Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pack schedules Central Michigan

N.C. State has scheduled Central Michigan for nonconference football games in Raleigh in 2011 and 2013 and in Mount Pleasant, Mich., in 2014, Wolfpack executive senior associate athletic director David Horning said today.

Horning said getting two home games in exchange for one road trip with a Mid-American Conference school was a good deal for the Wolfpack.

"Those are hard to come by," he said.

N.C. State's nonconference schedule in 2011 consists of a visit to Cincinnati and home games against Central Michigan, South Alabama and Liberty.

Ken Tysiac

Duke notes: Scott will start at tailback

DURHAM - Sophomore tailback Desmond Scott, who led Duke's rushers with 262 yards last season, has earned the starting nod against Elon on Saturday because "he's a player that's good in every phase,'' coach David Cutcliffe said.

"Whether that's running screens, whether he's a route runner or running the football - he's got a nice knack of running the football,'' Cutcliffe added Tuesday. "Maybe he's not the fastest one, but he certainly finds a way to find seams and cracks, and he's been the most consistent guy at gaining 4 and 5 yards, minimum, per carry. ... And he's taken care of the ball."

All of those attributes will be key for the Devils, who averaged only 2.2 yards per carry and 762 rushing yards total last season, and relied heavily on its passing game.

"I don't think we would call what we saw a year ago a 'running game,' so the first thing is to see one, period,'' Cutcliffe said, laughing. "I think we have a collection of backs that are interesting, and bring a lot to the table. ... When you complete passes, it's hard not to want to throw 70 balls a game and stop running. But we've got to run the ball to make ourselves better as a team."

KICKER STILL UNDECIDED: Kevin Jones will punt, and Will Snyderwine will kick off. But Cutcliffe, as of Tuesday afternoon, still hadn't decided between between Snyderwine, a redshirt junior, and senior Nick Maggio as starting place kicker.

Snyderwine made 17 of 20 field goals last season, but has been inconsistent since the spring.

BRIEFLY: Cutcliffe said four true freshmen will likely play against Elon: running backs running back Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson, wide receiver Brandon Braxton, and backup quarterback Brandon Connette. "Still evaluating a couple circumstances on defense, that I'll make a later decision in the week,'' Cutcliffe said. ... Wide receiver-turned-cornerback Johnny Williams is not listed as a starter on the depth chart, but will play in "numerous situations." ... The team voted for three permanent captains: Center Bryan Morgan, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba and linebacker Abraham Kromah. Coaches each week will vote for an addition game captain; Saturday, that will be tight end Brett Huffman.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tar Heels' 2nd-team defense lacks experience

North Carolina's first-team defense has nine regular starters returning and a combined 213 career starts.

The second-team defense has a combined six career starts, all by one player (linebacker Zach Brown).

That imbalance in experience is why UNC coach Butch Davis made an effort in training camp to give the younger players the bulk of the repetitions in scrimmages.

"Part of this training camp has been about these players and getting them more experience," Davis said.

Given the uncertainty created by the NCAA investigation into the program, and UNC's own investigation for academic fraud, a number of backups could be pressed into game-duty on Saturday against Louisiana State in the season-opener.

UNC did not release a depth chart on Monday but based on the preseason depth chart from the media guide, the second team consists of five sophomores, four juniors, one senior and one redshirt freshman. Brown, a junior, started six games in 2009.

Safety Jonathan Smith is the only senior on the second team. The first team features six seniors, five of which have been starting since their freshman season.

Davis was pleased with how his younger players performed in training camp.

"We've got a lot of young kids that are inexperienced but we think that they've got talent," Davis said.

Senior defensive Marvin Austin, who has been at the center of the NCAA investigation for improper contact with an agent, has been practicing with the second team. Unless he's cleared by the NCAA before Saturday, it's unlikely he will play against LSU.

In Davis' opening remarks on Monday he indicated UNC would not jeopardize the investigation or put itself in a position to have to later forfeit games for using an ineligible player.

"I'd like for this to be perfectly clear: there is no one single game that is more important, winning, than the character and integrity of this university and this football program," Davis said.

1st team
2nd team
DE94 Mike McAdoo, jr.098 Donte Paige-Moss, so.0
DT90 Quinton Coples, jr.178 Jordan Nix, jr.0
DT91 Tydreke Powell, jr.497 Jared McAdoo, fr.0
DE42 Robert Quinn, jr.2555 Linwan Euwell, jr.0
Will52 Quan Sturdivant, sr.3147 Zach Brown, jr.6
Mike48 Kevin Reddick, so.741 Shane Mularkey, so.0
Sam54 Bruce Carter, sr.3357 Dion Guy, so.0
CB12 Charles Brown, sr.227 Mywan Jackson, so.0
CB16 Kendric Burney, sr.3837 LeCount Fantroy, jr.0
SS21 Da'Norris Searcy, sr.1428 Jonathan Smith, sr.0
FS27 Deunta Williams, sr.3825 Matt Merletti, jr.0
Career starts213

-- J.P. Giglio

Haynes' smarts elevate him at RB for Pack

Dean Haynes was so eager to learn N.C. State's running back playbook in a short time that he made flash cards to quiz himself on his assignments.

Even Haynes admits that he was surprised that he was named the starting running back for Saturday's 6 p.m. opener against Western Carolina. He moved from cornerback to running back midway through fall camp after coach Tom O'Brien was disappointed with the play of the backs in the team's third preseason scrimmage.

Heading into the preseason, junior Curtis Underwood was listed as the starter and sophomore James Washington was the backup. Now redshirt freshman Haynes is starting with freshman Mustafa Greene backing him up.

Haynes played quarterback in high school and on N.C. State's scout team at times last season, and he said that helped him understand what defenses are doing. He also earned a 3.123 grade-point average in the 2009 fall semester.

"I’m a smart player," Haynes said. "I was able to get in the book and learn the stuff, and obviously the coaches think I can play and I can excel at the position."

Greene earned his spot by making more big runs than anybody else in scrimmage situations during the preseason, according to comments O'Brien made on his weekly radio show Monday night. (O'Brien refused to talk to reporters Monday evening before and after his radio show, and again declined an interview request after Tuesday's practice. His next media availability is on the ACC's weekly teleconference Wednesday).

Like Haynes, Greene said he has been able to adapt quickly. He models himself after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

"I just like his effort," Greene said. "Every play he’s trying to score."

Haynes said he concentrated heavily on being able to pick up blitzing linebackers and protect quarterback Russell Wilson. That was a phase of the game in which last season's backs, Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, excelled.

"I felt good at cornerback," Haynes said, "but then again the coaches know what they’re doing. I was nervous about the running back spot. Now I feel comfortable here, too, so they know what they’re doing and I trust their decision."

Ken Tysiac

Monday, August 30, 2010

UNC tweaks Twitter, Facebook policies

Friends and fans are not the only ones this season following what North Carolina athletes post on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Now, their coaches are required to, as well.

UNC has updated its 2010-11 Student Athlete Handbook to stipulate that "each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitor the content of team members' social networking sites and postings." The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes' posts; and if any of an athlete's online content violates the law or NCAA, University or athletic department policies, sanctions could range from removal of the posting to dismissal from the team.

Associate athletic director Steve Kirschner said the updated social networking policy has been in the works since last spring, "and it is not in response to any one thing."

But there have been a couple of incidents that likely played into it.

UNC defensive lineman Marvin Austin, who has been questioned as part of the NCAA's investigation into whether football players had inproper contact with agents, posted more than 2,400 updates - including pictures of a watch for his younger sister, a bag from an upscale sunglass store in Miami and a $143 bill from The Cheesecake Factory in Washington, D.C. - before his Twitter account went dark.

Earlier this summer, basketball sophomores Dexter Strickland and John Henson, plus junior Larry Drew II, posted variations of the same message on their individual Twitter accounts: "well coach just talked to us about twitter and told us we offend some people n what not so this is a farewell to bein' myself..lata tweeps."

(They continue to tweet, but their posts have been toned down a tad.)

Last year's Student Athlete Handbook reminded players that what they post on social networks is public information; that they are a representative of the University and always in the public eye; that information is accessible after they remove it; that they should exercise caution about posting their whereabouts or plans; and that future employers might use their sites as a background check.

The updated handbook expands on those, stating that the athletic department "will not tolerate disrespectful comments and behavior online." That includes derogatory language; comments that constitute a credible emotional or physical threat; and photos that depict unlawful abuse, hazing, harassment, discrimination, drug possession or use, and any other illegal conduct.

-- Robbi Pickeral

N.C. State shocker: Haynes to start at RB

Dean Haynes, who began training camp as a starter at cornerback, has earned the starting running back job for N.C. State's opener at 6 p.m. Saturday against Western Carolina, according to a depth chart released this afternoon.

