Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ex-Pack coach Amato has cancer

Former N.C. State football coach Chuck Amato will undergo treatment for a cancerous spot located on his tonsil, N.C. State sports information director Annabelle Myers confirmed.

Doctors detected the cancer early, and a full recovery is expected.
Amato gave a statement to Myers after a Charlotte Observer and News & Observer reporter inquired about his health.

“I appreciate the concern and prayers so many people,” Amato said. “The prognosis is optimistic, which is very encouraging, and with the grace of God and the support of my family and friends and the Wolfpack Nation, I will get through this.”

Amato, 63, is a former N.C. State football player and wrestler and was the Wolfpack’s head coach from 2000 to 2006. He posted records of 49-37 overall and 25-31in the ACC with five bowl appearances in seven seasons.

He returned to Florida State’s staff for the last three seasons, but was not retained at the end of the 2009 season when Jimbo Fisher took over for departing head coach Bobby Bowden.

Amato plans to continue his daily routine and workout regimen while undergoing treatment and is seeking another coaching job.

“Six weeks from now, I will be as good as can be and ready to go if someone out there is looking for a great coach,” Amato said.

Doctors discovered the cancer in December. Amato had hoped to speak in person with his mentor, Bowden, before going public about the disease.

But upon learning that his cancer was being discussed in Internet chat rooms, he decided to go public.

“Now that the word has spread, I want to assure everyone that I will tackle this challenge just like I’ve tackled coaching throughout my career - full speed ahead,” he said.

Ken Tysiac

Pack's Wilson excused from spring practice

N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson will not participate in spring football practice this year as he devotes his full attention in the spring to baseball, team spokeswoman Annabelle Myers confirmed today.

According to Myers, Wilson's spring itinerary is consistent with a plan agreed upon by Wilson and football coach Tom O'Brien long ago and doesn't necessarily indicate that Wilson will enter the major league baseball draft in the summer and stop playing football.

Wilson's scholarship is for football, and O'Brien wanted him to concentrate on learning the quarterback position in the spring early in his career. In 2008, heading into his redshirt freshman football season, Wilson didn't miss any spring practices as he competed for the starting position.

In 2009, O'Brien excused Wilson from some spring practice sessions to allow him to play baseball and even allowed Wilson to leave the spring football game at halftime to prepare for a baseball game that same day.

This year, with two seasons as a starter under his belt, Wilson will be allowed to concentrate fully on baseball.

"We're just sticking to the plan," O'Brien said in a statement relayed by Myers.

N.C. State starts spring practice on March 9.

Wilson has competed in two football seasons for the Wolfpack, earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2008 and leading the ACC with 31 touchdown passes in 2009. But 2010 will be his third baseball season with the Wolfpack, and he hasn't ruled out the idea of entering the major league draft after the season.

His only comment on his plans regarding the draft has been that he will let his faith guide his decision.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, January 18, 2010

Duke dismisses three football players

Three players have been kicked off the Duke football team for conduct unbecoming of members of the program.

Coach David Cutcliffe said freshmen John Drew, Kyle Griswould and Brandon Putnam had been dismissed from the team.

University officials said the three have been charged with felonious possession and discharge of a weapon after an early morning incident on campus.

-- Staff reports

Saturday, January 16, 2010

UNC QB Renner to play baseball for Tar Heels

North Carolina freshman quarterback Bryn Renner will play baseball this spring for the Tar Heels, the UNC sports information office said.

Renner, a highly rated recruit who was red-shirted this fall by the Tar Heels, will not miss any spring football practices, however, a UNC spokesman said.

Four other UNC freshman football players are scheduled to run track this spring: defensive backs Curtis Campbell and Josh Hunter, wide receiver Jheranie Boyd and running back Hunter Furr.

-- J. P. Giglio

Friday, January 15, 2010

Duke's Cutcliffe: 'The job is not finished'

DURHAM - For those Duke fans who knew David Cutcliffe had all but packed for Knoxville, Tenn., and accepted a job as the new coach at Tennessee, Friday morning he presented a surprise for them by remaining as the Blue Devils head coach.

