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October 20, 2011NC State started this season 3-3 while playing against two FCS schools, which means the Pack must win four of their final six games to become bowl eligible.
The team has been in a similar position before under coach Tom O'Brien. The squad has posted a 13-11 record over the last six games of the regular season under the coach, including 2008 when the Pack started 2-6, but rebounded with four straight wins to earn a bid to the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
"I feel like when you're put in position where your back is against the wall, it brings the best out of everybody," redshirt senior wide receiver Jay Smith said. "Everybody knows we need to be better around here and everybody knows we need to get wins to get to a bowl game and save the season. I think everybody is pulling for each other and everybody is working hard to get that accomplished. I don't see why we can't do it again."
During that strong finish to the 2008 campaign, Smith was a redshirt freshman playing behind the likes of Owen Spencer (now on the Detroit Lions' practice squad), Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis - all three of which were seniors on last year's squad. Smith worked his way onto the field despite the talented group of older pass catchers and hauled in seven receptions for 78 yards in 13 games during his first year of game action..
"I look back at the beginning of my career and appreciate those guys even more," he said. "I learned so much from them and picked up everything that allows me to put myself in the position that I am now. I've seen the things they talked about and they went through now. Just being able to do the same things that they did and trying to do them even better has been my main goal for the whole year."
Now, Smith is the seasoned veteran among a corps of experienced receivers and he is in the midst of best season. The native of Norfolk, Va. has started all six games and pulled in a career-best 16 receptions for 172 yards and two scores. He has tallied at least three catches in each of the past three games and has recorded a touchdown in the past two contests.
"I feel more comfortable now," the 6-foot-2, 209-pounder said. "As the year has progressed, I've gotten to a point where I know what I need to do, I know my assignments, I just have to go out there and execute. I'm trying to take it as it comes do whatever the coaches throw at me.
"As far as the statistics, I do want to do well - that's every wide receiver's dream - and I've been working hard to make plays, but it's more of a team thing right now. We've got to get going in the second-half of the season and capitalize on all of the opportunities we get. As far as the two touchdowns, I just try to make plays when I can so we can put ourselves in a position to get to a bowl game."
In keeping with the team mantra, Smith is trying to pass along the things that Spencer, Williams and Davis taught him to the younger receivers on the squad. Three of the four wide outs on the two-deep are in their last year of eligibility while Tobais Palmer is a redshirt junior.
"The future of the wide receiver position is pretty promising," Smith said. "The older guys like myself, T.J. Graham and Steven Howard have been around the block and we learned a lot of stuff from Owen, Jarvis and Darrell. Just like we learned from them, we're hoping the younger guys are learning from us. They should be able to take the little bit of experience they get from playing this year and capitalize on it next year."
Saturday's contest against Virginia is a homecoming for Smith, who estimates his hometown is a little bit more than two-and-a-half hours from Charlottesville. He'll have plenty of family and friends in the stands, and he's trying to accumulate as many extra tickets as possible to make sure everybody is taken care of.
Smith was recruited by the Cavaliers as a highly-touted senior at Lake Taylor High; Rivals.com regarded him as a four-star prospect and the No. 5 player in his home state, but he said he's more than pleased with how everything worked out.
"I was recruited by both of the two big schools in Virginia - Virginia and Virginia Tech," he recalled. "It was pretty exciting to see them show interest in the recruiting process, but I'm here now at NC State. I'm glad to be at NC State and we're going to go up there, do what we need to do. I'm real excited to play at Virginia."
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