Haynes, a redshirt freshman, moved to running back about two weeks ago, according to team spokeswoman Annabelle Myers. Coach Tom O'Brien referred on a couple occasions last week to personnel moves the staff had made on a tentative basis, but didn't specifically list them.

Apparently Haynes' was the most significant move. He will be backed up by freshman Mustafa Greene.

Junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington, who began the preseason as the starter and backup, respectively, at running back, are not on the two-deep depth chart.

Although Haynes has played defense at N.C. State, he rushed for 878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior at Northwest Whitfield County High in Georgia in 2008.

Elsewhere on the depth chart, Jeff Rieskamp has moved in front of Michael Lemon at defensive end after having a strong camp following a return from a sports hernia that caused Rieskamp to miss the entire 2009 season.

Natanu Mageo and Brian Slay are listed as starters at defensive tackle, backed up by J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn. Terrell Manning is starting at outside linebacker ahead of Dwayne Maddox, and Justin Byers will start at boundary cornerback - which was the position Haynes filled at the beginning of the preseason.

O'Brien was not immediately available for comment on the depth chart.

Ken Tysiac

Sunday, August 29, 2010

UNC's Marvin Austin finally speaks ... on Facebook

North Carolina senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin has not made a public comment since the NCAA investigation into the Tar Heels football program began more than six weeks ago.

In a message posted Sunday night around 9:30 p.m. on what appears to be his Facebook page, Austin, who was interviewed by the NCAA in mid-July for possible improper contact with an agent, may have broken that silence.

"I came back to school to have my character questioned..[expletive]..i thought education was key.. I dont really understand...i though it was the right thing to do..maybe i was mistaken...i like to say thanx to all those who stand by me i really appriecate [sic] it. oh yea and to those who wanna see me fall i wont cause i dont great athletes stay on their feet!!!!!"

"I came back to school to have my character questioned..[expletive]..i thought education was key.. I dont really understand...i though it was the right thing to do..maybe i was mistaken," the message said. "...i like to say thanx to all those who stand by me i really appriecate [sic] it. oh yea and to those who wanna see me fall i wont cause i dont great athletes stay on their feet!!!!!"

The name on the Facebook account is Marvin Anchorman Austin, and the personal information on the site includes the same birthdate listed in the UNC media guide for Austin. There are 309 photos on the account, mostly of Austin.

"AnchormanAustin" also was the name of Austin's popular Twitter account, which was shutdown shortly after UNC announced the NCAA investigation on July 15.

Austin has not been made available to the media since the launch of the investigation. A UNC spokesman said Sunday night that Austin is "off limits" to the media but added that Austin was not asked to remove his Twitter account or refrain from posting on Facebook.

Sunday's comments were only the second post from Marvin Anchorman Austin on the Facebook account since July 15, the other was a line from a Rick Ross song on Aug. 11.

The all-star defensive tackle attended Saturday's "Meet the Heels" day at Kenan Stadium. He was in good spirits, interacting with fans and laughing with teammates. He has been practicing with the second-team defense since the start of training camp on Aug. 6 because of what coach Butch Davis called the "uncertainty" of his situation.

No. 18 UNC opens with No. 21 LSU on Saturday in Atlanta. It's unclear whether Austin will play or make the trip with the team. UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said the school would determine the status of the players involved in the NCAA investigation if UNC does not hear from the NCAA before the game.

Austin, one of top NFL defensive tackle prospects in the country, has started 26 games and has nine career sacks. He registered a career-best 42 tackles in 2009.

-- J.P. Giglio

Friday, August 27, 2010

UNC's Baddour: Too early to rule anything out

It is too early to tell whether North Carolinas investigation into possible academic misconduct extends beyond the football team, athletics director Dick Baddour said Friday.

“As I said [Thursday] night, we will use this as an opportunity to look into every aspect of the program; we’re early in the process, so part of what we’re doing is evolving, so I don’t want to get into the details of what other sports could be involved,’’ Baddour said in a phone interview.

“But the first thing you want to do is see, in this particular case, who the tutor was registered to be working with, and who was assigned to her -- and do due diligence in those areas. You’ve got to keep in mind that we’re not at the end, but as I said last night, we are past the beginning. So I’m not prepared to say … I don’t’ think we can include or exclude anything.”

Baddour, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp and football coach Butch Davis announced during a press conference Thursday night that the school is investigating whether a tutor – who was employed by both UNC and Davis – committed academic misconduct while working with football players. A source familiar with the investigation said the issue involves inappropriate help on papers the football players were required to write for class. No. 18 UNC opens the football season next Saturday against LSU in Atlanta, and it’s unclear when, if or how many players might be suspended for the game.

Although Baddour would not name the tutor or the athletes involved, he clarified a couple of points to the N&O/Charlotte Observer on Friday:

* The school started looking into the possible misconduct when a player being interviewed during the NCAA’s investigation into possible improprieties with sports agents brought up the tutor’s name. That interview, however, was not associated with any academic issue, Baddour said, and the player did not bring up the tutor’s name in an academic context. But once UNC heard the tutor’s name, “we thought we should do our due diligence, and started looking into things.

* Baddour said that the tutor was employed by the University before she was hired by Davis. When Davis signed on to become head football coach in the fall of 2006, he approached the academic support office and asked for suggestions for an academic adviser to tutor his son, Drew (who is now 17 and the starting quarterback at East Chapel Hill High). “She had been involved in the academic support program, and I’m confident in saying at that time, she was highly regarded,’’ Baddour said. He said that Davis did not put his players in contact with the tutor.

* Asked if he was “confident” that only one tutor was involved, Baddour said that was too strong of a word. “We’re towards the beginning or middle. We have due diligence to do. At this point, using a point like ‘confident’, would mean it [the investigation] is toward the end. I just know that we’re going to take the steps that we need to take to look into all aspects of it. So that means you have to set some priorities. We need to put some resources into this, and we need to take care of what’s immediate. When we complete that work without taking a deep breath, we’ll go to another stage until we are done.”

* Baddour – with Thorp’s blessing – was the person who appointed former athletic faculty representative Jack Evans, former faculty president Lissa Broom, senior associate athletic director John Blanchard and director of compliance Lance Markos to lead the school’s investigation.

* Team spokesman Kevin Best said that all of UNC’s football players are scheduled to meet with fans at Saturday’s “Meet the Heels” event at Kenan Stadium. Baddour said: “I hope our fans will come, and enjoy this team and embrace this team. This team needs the support of Carolina fans as much as any time.”

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tudor's Take: UNC probes dominate preseason

The problems surrounding North Carolina have sucked most of the air out of preseason football throughout the region.

Even to the north, where Virginia has a new coach in Mike London and Virginia Tech might be mounting a top-five run, the Tar Heels’ academic and NCAA probes are prominent news items.

The same holds in South Carolina, although the situation there is more predictable since USC has been involved in the NCAA investigation into player/agent dealings.

Locally, the opening games for N.C. State (vs. Western Carolina), Duke (vs. Elon) and Wake Forest (vs. Presbyterian) are unexceptional at best. So some small degree of indifference probably was to be expected.

But ECU has an opening league game under new coach Ruffin McNeill and against Conference USA foe Tulsa, a televised Sunday afternoon meeting that ordinarily would generate a good deal of buzz.

Only a few weeks back, it seemed like a big deal that Russell Wilson would put down his baseball glove long enough to quarterback a State team that has bowl hopes.

And Duke and Wake Forest are breaking in new quarterbacks to replace longtime starters Thad Lewis and Riley Skinner.

The same applies at Appalachian State, where Armanti Edwards has moved on to the NFL Carolina Panthers.

Which brings up another team -- the Panthers.
Thanks to UNC’s mess, Panthers coach John Fox and his revamped quarterback position have been pushed to a side stage outside the Charlotte city limits.

When was the last time you heard a lot of talk about Julius Peppers’ impact on the Chicago Bears defense?

With an opening game against LSU of the Southeastern Conference, the Heels were going to have the spotlight under any circumstances. But even that game has become a secondary priority among Carolina fans.

Having covered college football in this area for four decades, it’s most unusual preseason period in memory. It’s as though regional football has been propelled into a parallel universe.

-- Caulton Tudor

O'Brien: No decision on starting halfback

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said today that no decision had been made on a starting halfback for the season-opener against Western Carolina.

"It's still a tight battle," O'Brien said of the logjam at the position. "We need to make that decision come Sunday. It's similar to the offensive line. It may not be really resolved until we get into game action."

Sophomore James Washington and junior Curtis Underwood Jr. likely have the edge and may get the brunt of the carries against WCU, but others in the mix could be true freshmen Mustafa Greene and Tony Creecy.

The Pack has not released a two-deep depth chart. O'Brien said a "handful" of freshmen likely would be in the two-deep but did not give any names.