"I hope they are not all that disappointed," Cutcliffe said on Friday afternoon at press conference where he spoke about his consideration of possibly leaving the Devils after joining the team two seasons ago.

Considering his two stints at Tennessee, totaling 19 seasons, taking the head coaching job at the school certainly presented a difficult choice for Cutcliffe, particularly with the history of that program and the allure of the Southern Conference.

Still, Cutcliffe said he decided to remain at Duke because it was the right choice for his family. He said he also considered the growth of the program over the past two seasons.

"The job is not finished," he said.

Cutcliffe, who recently completed his second season at Duke, was named head coach on December 15, 2007. He owns a 9-15 record at the school. He now has a chance to improve that record and help the Devils turn around a long dormant program.

"It's a big sense of relief," Duke sophomore running back Jay Hollingsworth said.

Speaking at Duke's Yoh Football facility on Friday, he said it was his desire to remain in Durham, where he's settled on helping the school build a competitive football program, a difficult task considering the Devils' losing record over the past twenty years.

Having served as a head coach at Mississippi and long-time assistant at Tennessee, both schools in the SEC, he entered the job vowing to bring the toughness that marks that conference - arguably the nation's best football conference - to the Devils and try to create a culture conducive to winning football.

Cutcliffe's approach has seemed to work, sparking more interest in the program from recruits and greater confidence among ACC observers that the once-hapless program appears headed toward winning seasons under his leadership.

At the start of the 2009 season, there was talk about the Devils perhaps becoming bowl eligible for the first time since the 1994 season. The Devils finished 5-7, losing to Richmond in the season-opener and closing the season with four consecutive losses, but they seemed to shed the reputation as an also-ran.

The Devils needed just two wins to become bowl eligible, showing a small measure of growth that seemed to be directly related to coach's approach.

"We're here to stay," Cutcliffe said. "We're here to build a program."

-- Edward G. Robinson III

Cutcliffe to remain at Duke

Coach David Cutcliffe is staying at Duke, school sports information director Art Chase said Friday morning.

Cutcliffe had been pursued by Tennessee for its head coaching job. Chase said Cutcliffe will meet with the media later today.

"After much thought and consideration, Karen and I reached the decision that Duke is the place for our family,” Cutcliffe said in a statement released by Duke. “We have both family members and lifetime friends in the Knoxville community and share a deep respect for the University of Tennessee. Our ties to the school and the Eastern Tennessee area are obvious. But before Tennessee’s hiring process comes to a conclusion, I know that Duke University is where we want to coach.

“I’ve said all along that what makes Duke so special is the people, and that is the truth. We’ve received tremendous support from President (Richard) Brodhead, Kevin White and the rest of the school’s administration and are very grateful for their efforts. We have the best coaching staff in the country, and are convinced that we will continue to build a successful football program that both the Duke and Durham communities will be proud of.”

White, the Duke athletic director, said in a statment that Cutcliffe informed the school this morning that he planned to remain with the Blue Devils.

Cutcliffe has guided Duke to a 9-15 overall record in two seasons. The Blue Devils had won 10 games in the previous eight seasons combined. In ACC play, Duke’s four wins in two years under Cutcliffe is one league victory greater than the previous eight-year total.

“He is a tremendous football coach, and an even better person with a terrific family," White said in a statement. "Simply put, we could not be happier or more excited about the future of the Blue Devil football program. In just two years, David and his stellar coaching staff have made a significant impact on the department, the university and the Durham community. Together, we look forward to building on that great work for many years to come. Under David’s guidance and with the strong support of university leadership, Duke is committed to building a football program consistent with the standard of excellence exhibited throughout the entire institution.”

Duke returns 41 lettermen and 17 starters from last year’s squad that posted a 5-7 overall record, achieving the program’s highest win total since 1994.

