwards. But what if something happens to Edwards?

The team is working on solidifying its backup situation, and a freshman, DeAndre Presley from Tampa, made his presence felt in 11-
on-11 drills Saturday in Boone.

Taking over for the offense's second drive, he led an 80-yard march to a score that included his 27-yard burst on an option keeper. He completed the series with a 42-yard scoring pass to Clay McKnight.

The Mountaineers would love for Presley to make the backup role his own, but they have a backup to the backup. Should Presley eventually proves he's not ready, wide receiver CoCo Hillary, who has many of the same skills as Edwards, could slip comfortably into the role, according to quarterbacks coach Scott Satterfield.

Appalachian State, which opens its regular season Aug. 30 at LSU, has closed preseason practices to the public because of ongoing construction to Kidd Brewer Stadium. A FanFest scrimmage, though, will be held Saturday to give fans a look at the squad.

- Stan Olson

Sunday, August 10, 2008

UNC's Jones might practice Monday

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Butch Davis said he is hopeful that Burlington wide receiver Dwight Jones will be able to practice with the team Monday, after the Tar Heels take Sunday off.
Jones, who spent last week in training camp at Division II Valdosta State, signed scholarship papers with UNC on Friday after it was determined that his academics were judged under the wrong set of criteria — leaving him eligible to play Division I football. The NCAA granted him a waiver that allows him to play this season.
Davis answered questions about Jones and the situation after Saturday’s scrimmage, which was closed to the media after the first five minutes:

REPORTER: Realistically, how much Dwight Jones can contribute, considering he’s missed the first week of training camp?

DAVIS: It’ll be interesting, because certainly Dwight is a very gifted athlete. He played some last year at Hargrave, he’s practiced a couple of days this fall already. There’s a learning curve; he’s going to have to come in and learn formations, personnel groupings and those sorts of things.
But I think the one caveat for any skilled athlete coming in as a freshman – and Dwight would be no different than Zack Brown and Herman Davidson and Quenton Coples – guys that are skilled athletes have an opportunity to figure into a chance to play quicker than, say, an offensive lineman, where it’s so enormously physical, their transition from high school to college. So we’ll see when he gets here. I’m anxious for him to get here, I know the team is anxious to have him as part of our team. And we’ll get him assimilated into the learning part as soon as possible.

REPORTER: Do you expect him to practice on Monday?

DAVIS: Valdosta and their coaching staff and their administration and compliance people have done an excellent job helping navigate through a difficult, touchy thing. When he gets here, he’s got a lot of things he has to do. He has to do a physical, he has to do some of the things that these guys (on the team) have already done. We’ve got to find out exactly, specifically, how many days he did actually practice because of the five days of acclimization all players have got to go through to find out at what day he can go into shells, or can he immediately go into pads. When he gets here, it is our hope that he will be able to practice with us on Monday.

REPORTER: How does an oversight with admissions like that happen, and how was it caught?

DAVIS: …It really wasn’t as much an admissions issue as it was a compliance issue. The NCAA changes rules every year. If you ever look at the NCAA manual, it is mindboggling, the rules and regulations.
And in this particular case, what happened was it slipped through the cracks because of the interpretation.
Because he went to Hargrave, the assumption was that he was an ’08 graduate and (needed) 16 core curriculum courses as opposed an ‘07 graduate – which he actually was – (and needed only 14 core courses).
And all he did was submit a later ACT test score that he took in April that qualified him. We hate it, but it was an oversight. And we’re very, very fortunate that it was corrected and caught. I guess you could say that our personnel department is doing a very good job at looking at the waiver wire and finding guys and picking guys up. … We lost out on the Brett Favee deal, but we got Dwight Jones.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wolfpack's Eugene is bigger, faster and bashful

Jamelle Eugene doesn’t enjoy talking with reporters.

At the end of practice, the shy N.C. State tailback has been known to try to use some tall bushes as cover to sneak away when he knows reporters are looking for him.

He couldn’t elude the watchful eyes of sports information assistant Pat Norris on Thursday, and reluctantly gave a brief synopsis of preseason camp from his perspective.