One change in coaching duties on game days will have defensive coordinator Mike Archer on the sideline. Archer had been in the press box the last two years.
O'Brien said linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, who joined the staff this year, is more comfortable in the press box.

"Jon's never been on the sideline," O'Brien said. "Mike has been on the sideline before. This should be best for both."

-- Chip Alexander

UNC discloses football team's possible academic misconduct

CHAPEL HILL – (UPDATED) The NCAA’s investigation into North Carolina’s football program – which began with a probe into possible improper contact between players and agents – has expanded into academics, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said tonight.

Flanked by Tar Heels football coach Butch Davis and athletic director Dick Baddour, Thorp said that during a joint investigation with the NCAA, the school learned of possible academic misconduct that involves a former undergraduate tutor and student-athletes on the football team.

“We are treating this issue with the seriousness you would expect from this University,'' Thorp said. "We will straighten this out. We are still gathering information, but … we hope the scope of this is limited."

Davis said the tutor in question "is someone that has previously been employed by our family" to be an academic coach and academic adviser for his son.

"This is someone who worked with our son, and to be honest with you, we're a little bit surprised and possibly disappointed,'' Davis said of the tutor. "But there's been no revelation ... as to what actually transpired."

Baddour said the focus of the academic investigation is on the football team, but added that the school would look at it as an opportunity to take a look into the tutoring program within other athletic programs.

Baddour said Davis “still has my support.”

Baddour also said that although they would like to finish the investigation before the Tar Heels' football opener next weekend against Louisiana State, “it is likely the review will extend beyond the start of the season.”

"The investigation now how two prongs," he added. "I want to caution you about making assumptions if student-athletes don't play. ... We resolve to find any misconduct and deal with it seriously."

Baddour said he could not talk the number of players involved, or name the tutor, who has since been terminated.

"We are looking at improprieties that occurred outside the classroom," he said.

UNC professors Jack Evans and Lissa Broome (both former faculty athletics representatives), senior associate athletic director John Blanchard, Lance Markos from the compliance staff and university lawyers all are part of the team looking into the possible academic misconduct, Baddour said.

For about two months, the NCAA and the school have been investigating allegations of a possible improper relationship between sports agents and UNC football players. An undisclosed number of players were interviewed when NCAA investigators visited campus July 12 and 13, and investigators conducted more interviews during a return trip earlier this month.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little were among the players interviewed. The investigation also involves associate head coach John Blake.

One potential violation of NCAA rules occurred when former UNC defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer paid for Austin and then Tar Heel defensive tackle Cam Thomas to train in California in the summer of 2009. Thomas confirmed that Balmer paid for the trip, which may be construed as an extra benefit by the NCAA.

Thomas and Austin trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., where clients of California-based agent Gary Wichard of Pro Tect Management train for the NFL draft.

Blake, the North Carolina assistant coach, is a former Pro Tect vice president and a longtime associate of Wichard, who also is Balmer's agent.

Austin also was connected with the NCAA's investigation at the University of South Carolina, where the NCAA also has interviewed multiple players, including Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders.

Saunders was asked about his friendship with Austin, his online interaction with Austin on the social media site Twitter, and a trip to Washington, D.C., according to Weslye's father Barry Saunders, a metro columnist for The News & Observer.

UNC announced the Thursday night press conference around mid-afternoon, shortly after Davis' regularly scheduled pre-practice briefing with the media was abruptly canceled. The early portion of practice, which was scheduled to be open to the media, also was closed.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Thursday, August 26, 2010

UNC to update media on NCAA probe

The University of North Carolina will hold a news conference at 7:30 p.m. today at the Kenan Football Center to update the media on the NCAA's investigation of the school's football program, athletic department spokesman Steve Kirschner said.

Chancellor Holden Thorp, athletic director Dick Baddour and coach Butch Davis will speak at the news conference. Kirschner declined further comment.

Davis' regularly scheduled pre-practice briefing with the media was suddenly canceled. The early portion of practice, which was scheduled to be open to the media, was closed.

For about two months, the NCAA and the school have been investigating a possible improper relationship with sports agents in the school's football program. An undisclosed number of players were interviewed when NCAA investigators visited campus July 12 and 13, and investigators conducted more interviews during a return trip earlier this month.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little were among the players interviewed. The investigation also involves associate head coach John Blake.

One potential violation of NCAA rules occurred when former North Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer paid for Austin and then Tar Heel defensive tackle Cam Thomas to train in California in the summer of 2009. Thomas confirmed that Balmer paid for the trip, which may be construed as an extra benefit by the NCAA.

Thomas and Austin trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. That facility is where clients of California-based agent Gary Wichard of Pro Tect Management train for the NFL draft.

Blake, the North Carolina assistant coach, is a former Pro Tect vice president and a longtime associate of Wichard, who also is Balmer's agent.

Since Austin and Thomas trained at Pro Tect and then played for the Tar Heels in 2009, there is a chance North Carolina will have to vacate its records from the 2009 season.

Austin also was connected with the NCAA's investigation at the University of South Carolina, where the NCAA also has interviewed multiple players. Tight end Weslye Saunders was asked about his friendship with Austin, his online interaction with Austin on the social media site Twitter, and a trip to Washington, D.C., according to Barry Saunders, Weslye's father.

Saunders is a metro columnist for the News & Observer.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pack notes: Wilson in 'game mode'

At the beginning of preseason practice, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said quarterback Russell Wilson was a bit rusty after coming back from playing baseball for the Wolfpack in the spring and the Colorado Rockies organization in the summer.

But Wilson said today that he is in 'game mode' and in rhythm now.

"I feel great," he said during his weekly conference with reporters. "I’m working with the receivers, tight ends and running backs, and trying to continue the rhythm and continue the flow of the football game, and keep working hard and getting better every day."

Meanwhile, O'Brien alluded for the second time in two days to unspecified personnel moves that coaches are evaluating in practice. He said he won't decide until Sunday on a starting lineup for the Sept. 4 opener with Western Carolina.

"We haven’t made any decisions anywhere," he said. "We kind of changed things around and moved a couple guys around, and we still have until Sunday until we have to make any decisions. So no sense making them Wednesday if you don’t have to make them until Sunday."

O'Brien said Justin Byers, who has played safety and cornerback for the Wolfpack the last two seasons, has responded well to settling in at cornerback full time. For the past two seasons, O'Brien said, Byers has played with a shoulder injury.

"It was one of those things he could play with," O'Brien said. "It wasn’t as bad his first year. It got progressively worse last year. He had to have surgery. He got it in the offseason. Now he’s back to 100 percent and he’s back to playing his position. So I think he’s much more comfortable there. It’s a position where I think we needed him now, and he’s doing a good job for us."

T.J. Graham, meanwhile, who has made most of his biggest plays as a kick returner, is making strides at wide receiver according to O'Brien.

"He’s much more comfortable now as a wide receiver," Graham said. "He’s making many more plays. Maybe he came in more as a track guy than a football player. But now he’s a football player, and you can see it in all phases of his game."

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Czajkowski's kickoffs deeper for Pack

The news that former Boston College kicker Billy Bennett wasn't going to be joining N.C. State hurt the Wolfpack most on its kickoff team.

Coach Tom O'Brien had hoped Bennett could boot kickoffs into the end zone to put N.C. State's defense in better field position, but Bennett didn't enroll this fall. O'Brien is eager to improve on the Wolfpack's net kickoff number, which at 37.3 yards per game was by far the lowest in the ACC.

Senior kicker Josh Czajkowski, whom O'Brien said has improved his kickoffs since last season, will handle that duty now that the strong-legged Bennett isn't coming.

"He [Czajkowski] spent all summer trying to get more elevation, more hang time and more distance, which he’s been able to do," O'Brien said. "So if he can get five to 10 yards farther on his kicks, that ought to be sufficient. Plus, hopefully we’re deeper and more athletic on the cover team to where we can get down there and cover kicks."

O'Brien said punter Jeff Ruiz also has improved his distance and hang time; the Wolfpack finished ninth in the ACC in net punting last season, and O'Brien would like N.C. State in the top three in the conference.

Better field position would help a defense that gave up 31.2 points per game, although O'Brien isn't by any means blaming last season's defensive struggles on the special teams.

"That was certainly a factor," O'Brien said of the poor field position. "We put ourselves in some difficult situations, but we aided it [the defense's demise] by the way we played sometimes, too."

Ken Tysiac

Friday, August 20, 2010

Balmer won't say if he paid for Austin, Thomas

SEATTLE (AP) – Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer says he hasn't spoken with the NCAA about an investigation at North Carolina.

Former college teammate Cam Thomas has said that Balmer paid for Thomas and current Tar Heel Marvin Austin to travel to California to train last summer. In an interview with The Associated Press, the former first-round draft pick wouldn't say whether he paid for the trip and adds that he hasn't even been contacted by the NCAA.