“We are extremely excited about the future of this program,” Cutcliffe said. “From the players we have returning, to our work on the recruiting front to our facility projects, we know we’re headed in the right direction.”

Tennessee had been seeking a replacement for Lane Kiffin, who left Tuesdayd to coach Southern California after just one season with the Volunteers.

Cutcliffe, 55, had worked at Tennessee for 19 seasons in two separate stints. He's considered one of the best offensive minds in the game, and was offensive coordinator of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team.

He also coached Peyton Manning in the mid-1990s for the Vols and coached Eli Manning at Mississippi during a six-year stint there. He is 53-44 overall as a head coach in eight seasons.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pack football changes orthopedic surgeons

Longtime N.C. State football orthopedic surgeons David and Michael Fajgenbaum no longer will be working with the team after school officials consolidated athletics care under one orthopedic group.

In recent years, Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic has handled care for the rest of N.C. State's athletes while the Fajgenbaums handled football out of The Bone and Joint Surgery Clinic.

N.C. State associate athletics director for sports medicine Charlie Rozanski said Wednesday that Raleigh Orthopaedic's Bob Wyker will direct orthopedic care for athletes. Lyman Smith, a former Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings player, will work with the N.C. State football team.

Rozanski, who said he's "close friends" with the Fajgenbaums, said the one-clinic approach brings N.C. State in line with what other schools are doing. The Fajgenbaums have been working with N.C. State for about 20 years and also have handled wrestling and track and field in the past.

"I hope they remain good friends, and they're tremendous surgeons," Rozanski said. "I wouldn't hesitate to see either one of them if I need orthopedic surgery. That's not what this is about. It's just a continuity of care issue."

Pack football changes orthopedic surgeons

Longtime N.C. State football orthopedic surgeons David and Michael Fajgenbaum no longer will be working with the team after school officials consolidated athletics care under one orthopedic group.

In recent years, Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic has handled care for the rest of N.C. State’s athletes while the Fajgenbaums handled football out of The Bone and Joint Surgery Clinic.

N.C. State associate athletics director for sports medicine Charlie Rozanski said Wednesday that Raleigh Orthopaedic’s Bob Wyker will direct orthopedic care for athletes. Lyman Smith, a former Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings player, will work with the N.C. State football team.

Rozanski, who said he’s “close friends” with the Fajgenbaums, said the one-clinic approach brings N.C. State in line with what other schools are doing. The Fajgenbaums have been working with N.C. State for about 20 years and also have handled wrestling and track and field in the past.

“I hope they remain good friends, and they’re tremendous surgeons,” Rozanski said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to see either one of them if I need orthopedic surgery. That’s not what this is about. It’s just a continuity of care issue.”

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four UNC football players enroll early

UNC added four freshmen to the football program, including some much-needed help on the offensive line.

Tackles James Hurst and T.J. Leifheit enrolled early to get a head start on their freshman season, as did cornerback D.J. Bunn and tight end Sean Fitzpatrick.

Offensive line was a concern, both talent- and injury-wise all season for the Heels. They have to replace senior starters Kyle Jolly and Mike Ingersoll. Hurst, from Plainfield, Ind., and Leifheit, from Wilmington, are considered two of the best offensive line prospects in the country. ranks Hurst No. 2 in the country at tackle, and rates him a five-star prospect, and Leifheit as the 19th-best tackle in the class of 2010.

Bunn, from Smithfield, committed to UNC in 2009 but spent the past season at prep school at Hargrave Military.

-- J.P. Giglio

Monday, January 11, 2010

Five players leave UNC football program

Former prized recruit Jamal Womble is one of five players leaving the North Carolina football program, a school spokesman confirmed Monday.

Womble, a four-star running back from Arizona, has decided to transfer as has receiver Rashad Mason. Tight end Randy White left the program, linebacker Hawatha Bell was dismissed and tight end Vince Jacobs will graduate in May and leave the program.

