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October 3, 2013
NC State did not have much depth at wide receiver this spring. Coach Frisman Jackson had just six scholarship players to work with at the position, including early enrollee freshman Bra'Lon Cherry. The coach knew that the Pack would have to rely on some of the rookies to play right away and the newcomers have provided more than adequate depth this year.
"I think they're getting better every week," Jackson said. "They've made drastic improvements from game one to game four. I'm looking forward to see them play this weekend against another conference opponent. Obviously they have some stuff they need to work on, but they're battling every single day. They're getting better in practice and learning how to practice, and they're getting better on Saturdays, as well.
"For these young guys to come in and be as good as they are, it has really helped us out. We've been able to play a lot of guys. We want to rotate eight to nine guys during the game, and they've allowed me to do that by being able to come in here and play right away."
Two of the Pack's top four in receiving yards were additions from the 2013 signing class, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who started the first three games, and Jumichael Ramos. Valdes-Scantling led the team in receiving before he missed the Central Michigan game and currently stands third with 201 yards on 14 catches, while Ramos has hauled in five passes for 69 yards.
"Both of them are big guys," the coach said. "They can catch the ball over the middle, they've got great hands, they aren't afraid to go across the middle, they run pretty good routes for young guys, they're strong and they're not afraid. Even when we played on the national stage against Clemson, those guys were not afraid to be out there. That's what I love about them, the stage is not too big for them. They just have to keep working and keep fighting. They're making great improvements."
The coach has been pleased with his other rookies, as well. Cherry, the lone early enrollee in the group, has played in every game with one start, and has tallied four catches for 28 yards. Jackson noted that he has drastically improved since the spring. Johanthan Alston has returned eight kickoffs for 132 yards and has also played from scrimmage in two contests.
"The freshmen came in and accepted the challenge," the coach noted. "They haven't been afraid and challenged the older guys, which I liked. They are playing good football, they've just got to keep going. It's a long season, so they've got a long ways to go.
"Once you play that first game you're not a freshman anymore to me because you've kind of gotten over that hump. These guys have played a lot of football for them to be young guys. They're an experienced group and it's going to help them for the future, but they're not freshmen anymore. They're improving, so they've just got to keep doing that."
Another summer arrival, sophomore transfer Travares Copeland, has recently made his presence felt on the game field. He missed most of preseason camp with an injury, but he made his debut in the CMU contest and recorded a 10-yard catch. However, he also made plays without the ball in his hands.
"He's a great talent, he was just knicked up for most of training camp," Jackson explained. "He got in there, played pretty hard and played well. He cut some bodies on run blocks and he had a pretty good game for a guy that was coming in and playing his first game."
The coach noted the few veterans at the position, redshirt seniors Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, as well as redshirt junior Bryan Underwood, have taken the youngsters under their collective wing and helped them along greatly. They have also gotten on the same page as their new coach.
"These guys have done a great job of accepting me and kind of understanding what I want from a philosophy standpoint and what I demand from them out at practice," Jackson said. "They've taught the younger guys how to do things, how to practice and they have learned it for themselves. They've gotten so much better from where they were in the spring to where they are right now."
Smith leads the team with 20 catches for 235 yards and ranks fifth in the ACC with an average of 132.8 all-purpose yards per game. Underwood, meanwhile has broken out in the last two games, and has totaled 300 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage on 13 receptions and five rushes.
Payton has compiled a modest six catches for 62 yards, but has helped teammates with key blocks and Jackson thinks he is on the verge of a breakout performance.
"I told Q.P. in meetings, it's about his time, he's due," the coach said. "We expect him to come on too and start having some good games.
"He's a big guy and run blocking on the perimeter is very important in any offense. That's how you get your long runs, receiviers blocking on the perimeter. He's done a great job of getting his hands inside, moving defenders out of the way and cutting guys. He's doing a great job on the perimeter, he just has to keep it going."
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