The NCAA is looking at whether Austin, also a defensive tackle, and receiver Greg Little received improper benefits from agents. Thomas is now a rookie with the San Diego Chargers.

Balmer says it's unfair that Austin and Thomas have faced so much speculation, saying both players are like family

Camaraderie building at N.C. State?

Over the past week or so, a handful of insiders at N.C. State's football practice have offered opinions that the current team is building exceptional chemistry and camaraderie.

They say the previous three teams under coach Tom O'Brien haven't necessarily lacked togetherness. But they say the teamwork on the current team is just different, in a good way.

"We’re trying to do a couple things different here and there," quarterback and team tri-captain Russell Wilson explained Thursday. "Nothing in particular. But we’re just trying to have fun out there and compete every day, in individual drills and team drills. And just get better. And this is a fun game."

Asked about that topic today, O'Brien had a mixed reaction. He is reluctant to proclaim the chemistry and teamwork improved because it hasn't been tested yet in adverse situations.

At the same time, he hopes the camaraderie people are talking about is a sign that the team building he has been trying to promote since he arrived finally is taking hold.

"Hopefully all our efforts to get it more team oriented, more selfless, more about everybody else than the 'me' factor, if that's taken hold, that's obviously a good thing for us," O'Brien said.

O'Brien also said offensive coordinator Dana Bible, who was treated for leukemia during the offseason, recently received another clean bill of health in his latest tests. O'Brien plans to have Bible call plays as he has throughout his tenure at N.C. State before he missed the last two games of last season because of the illness.

After getting caught off guard at first when Bible was hospitalized last season on the day the team traveled to Virginia Tech, O'Brien said other staff members will be more alert to the possibility of taking on more responsibility. But he said all the information Bible has received on his health has been positive.

"There's no reason to believe he won't be able to assume the same duties that he's done in the past," O'Brien said.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Amato stops by, praises Pack's Wilson

As quarterback Russell Wilson walked into the N.C. State sports information office today, he ran into a familiar former coach.

Chuck Amato, the former Wolfpack coach to whom Wilson first committed before Amato was replaced by Tom O'Brien, was visiting campus. Amato hugged Wilson and told him that not long ago, he was talking to Bobby Bowden about Wilson.

Bowden and Amato decided that he reminded them of former Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward, with a stronger arm. Amato marveled at a desperation pass Wilson threw at the end of the game at Florida State last season while being tackled; Wilson estimated that it traveled 65 yards.

Amato is out of coaching this season. He wasn't retained at Florida State after Jimbo Fisher took over for Bowden. Amato also has undergone successful treatment for throat and neck cancer during the offseason.

He said being out of coaching this fall is driving him crazy, but otherwise seems in good health and high spirits. He'd come to campus to visit with friends today when he happened upon Wilson, who arrived at the sports information office for an interview with a reporter.

Amato congratulated Wilson on his success and said he is eager to watch him play more.

"It's always good to see him," Wilson said. "He's a great coach and a great man in general. I got to see him when I was getting recruited, and I see him every once in a while. I saw him at Florida State and all that kind of stuff. He's been a great asset to this program in the past, obviously, and he helped me get here along with Coach O'Brien as well."

Ken Tysiac

Herbstreit said probe's length burdens UNC

ABC and ESPN television analyst Kirk Herbstreit said today that as an NCAA investigation continues, it’s becoming a burden for North Carolina and other schools that have been under scrutiny.

Herbstreit will work North Carolina’s season opener against LSU on Sept. 4 in Atlanta. He said one of his difficulties preparing for the game is figuring out who is going to play and which players, if any, will have to sit out.

“You can imagine what it’s like living this every day for these coaches and these players,” Herbstreit said in a conference call with reporters. “As much as they’re trying to go out there and prep and get ready for these lofty expectations, make no mistake, this is an issue. It’s almost becoming a dark cloud that’s kind of hovering over their program until they get some answers from the NCAA.”

The NCAA is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of possible improprieties involving sports agents. Investigators have visited North Carolina and South Carolina twice, and visited Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.

Tar Heel wide receiver Greg Little’s father has confirmed that Little was interviewed. The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer have received confirmation that defensive tackle Marvin Austin also has been interviewed.

Former North Carolina defensive tackle Cam Thomas said that former teammate and current NFL player Kentwan Balmer paid for Thomas and Austin to travel to California to train in the summer of 2009 in a trip that might be found in violation of NCAA rules.

Balmer’s agent, Gary Wichard, declined to comment about North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake because Wichard said Blake was being investigated by the NCAA.

“If I were Butch Davis, I’d want an answer [on the investigation] today,” Herbstreit said. “I don’t care what it is. I don’t care how many guys it’s affecting. Just make this problem go away. Let us know what we’re dealing with.”

Davis and North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour have repeatedly said that they are cooperating with the investigation and trying to help the NCAA proceed in a timely manner.

Putting, the NCAA issue aside, Herbstreit is watching with interest as the quarterback competition between senior T.J. Yates and redshirt freshman Bryn Renner unfolds. Herbstreit said it’s well documented that North Carolina is expected to have one of the best defenses in the nation.

“Assuming that the players involved are going to be out there, I think that’s almost a given,” Herbstreit said. “What I want to see is, how much are they going to improve offensively, and is Yates going to be the guy or is Renner going to get his chance to show the athletic ability and kind of that different level of athleticism that he could bring to the position?”

Asked about N.C. State, Herbstreit said he is surprised the Wolfpack hasn’t had more success in three seasons under coach Tom O’Brien, who’s 16-21 in three seasons.

“They’ve got a great quarterback in Russell Wilson who’s got a ton of upside, most of the receivers coming back, so he’s got some playmakers and some weapons to work with,” Herbstreit said. “But I think they need a landmark win to get themselves to believe that this could be a different year. I would guess that’s probably that high-profile game in the third week against Cincinnati on a Thursday night [Sept. 16].”

Herbstreit’s predicted ACC champion is Miami. He said that over the last three years the Hurricanes and coach Randy Shannon have used a lot of inexperienced athletes who are now ready to shine as veterans.

He said the Sept. 11 game at Ohio State could be a springboard for a big season for Miami.

“I just personally think this team is in great position and Randy has put them in position to compete for an ACC championship and get to a BCS bowl game and go from there,” Herbstreit said. “. . .All the exciting times are in front of you based on the groundwork he’s laid here these first three years.”

Ken Tysiac

Duke's Sarmiento has knee surgery

DURHAM -- Duke redshirt freshman Sydney Sarmiento, a reserve defensive end, had his knee scoped Tuesday “but we expect him back soon,’’ coach David Cutcliffe said.

“He’s got a chance [to be back] before the season [beings],’’ he added. “It’s one of those things, you see those guys sometimes after scopes back in six days. But it just depends on how receptive his body is to the surgery they did.”

Sarmiento’s absence depletes a defensive line that is already thin because of graduation and dismissals. Also on that line, senior Wesley Oglesby remains sidelined with an ankle injury and redshirt freshman Desmond Johnson out with a foot injury. Senior linebacker Damien Thorton and cornerback Johnny Williams have been slowed by shoulder injuries.

Cutcliffe also remains cautious with starting wide receivers Donovan Varner and Austin Kelly, who have been hampered by hamstring injuries. Kelly is doubtful to play in Friday night’s scrimmage.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Freshman DT Willis leave Tar Heels

Freshman defensive tackle Brandon Willis left the UNC football team on Thursday, coach Butch Davis said.

Willis, a prep All-American from Duncan, S.C., will move with his father, to southern California, Davis said. Willis, a 6-3, 270-pound defensive lineman, enrolled at UNC in January and had a chance to play right away given UNC's depth issues at defensive tackle.

Davis did not say where Willis planned to continue his college career, only that Willis was moving out west with his father, Gary, who had recently found a new job in California. Since Willis had already enrolled in classes at UNC, he will have to sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules.

Willis committed to Southern California coach Lane Kiffin when Kiffin was the head coach at Tennessee. When Kiffin left Tennessee in January, Willis changed his mind and enrolled at UNC.

The Heels have depth concerns at defensive tackle with the uncertainty of Marvin Austin's eligibility and the loss of Cam Thomas to the NFL. Junior Tydreke Powell and junior Quinton Coples, who moved from defensive end, have been working with the first-team defense at the two tackle positions.

Jordan Nix, a junior, and Jared McAdoo, a redshirt freshman, are the other two tackles on the depth chart.

Austin, who has started 25 games, has been working with the second team while UNC awaits the NCAA's decision about his status. Austin was interviewed by the NCAA in July about potential improper contact with an agent.

-- Joe Giglio

O'Brien impressed with N.C. State's freshmen

N.C. State's 2010 freshman class is making a good first impression on coach Tom O'Brien.