Eugene said he weighed about 193 pounds last season when he took over for the injured Andre Brown and had a strong finish. Now Eugene is up to 202 pounds.

Although he missed the day when N.C. State tested players’ 40-yard dash times because he had his wisdom teeth removed, he said he is faster, too.

“I got bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “My mental game is on point and I have greater knowledge for the game than I did last year.”

He entered camp as the starting tailback and appears to be seeing less competition than expected. Brown is back, but Toney Baker is returning from knee surgery and missed the opening scrimmage because he has been held out of contact work.

Eugene also could play a more active role returning punts and kickoffs after the departure of 2007 special teams stalwart Darrell Blackman. Eugene has been staying after practice working on catching kicks, though he doesn’t know what his role will be.

“I’m just going out there taking every rep and every snap like I’m the starter on the special teams and offense,” he said.

If he can sneak out of practice without talking about it, he’s happy.

– Ken Tysiac

ASU QB: I'm not transferring to bigger school

Appalachian State junior quarterback Armanti Edwards, after leading the Mountaineers to two straight Football Championship Subdivision national titles, has heard the rumors.

Bigger schools, the schools that ignored him when he was a 150-pound high school quarterback in Greenwood, S.C., have been making subtle inquiries about whether he would be open to transferring into their programs.

Edwards, though, said recently that's not happening.

"I haven't heard from any of those," he said. "I heard (rumors that) Florida State and South Carolina (were interested) last year, but I don't know where they were coming from. My brother asked me about it, if I was going to leave, and I said, 'No.' "

Edwards said he has been delighted with his career in Boone, and plans to stay with ASU through his senior year before trying to make believers out of the NFL.

- Stan Olson

Big South to get playoffs' automatic bid in 2010

The Big South Conference, which is headed into its 25th season but has played football only since 2002, has finally made it.

The league will receive an automatic bid to the national playoffs that the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) features, in 2010. That's because the league - with the addition of Stony Brook (N.Y.) - finally has the six members required to land the automatic berth.

Those members must play together for two years before the bid is awarded, and this fall will be the first.

It could have happened much earlier. The league had just four members in its inaugural football season, but talked VMI into switching from the Southern Conference to the Big South, and also added Coastal Carolina.

But then Elon, a first-year member, dropped out to take the Keydets' slot in the Southern Conference in the seemingly never-ending game of conference musical chairs.

"That was frustrating," Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said Thursday evening from Seattle. "We spent a long time persuading VMI to join us, and when it finally happens, Elon turns around and takes VMI's place in the Southern."

So the Big South had five teams instead of the required six in '03, and it stayed that way until this year. Not to worry, the number will soon be seven, as Presbyterian prepares to join the league.

- Stan Olson

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Scrimmage unveils defects in Wolfpack's line

N.C. State’s strength on offense is supposed to be its running game.

Jamelle Eugene, Andre Brown and Toney Baker are talented, experienced backs – though Baker, who tore a knee ligament in last season’s opener, is being held out of contact drills for the moment.

But when asked about the running backs following the preseason-opening practice, coach Tom O’Brien cautioned that the offensive line needs to open holes for the running game. That offensive line didn’t perform up to O’Brien’s standards in Wednesday’s opening scrimmage.

N.C. State’s lead backs – Eugene (eight carries, 22 yards) and Brown (9-36) – combined to average less than four yards per carry.

“When you look at the running stats, you’ve still got to be able to block people better to run the ball better,” O’Brien said. “That’s still a work in progress.”

O’Brien and offensive line coach Don Horton were noted for building successful lines at Boston College before coming to N.C. State after the 2006 season. They still have a lot of work to do with the current line.

Center Ted Larsen and left guard John Bedics – who could be challenged by Jake Vermiglio in camp – entered camp as starters after moving from defense in the spring. Horton likes their experience and physicality but said they still need to learn their fundamentals and assignments so they can be aggressive enough.

O’Brien cautioned that Wednesday’s scrimmage was only the first one of an unusual training camp that started early because N.C. State has a Thursday night (Aug. 28) opener at South Carolina.