Womble, a redshirt freshman, ran for 41 yards on six carries before breaking his right wrist in the sixth game. Womble cited academic problems, on his Facebook page, as the reason for leaving UNC.

Reserves Mason, a sophomore; White, a redshirt freshman; and Jacobs, a junior; did not register a statistic this season.

Bell, a freshman linebacker from Charlotte, was suspended for the bowl game and ultimately dismissed from the team. -- J.P. Giglio

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tide rolling into Durham next season

Here's something for Duke football fans to look forward to seeing next season.

Then again, maybe not.

Either way, the Blue Devils are scheduled to host national champion Alabama. The game is set for Sept. 18 (time TBA) in Wallace Wade Stadium.

The Tide wrapped up a 14-0 season by defeating Texas Thursday night in the BCS championship game, 37-21.

Duke finished 5-7 in its second season under David Cutcliffe.

Before his death in 1986 at age 94, Wallace Wade Stadium's namesake was an outstanding coach at both schools. In seven seasons at Alabama, his teams went 61-13-1. At Duke in 16 seasons during the 1930s and '40s, Wade went 110-36-7. His final team was 7-3 in 1950.

Later, Wade served as commissioner of the Southern Conference.

The game at Duke will be Alabama's only road trip outside the SEC. At home in non-league games, the Tide is scheduled to face San Jose State, Penn State and Georgia State.

Duke has two other non-ACC games set - Sept. 25 in Durham against Army and at Navy on Oct. 30.

The Tide returns Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram, who will be a junior in 2010.

- Caulton Tudor

Five wishes for ACC football in 2010

The 2009 football season couldn't end soon enough for the ACC.

Just when it appeared the ACC was making a move toward respectability, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State lost to their in-state, SEC rivals on Nov. 28, the final weekend of the regular season.

The ACC championship game (Clemson vs. Georgia Tech) drew about one-fourth the viewership of the Big 12 championship (Texas vs. Nebraska) that was televised in the same time slot.

Four of the seven ACC teams that reached bowl games lost, including Georgia Tech against Iowa in the Orange Bowl. And just four ACC teams - No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 19 Miami and No. 24 Clemson - finished the season in The Associated Press' top 25.

The Sagarin computer ratings have the ACC as the fourth best conference, behind the SEC, Big East and Pac-10 but ahead of the Big 12 and Big Ten. But it hurt the ACC to have the regional rival from the SEC win the BCS for the fourth straight year while the ACC barely had a team in the top 10.

Here are five things to wish for if you want the ACC to improve its lot in 2010:

1. Hokie high. Virginia Tech is geared up for a possible run at the top five in the preseason rankings.

The Hokies return Tyrod Taylor, an athletic quarterback who's improved as a passer. They have a fantastic stable of running backs with Darren Evans returning from a knee injury and Ryan Williams coming back after an outstanding redshirt freshman season.

Although Virginia Tech loses some defenders, including Cody Grimm and early NFL draft entry Jason Worilds, the Hokies always are good on defense and special teams. The returning players on offense should give the Hokies a shot at a BCS championship game appearance that the ACC desperately needs to gain credibility.

2. Georgia Tech gets defensive. After two years, it's clear that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has built an offense that can be devastating except in bowl games and other times when opponents have more than a week to prepare for it.

But despite having some excellent athletes such as Morgan Burnett and Derrick Morgan, the Georgia Tech defense struggled this season. Johnson and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack have parted ways, so the Yellow Jackets need a big-time hire here.

If Johnson makes a good hire and the defense improves, Georgia Tech has a chance to be considered an elite team.

3. Russell returns. N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson made first-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and led the ACC in touchdown passes in 2009, but there's a chance his days in school are numbered.

Wilson, who also plays baseball for the Wolfpack, will be eligible for the major league draft this summer. It would seem based on Wilson's poor numbers as a hitter (.236 in 2009) that he won't attract much interest - or a big signing bonus - from baseball executives.