O'Brien has said Robert Crisp of Athens Drive High looks like a potential All-Pro offensive tackle. Anthony Creecy of Southern Durham High and Mustafa Greene of Irmo, S.C., are competing for the No. 3 running back spot.

David Amerson of Greensboro is a candidate for playing time at cornerback.

"The whole freshman class, it's a really good class," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of good football players in the class, and that's the thing that stands out the most."

O'Brien was responding to a question about Dontae Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound safety whose physical ability impresses the N.C. State coaching staff.

"I don't know how much or if he's going to make it this year," O'Brien said, "but he's certainly going to be a heck of a player down the road."

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

N.C. State hires senior staff member

N.C. State has hired Chris Kingston from Army as a new senior associate athletic director as part of an athletic department reorganization.

Kingston has been serving as special assistanta to the athletic director and director of annual giving at Army. He is a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and has served as an Army intelligence officer and tank platoon leader.

“He’s our kind of person,” said new athletic director Debbie Yow. “He’s experienced, and he wants to achieve.”

Yow, who was hired in June, said she might also advertise for another senior staff position as part of the reorganization of the athletic department.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Defense posts big numbers in Pack scrimmage

N.C. State's defense intercepted four passes and held the offense to 11-for-29 passing for 88 yards and one touchdown on Tuesday night in the Wolfpack's third preseason scrimmage.

The defense added eight tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks while the offense rushed for 122 yards on 36 carries. In the situational scrimmage, the offense worked situations when it was ahead by seven points, trailing by seven points and in a tie game with various times on the clock and timeouts remaining.

Coach Tom O'Brien did not release individual statistics.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm out there tonight," O'Brien said in a news release issued by the school's sports information department. "It was a good scrimmage from the standpoint of giving us many teachable moments."

The team will not practice Wednesday on the opening day of classes, and will return to the field Thursday morning as the Wolfpack begins its new morning practice schedule.

Ken Tysiac

UNC's games with Tennessee in jeopardy

North Carolina's football dates with Tennessee in 2011 and 2012 are in jeopardy, UNC senior associate athletic director Larry Gallo confirmed today.

Gallo said the schools are discussing moving or possibly canceling the games as the result of a request by Tennessee.

"We're just in discussions as of right now and don't have anything solidified as of this minute," Gallo said.

The Tar Heels' 2011 schedule current calls for home games against Tennessee, James Madison and Rutgers, with a road game at East Carolina. Tennessee was the only opponent set on the 2012 schedule.

Gallo said North Carolina officials wanted to play the games.

"We had every intention of doing so and were looking forward to it," he said.

Efforts to reach Tennesse athletic director Mike Hamilton were not immediately successful. Hamilton told ESPN.com that he wanted to break up a difficult portion of the Volunteers' 2011 schedule that included games with Cincinnati, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, LSU and Alabama.

Ken Tysiac

Linton chooses baseball over UNC

Charlotte's Ty Linton signed with baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday, choosing Major League baseball over football and baseball careers at North Carolina.

According to the Arizona Republic, Linton -- who played at Charlotte Christian -- received a $1.25 million bonus.

Here's what Diamondbacks general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Republic's Nick Piecoro about Linton:

"In Ty’s case, we have a guy who we believe is a five-tool player, a very athletic outfielder with major league upside and we get to put him in our system. We think a lot of his upside. Love the athlete, love the intensity he brings to the field. A great sign for us. We’re thrilled to have him.

"Going into the draft, we felt like Ty was that kind of talent, but his signability was an issue because of the football. The reason he dropped to the 14th round of the draft was not indicative of the level off his talent, but more indicative of the fact that he was, I believe, the 14th-rated linebacker in the country. We feel like we got a top two round talent in the 14th round.

"Ty was committed to the fact that he wanted to be a major league baseball player and wanted to focus his attentions on it. He was a high school All-American and we don’t know how good he can be because he’s never focused on it 100 per cent of the time. He’s always had peripheral focus on football, which usually brought him into the baseball season a little bit late and more in football shape, a little more muscular and bound up. Given the ability to go out and regain some of that baseball flexibility and get that swing timing down … We’re going to enjoy what we see from Ty Linton."

-- David Scott

Monday, August 16, 2010

N.C. State running backs limited in practice

N.C. State running backs Curtis Underwood and James Washington did not practice in full pads Monday as they were wearing jerseys with a red cross on them signifying that they were injured.

Coach Tom O'Brien declined to comment on their status. His preseason policy is not to talk about injuries unless he knows they are going to cause players to miss the opening game.

"I don't have anything to say about any injuries one way or another," O'Brien said. "They're still good for the first game, and if they're not, I will tell you."

N.C. State opens at home against Western Carolina on Sept. 4.

Underwood and Washington are competing for the first-team running back job.

It's not clear if they will be available for Tuesday evening's scrimmage. End-of-game situations will be a key part of the scrimmage, the team's third of the preseason.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fan Day notes: O'Brien confident in Pack's talent

After his players filed into bleachers and posed for the team picture today, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien expressed confidence that they can meet some of the team's goals for this season.

The Wolfpack has yet to post a winning season under O'Brien and is 16-21 during his three-year tenure. During his Meet the Pack Day news conference with reporters, O'Brien said this team can do better.

"We have enough weapons, I believe, offensively and defensively to have a winning season and get to a bowl game," O'Brien said.

O'Brien acknowledged that injuries could change that situation. Over the last three seasons, the Wolfpack has faced a devastating series of long-term injuries to key players such as Toney Baker, Anthony Hill, Donald Bowens and Nate Irving that have crippled the team.

This season, O'Brien said, the team doesn't have unlimited depth but has enough to weather some injuries. He expressed hope that injuries won't hit his team as hard this season.

"When you've been around long enough, it's going to even out," O'Brien said. "We've got to get some good bounces here somewhere another. We don't count on it, but you hope for it."

Creecy, Greene impress. After performing well in the team's second preseason scrimmage Friday night, freshman running backs Anthony Creecy and Mustafa Greene have a shot at earning the team's No. 3 running back position.

"Mustafa Greene and Tony Creecy look to be pretty talented," O'Brien said. "They're in there trying to figure out who's fighting for a spot on the team."

Junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington still are competing for the No. 1 spot at running back. O'Brien plans to rotate two running backs and get playing time for a third back.

High praise for Crisp. O'Brien said former Raleigh Athens Drive offensive tackle Robert Crisp, the jewel of N.C. State's 2010 recruiting class, is talented enough to be an All-Pro in the NFL some day.

O'Brien said Crisp's head is swimming during his first preseason camp because of the complexity of the college game, but said Crisp is everything the Wolfpack coaches thought he could be when they recruited him.

"He has that makeup where he doesn't get down and he gets back to the huddle and goes back out and forgets about the last play and goes on to the next one," O'Brien said. "And that's a good trait to have."

Players sorry. Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy and offensive tackle Jake Vermiglio said they were sorry for an offseason incident that led to charges against them that were later dismissed.

Sweezy, Vermiglio and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn were cited April 24 for simple possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaing a dwelling for the purpose of using a controlled substance after police found about six grams of marijuana in their off-campus apartment.

A fourth player, tight end George Bryan, has a Sept. 3 court date on a single charge of maintaining a dwelling for the purpose of using a controlled substance. All charges against Sweezy, Vermiglio and Kuhn were dismissed after a judge ruled police improperly searched the apartment, according to a Raleigh police search warrant.

"I've thought long and hard about what I was going to say about this," Vermiglio said. "I thought the best way to say it is, we all made a mistake. It was just a bad decision. I'd like to deeply apologize to the Wolfpack Nation, my teammates, my coaches and my family. We embarrassed them, and hopefully we'll show that we mean business on the field this year."

'Perfect Storm'. Wide receiver and team tri-captain Jarvis Williams said offensive coordinator Dana Bible has come up with a nickname for a Wolfpack offense that averaged 30.3 points per game last season.

Bible is calling the offense "The Perfect Storm."

"We've got receivers that want to catch the ball," Williams said. "We've got a quarterback that can throw the ball. We've got a backup quarterback that can also throw the ball and make plays. We have one of the best tight ends in the country. We've got an offensive coordinator that wants to throw the ball. So there's just no way around it. And defenses are going to have troubles with us this year."

Ken Tysiac

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two N.C. State redshirt freshmen off team

Redshirt freshman football players Morgan Alexander and Denzelle Good no longer are in school at N.C. State.

"They did not live up to their expectations, so they're no longer on the football team," coach Tom O'Brien said Friday.

Alexander played wide receiver and was from Cartersville, Ga.; Good was an offensive lineman from Gaffney, S.C.

O'Brien didn't offer further explanation for their departures.

A third redshirt freshman, wide receiver Quinton Payton, will miss the first game of the season Sept. 4 against Western Carolina after suffering a compound fracture of a finger in today's preseason scrimmage.