“It’s the first effort out of the box,” O’Brien said. “We’re still in school. We still have to take exams Monday and Tuesday. This isn’t like a normal camp. We’re feeling our way through this right now.”

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Underclassmen take on leadership roles at UNC

CHAPEL HILL — On many college football teams, the seniors take on the biggest leadership roles. After all, they've been there the longest, paid their dues, usually played the most.

But with only 11 seniors on North Carolina's squad this season, the underclassmen are taking on a louder voice at practice, in the locker room and in the classroom. And offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, one of those rare Tar Heel seniors, says that's a good thing.

"It's great, because it's giving the younger guys a chance to step up,'' Reynolds said. "... We had a team meeting last year, just the players, and that's one thing we stood up and said: 'Hey, it's not the seniors' team, it's not just their turn to speak. You don't even have to play. If you see somebody skipping a rep or goofing out in class, yell at them. Call them out.' And it's definitely been great to see younger guys stepping up and doing that stuff."

And important, too. Reynolds said that when he was a freshman, North Carolina had a fairly large senior class, so he didn't really talk a lot.

"I just practiced and stayed in my playbook,'' he said. "I didn't really speak up verbally or anything like that; I figured that was someone else's spot. And when you do that, it takes guys longer to learn those leadership roles and skills.

"When guys can step up their freshman year and say, 'Hey, you weren't going full speed on that rep; what's up with that?' and actually call someone out and be confident that the older guys are going to back them up and be in support of that ... they're going to gain some confidence, and know that's how things should be run, and learn how to lead."

So that by the time they are seniors — no matter how large their graduating class — they are helping mold new, younger leaders, too.

-Robbi Pickeral (Raleigh News & Observer)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

N.C. State's 1st scrimmage Wednesday

N.C. State players eager to establish themselves high on the depth chart will have a big opportunity Wednesday evening during the team’s first preseason intrasquad scrimmage.

“Scrimmages weigh a little bit more (than practices), because you’re out there, you’re by yourself,” said coach Tom O’Brien. “There’s no coaches. You’ve got to make plays. Nobody’s telling you what to do or how to get lined up. It’s exam time when you go into the stadium.”

The scrimmage will be closed to the public and the media, but N.C. State’s sports information staff will release statistics after the scrimmage.

O’Brien expects to scrimmage the first-team offense against the first-team defense, the second-team offense against the second-team defense, and then try different combinations.

He was asked if all five quarterbacks would get an equal number of snaps.“We would hope,” he said. “You never can tell, but we’ll see how it works out.”

Daniel Evans, Harrison Beck, Justin Burke, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon are competing for the starting quarterback job.

During Tuesday’s practice, starting wide receiver Donald Bowens was wearing a jersey with a red cross signifying an injured player. O’Brien declined to say whether Bowens was injured and said he won’t talk about injuries until the season starts.

“It’s summer practice,” O’Brien said. “It’s not worth talking about.”

O’Brien did say that if a player suffers a season-ending injury during the preseason, he will inform the media. – Ken Tysiac

Pleasant surprises for Butch Davis at camp

CHAPEL HILL — With Kentwan Balmer and Hilee Taylor both drafted into the NFL, North Carolina coach Butch Davis began training camp with concerns about his defensive line.
Five days into practice, he's starting to feel a little better.

"One of the pleasant surprises is the defensive line -- their intensity, trying to develop that depth,'' Davis said Tuesday. "Marvin Austin is obviously doing a very good job, but Aleric Mullins and Tydreke Powell and Cam Thomas — all four of those guys are going to be extraordinarily instrumental to having a good rotation inside. [At] the defensive ends, E.J. Wilson had an outstanding practice yesterday. He was bigger, stronger, physicaler at the point of attack. ... Greg Elleby is doing some good stuff, so the defensive line is off to a really good start."