But there's a school of thought that says if Wilson ever played baseball full time, he'd have a better shot at becoming an accomplished hitter.

Although N.C. State has another capable young quarterback in Mike Glennon, the Wolfpack needs Wilson back. And so does the ACC.

4. FSU rises. It's impossible to predict what effect Bobby Bowden's forced retirement will have at Florida State.

It seemed apparent that the Seminoles had plenty of speed on defense in 2009 but were playing a high-pressure scheme under now-retired Mickey Andrews that left them vulnerable to big plays by opponents.

If Fisher can get the defense turned around, Florida State has enough talented skill players on offense to be the Atlantic Division favorite. And the ACC dearly needs Florida State to become relevant again.

5. UNC QB shines. With Marvin Austin, Deunta Williams and Bruce Carter all returning for their senior year, North Carolina's defense will be dominant again.

But the ACC needs the Tar Heels to make a big statement in the season opener against LSU and make the transition from an eight-win team to a 10-win team. That won't happen unless North Carolina gets improved play at quarterback.

Whether it's senior three-year starter T.J. Yates or highly regarded freshman Bryn Renner, somebody needs to give the Tar Heels a serviceable passing attack that won't waste the contributions of the team's dynamic defense.

Ken Tysiac

Four join N.C. State football team

Four new players – including two transfers – have joined N.C. State’s football team for classes for the spring semester and will participate in spring practice, the school announced Friday.

David Akinniyi, a defensive end who chose to transfer to N.C. State after Northeastern University announced in November that it was dropping football, heads the list. He was a three-year starter and made 40 tackles with 12.5 tackles for loss in 2009.

Mikel Overgaard is a 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive lineman who spent the last two years in junior college at Snow College in Utah.

The two other new players originally signed with N.C. State in 2009. A.J. Ferguson is a defensive end from Southport, N.C., who spent last season in prep school at Fork Union Military Academy.
Deion Roberson, a defensive end from Tucker, Ga., who suffered a severe ankle dislocation on the second play of his senior season in high school in 2008, also has enrolled.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Young, Lewis among combine invitees

Willie Young and Ted Larsen of N.C. State and Thaddeus Lewis and Vince Oghobaase of Duke have been invited to the NFL scouting combine, according to spokespersons at their respective schools.

Executives, coaches and medical personnel from all 32 NFL teams will attend the combine from Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis to evaluate prospective players for the draft.

Young, a defensive end, finished his career ranked second in N.C. State history with 45.5 tackles for loss. Larsen was a two-year starter at center after moving to the offensive line from defense in the spring of 2008.

Lewis set 48 Duke records at quarterback, including career marks for total offense (9,987 yards) and touchdown passes (67). Oghobaase ranks fifth in Duke history with 14career quarterback sacks.

Ken Tysiac

Q&A with Toney Baker

Running back Toney Baker announced today that he will forgo a sixth year at N.C. State to enter the NFL draft. Here are excerpts from his meeting with reporters this afternoon:

Q: What factored into your decision to leave?
A: I felt like I had a pretty good year. My dad () was a really big part of it, being in the NFL and going through college and doing pretty much everything I’m about to do. With his advice, he thought it would be a good time for me to enter the draft. And really, just doing a lot of praying after waiting and hearing all the information from the NFL, I think that was the best decision for me.

Q: Did you put a request in with the NFL draft advisory board?
A: Yes. They told me that it was classified information so I can’t get into detail with that, but the information was good enough for me to decide to come out.

Q: Did they rank it, you’re draftable, or you’re very draftable?
A: They told me between rounds, but they told me they couldn’t get too specific and didn’t want me to talk about it. But like I said, it was good enough for me to come out.

Q: What did Coach (Tom) O’Brien tell you?
A: He was very supportive. Even at the beginning of the process, after the Carolina game, he told me that he could understand that if the feedback I would get was that I’m going to be drafted, he could definitely understand me coming out. But he also mentioned that he would love to have me back to play more football for N.C. State.