The play of N.C. State's offensive line was a concern for O'Brien during the second preseason scrimmage tonight. The team allowed 10 tackles for loss, including six sacks, and rushed for a modest 150 yards on 69 carries.

O'Brien said the offensive line is unsettled in the absence of sophomore guard R.J. Mattes, who's expected back from a knee injury in mid-September.

"He's still the key on how this offensive line is going to be," O'Brien said. "If he were out there now, it would be a lot easier to put it together, I know that."

The passing game was decent, though, as N.C. State's quarterbacks completed 34 of 54 passes for 422 yards and one touchdown. The Wolfpack did throw three interceptions.

Linebacker Nate Irving, as expected, sat out the scrimmage as part of O'Brien's plan to get him to the opening game in good health. T.J. Graham made the big special teams play of the scrimmage with a punt return for a touchdown, and Josh Czajkowski made two of three field goal attempts.

Ken Tysiac

UNC hires lawyer for advice during NCAA's review

The University of North Carolina has hired a lawyer with a background in NCAA rules compliance to advise the school while the NCAA investigates the Tar Heels football program.

Rick Evrard, a lawyer with Bond, Schoeneck & King in Overland Park, Kan., spent seven years on the NCAA staff, first as an enforcement representative and later as director of legislative services.

North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said the school is using Evrard as a consultant. NCAA investigators have been to campus twice in the last six weeks in a probe of possible improprieties between football players and sports agents.

Baddour said he still has complete faith in assistant athletic director for compliance Amy Herman and university legal counsel Leslie Strohm.

“This is just something that we felt like, let’s don’t leave any stone unturned,” Baddour said this morning. “Let’s don’t look back on this and wish we had done something in a different way. Somebody who has experience going through this who can bring knowledge about what other schools have done, what’s been helpful in the past, what’s not been helpful, and help us know what to expect at each turn.”

Evrard sometimes helps schools conduct their own, independent investigations, but Baddour said he won’t do that for North Carolina. Although Evrard has visited Chapel Hill during this process, he won’t conduct any interviews.

Connecticut and Kansas are among the schools Evrard has advised.

“Leslie Strohm and I talked about it for some time and we thought that would be a good thing for us to do,” Baddour said. “We felt like it could be helpful. Other schools who had used similar kind of counsel have commented that it was helpful to them.”

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Austin, Little taking 'great mental approach'

t Thursday's scheduled media day, which featured an unscheduled statement from athletic director Dick Baddour on the status NCAA investigation, UNC coach Davis offered his most extensive comments on Marvin Austin and Greg Little since the NCAA interviewed the senior stars about improper contact with an agent on July 12 and July 13.

"They've taken a great approach, from a mental standpoint," Davis said. "There are things that are clearly out of their control. The only thing that they can do is to be prepared, to practice as if none of this was going on."

Baddour said there was no time table for the NCAA's decision. He said the school understands the concerns of its public "constituents" but UNC has offered the NCAA its full cooperation, which means he cannot comment on the details of the case in order to "protect the integrity" of the investigation.

Austin and Little both practiced with the second team on Thursday in the portion of practice that was open to the media and have been regularly working with the second team since camp opened on Aug. 6.

Davis said "we're not at that point yet" where he has to make a decision about Austin or Little's status with the first team.

Junior Quinton Coples has moved from end to tackle to fill Austin's starting spot. Junior Michael McAdoo has moved from Robert Quinn's backup at right defensive end to the starter on the left end.

Erik Highsmith and Joshua Adams have been taking first-team reps at receiver.

-- J.P. Giglio

Two QBs for UNC?

UNC coach Butch Davis raised the possibility that redshirt freshman Bryn Renner could start in the opener vs. LSU or that both incumbent T.J. Yates and Renner could play in a quarterback rotation.

Davis said Yates and Renner have both run the first-team offense in practice.

"We might want to try to play two quarterbacks," Davis said but added he was "adamantly against" using a series-by-series rotation.

Yates, who has 31 career starts in three seasons, said alternating reps in practice is not new. He and Cam Sexton used to do the same thing when Sexton was with the team in 2007 and 2008.

Yates said he was confident he would still be the starter for the opener. He said he wouldn't be crazy about sharing game reps with Renner, whose only college experience was the spring game.

"I wouldn't like it but whatever Coach Davis feels is right, I've got to go with it," Yates said.

Davis praised Yates' experience and Renner's athletic ability, particularly his arm strength and the competitive spirit of both.

"I love the way they are pushing each other and the way they are encouraging each other," Davis said.

-- J.P. Giglio

Policy aims to keep N.C. State athletes in class

N.C. State moved forward with plans to begin a new policy to make sure "at-risk" athletes are attending class and to discipline them when they don't.

Members of the university athletic council’s academic committee agreed on Thursday morning to send a draft of a temporary plan for the fall semester to school administrators for approval and immediate implementation.

During the fall, the council will work on a permanent policy to begin in the spring semester. The temporary policy could become permanent if administrators believe it is effective. Previously, individual coaches were allowed to create their own policies for athletes who missed class.

The new plan will identify athletes who are “at risk” academically according to three criteria:

- Those who have a cumulative grade-point average below 2.2.

- New students who were accepted into school as "special admittance" exceptions.

- Others who are placed in the group because of excessive absences or academic underperformance.

Carrie Leger, who directs N.C. State's academic support program for athletes, estimates that about 80 of the school's 550 athletes will fall into one of the three categories. State athletic director Debbie Yow has approved $22,000 to pay a graduate assistant to oversee the daily attendance reports, as well as monitors who will meet with at-risk athletes outside their classrooms before each class to confirm their attendance.

>After the first unexcused absence, an e-mail will be sent to the athletes, their coaches and parents, reminding them of the policy. A second unexcused absence would result in a warning that the next time they miss class without an excuse, they will be suspended for their team’s next scheduled competition.

A third unexcused absence would result in the one-game suspension. Athletes who miss class unexcused for a fourth time will be suspended from 10 percent of their playing season. The staff will "round up " when calculating the 10 percent; for example, a football player missing 10 percent of a 12-game season will miss two games.

The policy grew out of a concern over N.C. State’s low percentage of athletes who are graduating. The school's athletes' four-class average federal graduation rate of 54 percent in 2009 ranked 12th in the ACC. The student body's overall four-class graduation rate of 70 percent also ranked 12th, and N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson and others at the school are eager to improve both numbers.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Balmer paid California trip for UNC's Austin, Thomas

Former North Carolina football player Kentwan Balmer paid for his college teammates, Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas, to travel to California in the summer of 2009, Thomas said Tuesday.

Thomas, a rookie defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, did not provide financial details, or the dates, but said he and Austin worked out at the Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. in the summer before the 2009 season.

Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, Thomas, who started all 13 games for UNC in the 2009 season, said he and Austin took the trip together and "'Twan paid for [the trip]." Thomas, the Chargers' fifth-round pick, then declined further comment.

Balmer, Thomas and Austin were teammates at UNC for the 2007 season and each played defensive tackle. Their position coach was John Blake, UNC's recruiting coordinator and associate head coach. Austin and Blake's relationship with California-based agent Gary Wichard has become a part of the NCAA investigation into the UNC football program, Wichard said last Thursday.

The NCAA returned to Chapel Hill on Aug. 4 after making initial visits on July 12 and July 13 to interview an undisclosed number of players, including Austin, about receiving improper benefits from an agent.

Under NCAA bylaw, or more commonly referred to as the "preferential treatment" bylaw, athletes can't receive "preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation."

Amy Herman, UNC's assistant athletic director for compliance, declined to comment on Thomas' statement but answered a general question about a former player providing travel expenses for current player(s).

Herman said there are no set NCAA punishments for violating the preferential treatment bylaw.

"[The punishment] would be interpretative," Herman said, "based on the facts of the specific case."

Potential punishments include vacating the games Austin and Thomas participated in 2009, which would be the entire season. UNC went 8-5 last year.

J.P. Giglio

Spurrier: Reports on UNC's Blake not 'very surprising'

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday that he wasn't surprised about reports that NCAA investigators are looking into University of North Carolina assistant coach John Blake's connection with sports agent Gary Wichard.

"Let me just say this: When you've been in coaching as long as I have, we know the reputation of almost all the coaches out there that have been around a long time," Spurrier told The (Columbia) State newspaper. "So I guess what I would say is that article's not very surprising. That's about the least I should say about it. We all have a reputation, especially guys who've coached 20 years or so. It's hard to hide whatever your reputation is."

The NCAA is conducting investigations into allegations of impermissible contact between sports agents and college football players at several schools, including UNC and Spurrier's program. Last month, NCAA investigators interviewed an undisclosed number of players, including Tar Heel senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin and senior wide receiver Greg Little.

Investigators were back on UNC's campus last week.