Other news and notes from Tuesday:

* Davis said that quarterback T.J. Yates, who had surgery on his right shoulder in December, is throwing well.
"He's not shown any kind of ill effects,'' Davis said. "So our speculation is that he went through the worst of it this past spring, and he should be fine for the rest of the fall."
The one thing Yates hasn't tried since his surgery is getting tackled. But that won't happen during training camp, either.
"We never hit Cam [Sexton] or Mike [Paulus] or Braden [Hanson] or any of the other quarterbacks in this program,'' Davis said. "They get grabbed from time to time, and they get under pressure ... but as far as taking a chance on hitting them, somebody else is going to have to run that drill, not me."

* Punters Chase Jones and Terrence Brown have been working as the new holders for field goals and extra points.
"They both have excellent hands,'' Davis said. "And the snaps — a couple of times they were three, four, five inches off target, but they were able to get the ball down and get the ball spun and give the kicker the confidence to go ahead and not worry about the placement. So that part was good."

* Junior Aaron Stahl moved from offensive guard to center during the spring, and is competing with Lowell Dyer for the starting snapping spot. "He's very very fast, he's smart, he's athletic, he's powerful and strong, and can pull and run,'' Davis said of Stahl. "And that's a plus, when your center can be that mobile."

* Senior linebacker Mark Paschal sat out his second day of practice with a mild concussion. But that sounds like the worst of the injuries so far. "We've probably got 8 to 10 kids that have got bumps and bruises,'' Davis said.

* Sophomore Shaun Draughn switched from safety to running back after spring practice, and Davis has been impressed.
"The one thing that really separates running backs is vision,'' Davis said. "Some kids have it, and some kids don't. ... He's got some athletic ability and some vision.

* The Tar Heels begin two-a-day practices Wednesday.

ASU's secondary lacks experience, not talent

It's understood that Appalachian State has a busload of talent returning this year, but if the team has a weakness, most people think it will be in the secondary, where the Mountaineers lost all four starters from last season - cornerbacks Jerome Touchstone and Justin Woazeah, and safeties Titus Howard and Corey Lynch.

Plenty of talent remains in the defensive backfield, though.

"We had tremendous playmakers back there," said ASU defensive coordinator John Wiley. "But with (safeties) Leonard Love and Billy Riddle and (CB) Cortez Gilbert, we could still (start) with two seniors and a junior back there. So we may not be as young as a lot of people are projecting us to be.

"They're good football players; they just happened to play behind some guys in front of them through most of their career and now it's time to shine."

Cornerback Jared Reine and safety Mark LeGree, both sophomores and both with good shots at starting, add to the talent level. Wiley said several athletic freshman will also be in the mix.

So the problem won't be a lack of talent.

"If there's going to be a drop-off, it's going to be a drop off in experience," Wiley said.

- Stan Olson

Monday, August 4, 2008

UNC's Foster ready to step it up

CHAPEL HILL — Brooks Foster knows that many consider him North Carolina's third receiver, behind play-maker Hakeem Nicks and speedster Brandon Tate.
But after a summer of building his leg strength to try to ward off injury, he's determined to surprise some people.

"I definitely have a lot of personal goals ... I really want 1,000 yards,'' said Foster, who wants to play in the NFL after this season. "It's going to be hard to distribute the ball. ... But this is my last year, so I've got to step it up, do what I can to get the ball."

Last season, a lingering quad injury helped limit his receptions, although he finished with 29 catches for 417 yards and two touchdowns. After missing the Miami game with the injury, he returned to the field, telling the coaches he was 100 percent. But he wasn't really, and he said it showed particularly when he tried to run routes over the middle.

"I lost my confidence, wasn't getting open as much,'' he said. "It kind of made me look bad, kinda-sorta."

He was close to 100 percent the last two games of the season, he said, and spent the off-season in the weight room.

If opponents really do consider him the "third receiver," he wants to be healthy and strong enough to take advantage of the double-teams they might throw at Nicks (who has said he wants to get 1,200 yards) and Tate (who is 539 yards shy of the NCAA record for kickoff return yards).

"I feel like if I'm strong, you don't fatigue as fast, your legs don't break down on you,'' he said.

BRIEFLY: Freshman linebacker Kevin Reddick reported to camp and practiced for the first time Monday. He still hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, a team spokesman said, but the Clearinghouse allows players a 14-day window to practice as both sides try to clear up academic issues.