Q: How much did the fact that you have been injured for two full seasons weigh into this?
A: You know, you can’t really control injuries. But I guess you can say that was a part of it. Coming back next year, I could have a really good season coming back. But I just personally feel like it was time for me to go, especially after earning my degree here. I guess I feel like it’s time.

Q: What will you miss about N.C. State?
A: Everything. Academics, all the way up to our football program and our fans. It’s fantastic how much support they gave me even when I was out for two years, they’re very supportive. The people around here are special. I really enjoyed my time here. I did. I’ve been through two coaching staffs here. I think both of them did it really well and had my best interests at heart.

Ken Tysiac

Pack's Baker entering NFL draft

RALEIGH — N.C. State tailback Toney Baker has decided not to take advantage of the sixth-year eligibility granted by the NCAA and will not return for next season.

N.C. State released a statement this morning from Baker, who intends to enter this spring's NFL draft.

"After talking to my family, my coaches and doing a lot of praying, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to pursue playing football at the next level," Baker said. "It was a tough decision because I have loved my time at NC State and have really enjoyed playing for Coach O'Brien. But after weighing all my options, I think this is the right move for me at this time in my life."

Baker missed almost two full seasons with a knee injury before returning to action this season. He led the team in rushing, finishing the regular season ranked sixth in the ACC with 64.4 yards per game and ninth in all-purpose yards (94 ypg). He finished his college career ranked 11th in school history with 17 career rushing touchdowns and 11th in rushing yards with 2,045.

Baker graduated in December after receiving the ACC's 2009 Brian Piccolo Award as the league's "most courageous" player.

"We support Toney in this decision and wish him great success," State coach Tom O'Brien, said in a statement released by the university's sports information office. "He has been and will continue to be a great representative of NC State University and our football program."

Lorenzo Perez

Monday, January 4, 2010

UNC juniors to play one more season

CHAPEL HILL -- UNC football coach Butch Davis announced this morning that six junior players, including five of his defensive starters, will return for their senior seasons.

It had been widely speculated that UNC's defense, which held opponents to an ACC-low 267.8 yards a game this season, would be hit hard by early departures for this spring's NFL draft. However, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, defensive backs Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter all have decided to return to UNC for the 2010 season, along with Tar Heels wide receiver Greg Little.

"Throughout the year, and also following the bowl game, we sat down with the juniors who were considering entering the NFL Draft and educated them on the selection process and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of leaving early," Davis said in a statement released today by UNC. "After talking with NFL personnel around the country, I thought it was in the best interest of all six players to return for their senior seasons. Not only will they benefit as football players by staying an additional year, but all six are on track to earn a degree from North Carolina.

"It was an individual decision for each player, and for some it was harder than others. They all want to continue the momentum we have in this program, build Carolina into a championship contender and be a part of a special senior class."

A native of Washington, D.C., Austin started 11 games at defensive tackle and earned second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2009 after posting 42 tackles, including six for losses and four sacks for 40 yards. He also forced one fumble, had one fumble recovery and broke up three passes.

Burney and Williams, first-team defensive backs from Jacksonville, N.C., combined for 11 interceptions and 314 interception return yards in 2009. Burney had five interceptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns, while also recording 52 tackles and three pass breakups. Williams led the team with six interceptions for 114 yards and had 47 tackles and eight pass breakups.

Sturdivant, a native of Oakboro, was a first-team All-ACC linebacker and led Carolina with 79 tackles. He had 12 tackles for losses, including one sack, and scored a touchdown on a 49-yard fumble recovery.

A native of Havelock, Carter was a second-team all-conference pick after posting 65 tackles, including 7.5 for losses and two sacks. He broke up two passes and scored on a 41-yard interception return.

Little became just the fifth player in UNC history to top 60 catches in a single season. The Durham, native had 62 receptions for 724 yards and led all receivers with five touchdowns.

-- Lorenzo Perez, assistant sports editor, (Raleigh) News & Observer