South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders, son of (Raleigh) News & Observer metro columnist Barry Saunders, also has been interviewed by the NCAA.

Reached by telephone last week, Wichard said he would not comment about his relationship with Blake because he said Blake is involved in the investigation at UNC.

Wichard is a longtime acquaintance of Blake's.

-- Staff reports

Monday, August 9, 2010

Defense strong in Pack scrimmage

Quarterback Russell Wilson remains a bit off target, linebacker Nate Irving didn’t scrimmage and the defense held firm in N.C. State’s first preseason scrimmage Monday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Coach Tom O’Brien shared only limited statistics from the scrimmage. He revealed that the offense completed eight of 20 passes for 116 yards and rushed 55 times for 92 yards.

O’Brien said Wilson, who spent the spring and summer playing baseball, is still “a little bit off,” but the coach didn’t sound concerned.

“It’s just going to take him a little bit of time,” O’Brien said. “He’s still turning two [as in a baseball double play], so we’ve got to get him out of that mode and back into throwing the ball. But luckily we still have three or four weeks before we’ve got to play a game.”

Irving, a senior captain who missed all of last season with injuries resulting from a car crash, didn’t scrimmage Monday and won’t scrimmage Friday either. O’Brien said Irving didn’t need the work and wasn’t needed to get the defense lined up against the simplistic plays the offense was running.

O’Brien’s priority with Irving is keeping him free of injury.

“We’ve got to get him to the first game and make sure he’s healthy,” O’Brien said. “. . .The emphasis today of what we were doing, it didn’t seem to be a good idea to play him at all.”

N.C. State did have bad news on the injury front on one player. Jesse Riley, a former walk-on who had a shot at getting playing time at cornerback, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in practice and is out for the season.

Judging from the statistics, the defense performed well in the scrimmage. In just over 80 plays, there were eight tackles for loss, including six sacks.

On special teams, Josh Czajkowski made field goals of 36 and 35 yards but missed from 45 and 43 yards. The team punted five times for an average of 40 yards.

Ken Tysiac

Heels' freshman RB out for season

Giovani Bernard, who appeared to have a chance to contribute to North Carolina's rushing game as a freshman, is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during practice Sunday afternoon.

Bernard, who's from Davie, Fla., was rated the No. 12 running back recruit in the nation by rivals.com after leading St. Thomas Aquinas to a 13-1 record as a senior. His injury will require season-ending surgery, and he will receive a medical redshirt for 2010, the school announced Monday.

North Carolina returns leading rushers Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn from last season's team, but Bernard was thought to have a chance to break into the rotation at running back before the injury.

Ken Tysiac

Friday, August 6, 2010

N.C. State camp: Tale of Two Wilsons

Fresh off spending the spring and summer playing baseball, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson still is adjusting to his first full-team drills since November.

Meanwhile, sophomore cornerback C.J. Wilson is emerging as a possible leader in a defensive backfield that struggled last season. Coach Tom O'Brien and defensive coordinator Mike Archer gave an update on training camp Friday evening.

Russell Wilson, who missed spring practice, isn't in midseason form yet.

"He hasn't been really sharp throwing the football, but he hasn't thrown it since November in team situations," O'Brien said. "He's got to get that back, and he's working hard at that."

O'Brien also complimented Wilson on his improved pocket presence. In the past, defenses have bottled up Wilson because of his habit of trying to escape pressure by running sideways.

"He got caught as people defended him and knew what he did," O'Brien said. "So he's got to be able to step up in the pocket and throw. You can take off and run stepping up if everything's covered. He's worked hard on that aspect."

C.J. Wilson returned an interception for a touchdown on the opening day of practice and continues to be a leader. He's only a sophomore, but he is one of N.C. State's most experienced players in the secondary.

"C.J. in particular has had some really good practices," Archer said. "He's shown leadership because he has played more than anybody else."

Archer said sophomore Terrell Manning has emerged as a starting outside linebacker; he has spent about a year running neck and neck with Dwayne Maddox. And on the defensive line, end David Akinniyi has impressed coaches early.

He is a transfer student who joined N.C. State for his senior season after Northeastern dropped football.

"David Akinniyi has had a great summer, and I think David has had a good camp," Archer said. "It's hard to tell without putting full pads on, but just based on retention, work habits, leadership, David has done well."

N.C. State's most highly regarded recruit, offensive tackle Robert Crisp from Raleigh's Athens Drive High, has started slowly. But O'Brien said that's natural and hasn't ruled out playing Crisp in the season opener.

Ken Tysiac

"His head is swimming," O'Brien said. "That's what I can tell you right now, but that's the way all freshman linemen are. The vocabulary is different, everything is different up front, and the speed of the game is a lot faster. He's swimming right now, but he's got four weeks to go [before the opener], so maybe he can make it. We don't know."

UNC's Austin, Little practice with 2nd team

CHAPEL HILL -- Marvin Austin and Greg Little, a pair of NFL prospects with 48 college career starts between them, opened North Carolina's practice today with the second string.

UNC coach Butch Davis said there's no hidden meaning to that decision.

"We rotate a lot of guys throughout a lot of different situations," Davis said.

Austin and Little both have been interviewed by the NCAA during its investigation into the UNC football program. UNC did not make Austin or Little available for comment after practice this afternoon.

The NCAA, which was back on campus on Wednesday, made an initial visit on July 12 and July 13 to interview an undisclosed number of football players. UNC is waiting for a decision from the NCAA and is hopeful to hear before the season opens on Sept. 4.

"At some point in time during training camp we'll have to make a decision based on what we find out," Davis said. "Right now we're just practicing football."

Practice opened this afternoon with the usual vim and vigor of any first day. Players jumped around during stretching drills, and the coaches pumped up the new group of charges.

Davis admonished the team for their lack of intensity during the team stretch.

"Clapping is not optional," Davis admonished his fourth team on the first official day of the 2010 season.

The first 45 minutes, mostly stretching and special teams, were open to the media. The players did break down into position groups, which is when Austin and Little were working with the second string.

Senior safety Deunta Williams said Austin worked with the first team in the portion of practice closed to the media.

Senior quarterback T.J. Yates said Little also worked with first team later in practice.

Davis said both Austin and Little looked "good" without providing any further detail.

-- J.P. Giglio

Heels ranked No. 18 by coaches

North Carolina is ranked No. 18 in the USA Today coaches' poll, which is posted today on the newspaper's web site.

Defending national champion Alabama is ranked No. 1, followed by Ohio State, Florida, Texas and Boise State.

North Carolina, which has five preseason All-ACC selections after going 8-5 last season, is one of five ranked ACC teams. Virginia Tech (No. 6), Miami (No. 13), Georgia Tech (No. 17) and Florida State (No. 20) also are ranked.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 5, 2010

OL Good not practicing with N.C. State

Redshirt freshman offensive guard Denzelle Good is not practicing with N.C. State, coach Tom O'Brien confirmed Wednesday.

O'Brien said Good remains a member of the team, but didn't elaborate further on the player's status. Good, who's from Gaffney, S.C., redshirted last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NCAA investigators return to UNC

NCAA investigators were back on the University of North Carolina campus today, school athletic director Dick Baddour confirmed.

The NCAA has visited several schools in what appears to be a wide-ranging investigation of potential improprieties involving contact between athletes and sports agents.

“We are all working as hard as we can to resolve this issue as quickly as we can,” Baddour said.

On July 12 and 13, NCAA investigators Rachel Newman-Baker and Chance Martin interviewed athletes at UNC.

Baddour declined to reveal who was interviewed in the NCAA’s return to campus. On the previous visit, Baddour has said, athletes were interviewed.

Wide receiver Greg Little’s father later said that Little was interviewed, and The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer confirmed that defensive tackle Marvin Austin also spoke to investigators in July.

Baddour did say today that the school is participating in the investigation in conjunction with the NCAA.

“We view this as a joint review, absolutely, that’s ongoing,” Baddour said. “Their initial call to us was that we will conduct this review together, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Since their initial visit to North Carolina, NCAA investigators are known to have met also with athletes at South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.

-- Ken Tysiac

Austin, Little will practice with Tar Heels

Marvin Austin and Greg Little will practice with the North Carolina football team on Friday when the Tar Heels' training camp opens, a team spokesman said.

Shane Lyons, the ACC's associate commissioner for compliance, said there is no NCAA rule against players under NCAA investigation participating in practice.

If the NCAA rules a player ineligible, Lyons said, they still would be able to practice.

"They would be ineligible for competition, not for practice," Lyons said.

The NCAA interviewed an undisclosed number of UNC football players on July 12 and July 13. Little, a senior receiver, was one of them, his father said. The News & Observer has confirmed that Austin, a senior defensive tackle, also was interviewed.

The Tar Heels, who open practice on Friday, are waiting to hear from the NCAA about its investigation into the football program for the possibility of players receiving improper benefits from agents.