-- Robbi Pickeral (Raleight) News & Observer

Wolfpack kicker confident, coach optimistic

Josh Czajkowski doesn’t seem worried about making his first start as N.C. State’s kicker.

Czajkowski, a sophomore, has yet to kick in a game and will make his debut Aug. 28 at South Carolina.

“I’m really confident,” Czajkowski said. “Our specialists are looking really good, consistently. We’ve been working together for a long time.”

Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien also sounds optimistic about the kicking game. Czajkowski didn’t miss a field goal from inside 40 yards during the spring. Punter Bradley Pierson returns after averaging 37.2 yards per kick last season.

Both have looked good in the first few practices, though they will be tested more this week as N.C. State begins working out in full pads.

“We kicked field goals (Sunday), and Josh kicked the ball fine,” O’Brien said. “Solid, high, long, true. So that’s positive. And Pierson’s punted the ball well most of the time. So I think they’re on track.”

- O’Brien also has been impressed with the early work of his five quarterbacks.

Daniel Evans, Russell Wilson, Harrison Beck, Justin Burke and Mike Glennon are competing for the starting job. O’Brien said all five seem to understand what’s expected of them.

“We’re much more advanced at that position than we were (a year ago) from a knowledge standpoint, getting out of the huddle, getting everybody headed the right direction, getting the ball where it’s supposed to go,” O’Brien said. “Now it’s a matter of decision making and execution.”

- Senior Antoine Holmes, who moved from defensive end to defensive tackle last season, still is getting used to playing at a heavier weight.

He said he played at 275 pounds last season but is up to 285.

“At first it was a load to pull, but I’m feeling better right now,” Holmes said.

The biggest tactical adjustment at tackle is getting accustomed to the idea that extra blockers can come from different directions. At end, double teams usually came from only one side.“You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel (at tackle),” Holmes said.

- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, August 2, 2008

QB Yates more familiar with offense ...

Here's a scene you would have never witnessed during the second day of North Carolina's training camp last season: a play being signaled in from the sideline, and quarterback T.J. Yates interpreting it, communicating it, and running it.
"We've come so far from last year,'' Yates said Saturday. "We're trying to do new things, tweak the offense a little bit, trying to get the best play out there on the field. And sometimes that might mean calling the play from the sideline, checking off."
Last year, with a new head coach (Butch Davis) and offensive coordinator (John Shoop), UNC was most concerned with installing an offense and finding its starting quarterback. Now that it has done both, the next step is to fine-tune it.
And it helps that Yates, who had surgery on his right (throwing shoulder) in December, said "I feel good" after his first two practices.
"I was actually a little bit (more sore) yesterday than today,'' the sophomore from Georgia said Saturday.
Yates, last year's runner up for ACC Rookie of the Year, has yet to get hit, or even throw in shoulder pads. But just getting back into a familiar stance behind center during his first practice in roughly eight months was a relief.
"It was good to get back out there, go through the team aspect of it,'' he said. "You can only do so many drills, so many simulations. But when you actually get out there with the offensive and defensive lines, it's different -- and definitely something I have to get used to again, since I haven't done it since the last game of (last) season. It's going to take a little more time than I thought to get used to."
Unlike this time last August, though, he's done it before.


UNC looking for special players on special teams

While there will be plenty of folks watching the kicking contest to replace Connor Barth during UNC's training camp, two other key position battles resumed on special teams during the Tar Heels' second day of practice on Saturday: at deep snapper and holder.
With Michael Murphy (last year's deep snapper on extra points and field goals) and Ryan Baucom (holder, and deep snapper on punts) both gone, Tar Heel coaches must find new players to fill the underappreciated positions.
"I think a lot of people think they can kick and hold and snap, do the things that we do -- and they probably could, but it's a tough job, and there's a lot of pressure,'' said punter Terrence Brown. "And it's definitely something you have to work at -- and put time in ... especially to perfect the snap."
Brown worked all summer on long snaps with Trevor Stuart, a sophomore from Sugar Land, Texas. Nolan Fry, a freshman walk-on from Raleigh, joined in during second summer session. And Mark House, a walk-on from Wilmington, was working out with the special teams snappers on Saturday.
Brown and Trase Jones, a walk-on kicker/punter, were holding for field goals and extra points during the early part of Saturday's practice.
As for the place-kicking battle, Brown said he has been impressed by all of those competing, including redshirt freshman Jay Wooten (who he lived with over the summer) and walk-on Casey Barth, Connor's younger brother (who he is rooming with during training camp).
"Everyone has the physical ability to kick, it's whether or not that have that mental toughness to be able to kick in front of 65, 75 thousand people,'' Brown said. "...It's the mental aspect that's going to be big, and we're going to find out in camp who can do it."


