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October 11, 2013
Eleven true freshmen have stepped onto the game field immediately for NC State this year. However, only three rookies have made their debuts on the defensive side of the ball — defensive tackle Monty Nelson, who has played the most with 117 snaps in five games, and cornerbacks Jack Tocho (69 snaps) and Dravious Wright (10).
Tocho saw action on just special teams in the season opener before he made his defensive debut and logged 20 snaps against Richmond as the team's nickel back. He has continued to serve in that role — seeing action in each of the next three games, including lining up in the slot opposite of Clemson All-American receiver Sammy Watkins.
"Honestly, I never expected I would cover Sammy Watkins," he admitted. "The first time he lined up against me, I literally looked to my right at Juston [Burris] and he just put his hands up, so I was like, 'all right, I guess I am covering him.'
"I made the tackle and I felt good after that play because I thought, 'at least he didn't score on me.' All week we had seen people miss tackles against him and he would just go for a touchdown."
Tocho finished that game with a pair of stops, but the 15 snaps were more than just getting his feet wet against the nation's third-ranked team with one of the most powerful offenses in the land.
It was a huge confidence booster that he didn't break away from me and they didn't pick on me," the rookie from Charlotte noted. "Because I'm a freshman, I expect them to pick on me in the game. I feel like I did pretty well, but I knew I had a lot of things to work on after that game."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder's confidence has continued to grow and last Saturday against Wake Forest, he received his first chance to move out of the nickel and play on the edge. After fifth-year safety Jarvis Byrd went down with an injury, the coaching staff decided to move senior cornerback Dontae Johnson back to safety, where he played his first two years on campus. Tocho logged a season-high 24 snaps in the games.
"For the first time this whole year, I was playing corner, which is what I came for," Tocho said. "It was very exciting to go out there and experience it for the first time.
"I think I did pretty well, nobody caught any passes on me, so I'd say I had a pretty good game if you look at it that way."
Byrd is listed as doubtful for Saturday's tilt with Syracuse and Tocho is ready for whatever role he is needed to play, whether it is in his customary nickel spot or on the edge. Regardless of where he lines up, he knows he is better than the youngster that lined up across from Watkins on Sept. 19.
"I think I've improved technique-wise, just by listening to what Coach [Richard] McNutt has suggested," he said. "I think I've learned to become more physical. Back in high school, I just basically covered all game. Nickel is just like another linebacker.
"I've learned to use my strength, which is something I didn't really do much in high school. Playing nickel has taught me to be a lot more physical because I go against offensive linemen and things like that. And I think it has improved my cover skills, as far as just who I've guarded."
Tocho said he is improving by the game and he's ready to build on his season total of seven tackles.
"The first game, I was very tense; I was just nervous and excited; I made a lot of mental errors," he said. "As the weeks have progressed, I have started to relax more and play the way the coaches think I'm able to play.
"[Syracuse] runs the ball a lot and they're a physical team with big guys trying to pound the ball down your throat. I love physical games like this, just being able to not hold back and pound these guys. They'll fight back and we'll be hitting each other."
N.C. State NEWS