Kevin Best, the team's spokesman, said Austin and Little will be at practice on Friday.

South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders, also interviewed by the NCAA, practiced with the Gamecocks on Tuesday.

UNC opens the season on Sept. 4 against Louisiana State in Atlanta. If it doesn't get a ruling from the NCAA, Lyons said, then the school would have to make a decision.

"The institution has to ask itself if they have violated any rules," Lyons said, without specifically commenting on the UNC probe. "Then they would make a determination if they are going to withhold the players in question."

Lyons said players ruled ineligible by the NCAA are still eligible to remain on scholarship and practice with the team, under NCAA rules.

It would be up to UNC, not the ACC or NCAA, to revoke an ineligible player's scholarship, Lyons said.

-- J.P. Giglio

Wolfpack practice review: DBs a focus

N.C. State has a returning all-star candidate at quarterback in Russell Wilson and a healthy competition for the starting halfback position, but the defensive backs drew the most attention from observers during the preseason-opening practice session Tuesday.

The opening practice usually is the only one N.C. State opens to the media, and the focus Tuesday was on the position of greatest need. That's the defensive secondary following a disastrous 2009 season for that group.

Redshirt freshman Dean Haynes appears to have the first opportunity to help fix the secondary. Haynes worked with the starters at boundary cornerback. Junior Justin Byers has played cornerback and safety and has more experience, but has struggled for much of the time he has played.

Haynes' willingness to get physical with the receivers was impressive, but he did get hollered at by defensive backs coach Mike Reed for missing an assignment in run support on one play.

Freshman David Amerson also got an extensive look as a second-team player. Amerson, who was one of the most highly recruited players in North Carolina, is the team's most impressive physical specimen at cornerback at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds.

His inexperience showed on one pass breakup when he knocked down a receiver in a practice where the players are instructed not to take players to the ground. But coaches can tolerate aggressive errors ahead of passive or timid errors any day. And Amerson also demonstrated maturity by staying home to stop a misdirection running play, earning shouts of congratulations from the defensive sideline.

The first-team field cornerback, C.J. Wilson, also made an impression with an interception in the flat that he returned for a touchdown. And if nothing else, first-team safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff didn't make any glaring errors.

Elsewhere in practice, quarterback Russell Wilson did appear a bit rusty as expected after missing spring practice and spending the summer playing minor league baseball. He fumbled the ball once early during individual drills and didn't have midseason sharpness with his passes. But there's little concern around camp that Wilson will be ready for the Sept. 4 opener against Western Carolina.

Running back James Washington says he can stop on a dime and change direction quickly, and he showed that with some of his running plays. Terrell Manning is ahead of fellow sophomore Dwayne Maddox at weak side linebacker. There is hope in camp that Manning finally is completely ready to put the knee injury that he suffered as a high school senior behind him and display the ability that wowed recruiting analysts before the injury.

Meanwhile, first-year athletic director Debbie Yow watched from the sideline with interest. Yow said she attends practices on an infrequent basis because there is so much administrative work to do in the office. But she showed up, spoke with coach Tom O'Brien for about five minutes and chatted amicably with media members while the team scrimmaged.

After three straight losing seasons under O'Brien, the football team will make Yow's (and O'Brien's) job a lot easier if it shows improvement in the win column. Getting the secondary in order will be a good place to start.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Irving, Wilson, Williams voted Pack captains

Linebacker Nate Irving, quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Jarvis Williams were elected N.C. State's football captains in team voting Monday night, school sports information director Annabelle Myers announced.

Irving was a defensive team leader in 2008 and is returning as a senior after missing the 2009 season with injuries suffered in a car wreck. Wilson led the ACC with 31 touchdown passes last season as a sophomore. One of Wilson's favorite targets, Williams ranks fourth in school history with 15 career touchdown catches heading into his senior season.

"These three young men have shown outstanding leadership throughout their entire careers as members of this program," coach Tom O'Brien said in a statement. "Their hard work and dedication earned them the respect of their teammates."

Ken Tysiac

Brown, Horton among 2010 ACC Legends

Former N.C. State running back Ted Brown is among the former college football greats who will visit Charlotte in December as part of the 2010 class of ACC Legends, the ACC announced today.

Brown, the ACC's career rushing leader with 4,602 yards, will join 11 other ACC Legends who will be honored at the ACC's night of champions dinner Dec. 3 and at the ACC championship game Dec. 4 at Bank of America Stadium.

Former North Carolina running back Ethan Horton, a native of Charlotte who was the 1984 ACC player of the year, will participate in his hometown as a member of the Legends class. Jay Wilkinson, the 1963 ACC player of the year, will represent Duke. Larry Hopkins, who led Wake Forest to the 1970 ACC title and was the ACC's leading rusher in 1971, will represent the Deacons.

Clemson's Steve Fuller, Boston College's Tony Thurman, Florida State's Peter Boulware, Georgia Tech's Randy Rhino, Maryland's Darryl Hill, Miami's Cortez Kennedy, Virginia's Barry Word and Virginia Tech's Cornell Brown also are members of the Legends class.

Ken Tysiac

LB Carter transfers from Syracuse to N.C. State

E.J. Carter, who started eight games last season as a freshman for Syracuse before he was dismissed from the team, has enrolled at N.C. State and is on the Wolfpack's roster, school sports information director Annabelle Myers confirmed.

Carter played in 10 games last season, making 24 tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks. He will have to sit out a season because of NCAA transfer regulations and will have three seasons of eligibility beginning in 2011.

Ken Tysiac

State's Wilson in command in QB race

It would be easy to misconstrue N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien's comments on quarterback Russell Wilson from last week's ACC media kickoff.

O'Brien said there's a chance Wilson will be rusty because he missed spring practice to play baseball and hasn't played football since the season finale against North Carolina last season. O'Brien said he wants backup Mike Glennon to challenge Wilson for the starting job, and O'Brien genuinely likes Glennon's skills and temperament.

But O'Brien also knows how good Wilson is at handling multiple responsibilities, and he doesn't expect that to suddenly change because Wilson played minor league baseball this summer.

"Russell prepares for everything," O'Brien said. "He's mentally strong about a lot of things. It would surprise me more if he wasn't able to handle it."

Sure enough, Wilson prepared for football while he was playing baseball. He lifted weights three or four times a week, doing a combination of the N.C. State football and his prescribed baseball workouts, which he said are quite similar.

He threw the football with Tri-City Dust Devils assistant coach Anthony Sanders, who Wilson said signed with Arizona to play football before deciding to play pro baseball right out of high school. On bus rides, Wilson studied N.C. State's playbook.

He said his goal is to make all the plays so familiar that it feels like driving in his car in his own neighborhood, where every turn and lane change is ingrained in his memory. And Wilson doesn't sound like a quarterback who thinks his job is in jeopardy.

"I'm trying to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation," he said. "I'm not just trying to get the starting job. I'm trying to be the best each and every Saturday. That's my mind set."

Glennon is seven inches taller than Wilson with a stronger arm, and might ultimately be a better NFL prospect because of those skills. But Wilson was first-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman and led the ACC with 31 touchdown passes last season.

O'Brien said it's comforting to know that he has two quarterbacks who he believes have the talent to get N.C. State to the ACC championship game. That, indeed, is a luxury.

And if you know Wilson's track record, there should be no doubt that he will re-establish himself at the top of the quarterback depth chart shortly after practice begins at 4:30 p.m. today.

It is Glennon's job to compete with Wilson. But Wilson isn't going to let the starting job be taken away.

- Ken Tysiac

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pack's Wilson announces: He's engaged

N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson is getting married.

Wilson broke the news Monday afternoon at a news conference scheduled to discuss his summer minor league baseball exploits and how he has prepared for N.C. State's football practice, which begins Tuesday.

He said he proposed Sunday to Ashton Meem, who he has known since they were in high school in Richmond, Va., and has been a classmate at N.C. State. Wilson said it took her a few seconds to gain her composure, but she accepted.

Despite playing short-season Class A baseball in the Pacific Northwest in the Colorado Rockies organization over the summer, Wilson said he has stayed in shape for football. He spent 15 minutes a day studying his playbook, lifted weights three or four times a week and threw the football with some of his baseball teammates.

He said he is ready for football practice to start.

"If we're winning, I'm happy," Wilson said. "If I win All-ACC or don't win All-ACC, I want to win."

Wilson, who will be a junior in football this fall, did not rule out the possibility of returning to N.C. State in 2011 for his senior football season. His ultimate goal is to play major league baseball and NFL football, and he said he is keeping his options open.

"Everything is a possibility," Wilson said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen [in the 2011 football season]"

Read Tuesday's Charlotte Observer or Raleigh News & Observer for more details on Wilson as N.C. State gets set to start preseason football camp.

Ken Tysiac