Mountaineers loaded again, reflect on ESPY experience

Three-time defending champion Appalachian State had its football media day Saturday, and it quickly became apparent that despite the loss of a number of key seniors including wide receiver Dexter Jackson and defensive back Corey Lynch, the Mountaineers will be loaded again.
This was a relaxed day, though, and longtime coach Jerry Moore got to talking about the Appalachian State party’s recent trip to the ESPY Awards, where the Mountaineers were up for biggest upset of the year.
“First of all, I saw more little black dresses than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Moore said as laughter rippled through the room. “For a guy from a little town in east Texas, it was earth-shattering.”
Moore said he had a feeling the New York Giants would win the award for their Super Bowl upset when he saw “about 16 Giants in the audience.” And New York did win. “New York out-voted Boone.”
The TV suits had told the Mountaineers that dress for the event would be “California chic.”
“I took two suits, a tux…and went to buy another coat when I got there,” Moore said. “California chic; I didn’t know what that meant exactly. What it really amounts to is, you don’t button your shirt.”
Then Moore got serious.
“It was a great experience, it was a first-class presentation and a lot of fun,” he said. “I wish our whole football team—120 guys—could have walked down that red carpet with us.”


Long throws, weight loss and Dopplegangers: DAY 1 at UNC

North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates said he knew his shoulder was recovering well from offseason surgery this summer when he overthrew wide receiver Hakeem Nicks — 65 yards down the field. Yates didn't attempt to throw one that far during the hour that reporters were allowed to watch UNC's first practice on Friday. But he did compete at least one 45-yarder, to freshman wideout Todd Harrelson.
No wonder coach Butch Davis said Yates is the definitive No. 1 QB.

Other notes from practice:

* It would have been hard to recognize sophomore tailback Ryan Houston if it weren't for his jersey number and dreadlocks. Running backs coach Kenny Browning said Houston, currently penciled in as the No. 2 tailback on the depth chart, has lost between 25-30 pounds since the beginning of last season.
"I've just got a feeling he's going to be a significantly better player, not just because of the weight, but because the work ethic is one of the things I wanted him to get better at,'' Browning said. "I'm really excited about seeing him at 240 as opposed to 268 ... He'll be able to play lower because of it. And if he plays with great pad level, he is a hard man to tackle. He is a powerful human being."

* You couldn't help but do a double-take when walk-on kicker Casey Barth took the field. His hair is a bit redder, and he's wearing jersey number 11 instead of 10, but he is the spittin' image of older brother Connor, who set the school record last season for career field goals made — and is now trying to make an NFL roster. Casey is competing with redshirt freshman Jay Wooten for the kicking job.

* Offensive guard Kevin Bryant, who broke his wrist in the spring, and linebacker Linwan Euwell, who suffered a left knee injury last season, are further ahead in their recoveries than expected, Davis said.
"We're going to keep them on the watch list,'' he added. "They're going to practice, they're going to go out and we may limit some of the reps and some of the drills that they're going to do, because we're going to ... build their confidence up to where they're full go, and we'll turn them loose."


UNC's Little now a one-sport guy

UNC sophomore Greg Little hopes to apply a lot of what he learned while playing for the basketball Tar Heels to the football field this year.
And when he returns to the Smith Center next season, it will be as a spectator, not a player.
"(Football coach Butch Davis) looks at me as a pretty smart guy, and me being his featured back, I don't think he wants me on the court,'' Little, UNC's starting tailback, said Friday. "That's what I understand, and that's what I understood going into it last year — if I couldn't get the majority of the the (playing) time or be a heavy contributor, this is where I was going to be."
Little played in 10 games with the basketball team, scoring five points. And he appreciated the experience.
"I learned a lot from those guys, how they go about winning and their tradition,'' he said. "And hopefully, I can bring that back over here."
"There's never a doubt going into the game whether you can win or not, and that's that chip you have to have on your shoulder — that fine line between cocky and confident, that you know you're going on that field (or court) every time to win,'' Little said.
UNC's football team hasn't finished a season above .500 since 2001. By staying with one sport, Little hopes to change that.


UNC missing 2 players for first practice

North Carolina was missing two players at it prepared for its first training camp practice on Friday: freshman linebacker Kevin Reddick, and defensive end Joseph Townsend, a junior college transfer.
Reddick, from New Bern, attended summer school classes but was not allowed to report because of an NCAA Clearinghouse issue, UNC coach Butch Davis said.
"Hopefully it will resolve itself in the very near future,'' he added.
Townsend, who played at Los Altos Hills (Calif.) Community College, has to take care of some academic work before he can enroll in the fall, a team spokesman said.


Friday, August 1, 2008

N.C. State's logjam at quarterback not 'ideal'

N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien has never been in this situation before.

A college football team typically enters a preseason with two or three players, at most, competing for a starting quarterback position.

N.C. State has five.

That would seem to be a good situation, until you try to figure out how to divide the repetitions during practice.

After Thursday’s opening practice, it appeared that O’Brien will try to give all five – Daniel Evans, Russell Wilson, Harrison Beck, Justin Burke and Mike Glennon – a legitimate look during workouts.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” O’Brien said, “but it’s where we are. It’s more important to make the right decision than just make a decision.”

With such a logjam at the game’s most important position, O’Brien was peppered with questions about the quarterbacks by the media:

Q: How important is it for one of those guys to step forward?
A: “It would be really important. I think the quarterback is the leader of your offense. He’s the only guy other than your center who touches the ball every play. He needs to make decisions and do things with it. So the faster we can get to that point, the better off we’ll be. But I don’t know when that’s going to be.

Q: Is there a time, maybe 10 days before the game or eight days before the game, that you want a starter?
A: “No. We scrimmage about 10 days before the first game. So after that’s done, we’ll take some time and take a couple days. Whenever we’ve had this situation generally it’s been two guys, not five guys. We’ll figure it out and spend a couple days and mull it over.”

Q: Is there anything more grating than answering quarterback questions for an entire fall camp? A: “No. But I’m not going to answer them every day.”

With five quarterbacks in camp, the separation might come so gradually that there won’t be news to report every day. But with so much attention on this unusual race, O’Brien might have to sneak away from reporters at the end of practice to avoid the questions.

– Ken Tysiac

Top 25 rankings show strength of SEC

We didn’t exactly need evidence that the SEC rules college football.

The past two national champions (Florida and LSU) have come from the SEC. LSU and Georgia both won blowouts in BCS bowl games last season.

USA Today’s Top 25 rankings, released Friday morning, demonstrated that the coaches voting in the poll expect the SEC’s domination to continue.

Georgia is the preseason No. 1. Florida (No. 5) and LSU (No. 6) are in the top 10. The Big 12 also has three top-10 teams, but the SEC has Auburn checking in at No. 11.

The ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 each have one representative in the top 10.

It’s unusual for the coaches to agree with the media on anything, but both groups chose the same ACC favorite. Clemson, picked as champion in the ACC preseason media poll last month, is the coaches’ top ACC team at No. 9.

Coastal Division favorite Virginia Tech is at No. 15, and Wake Forest (No. 23) is ranked in a preseason poll for the first time.

The poll wasn’t terrible news for the ACC as a whole, but it didn’t place the ACC among the top conferences. The SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 all have five teams in the top 25. The ACC and Pac-10 have three apiece, and the Big East has two.

- Ken Tysiac

You can see the full rankings here: