August 18, 2011

Tony Creecy is embracing his opportunity

At NC State football's Media Day last Saturday, coach Tom O'Brien revealed that he and his staff are rotating four running backs during preseason practice as they search for injured sophomore Mustafa Greene's replacement. Greene will be out until mid-October with a foot injury but Tony Creecy is among the quartet vying for the lead role to open to season.

Creecy, a prep star at Southern Durham High, gained invaluable experience on the scout team last season while redshirting. The youngster earned Scout Team Player of the Week honors for the North Carolina game.

"I did redshirt and it helped me out a lot," he said. "I got bigger, faster, stronger and more flexible. With all that and going against the [first-team] defense the whole year, working out against guys like Nate Irving, it got me so much better."

The 6-foot, 196-pounder showed up to Media Day in a walking boot on his right foot, but no further information was given about an injury and Creecy was tight-lipped about the situation. He made it seem like a minor injury and sounded like there was not much that would prevent him from taking the field during the season opener against Liberty.

"Practice is going great, I've been feeling real good," he said. "I'm just ready to play.

"My expectation is just to help the team, whatever I can do, wherever I can fit in. I'm just going to do my best to try to help the team any way I can."

One way Creecy can certainly help the team is to help anchor the ground attack while Greene recovers from his injury. Greene paced the squad with 597 rushing yards last year while the second leading rusher, quarterback Russell Wilson (435 yards and a team-best nine rushing scores), is no longer on the team. Redshirt sophomore Dean Haynes, who started the first eight games at tailback, is also no longer an option as a ball carrier after moving back to defensive back.

"There's a lot of opportunity, but there's a lot of competition at the same time," Creecy noted. "We have four great running backs with Brandon Barnes, Curtis Underwood, James Washington and myself. We're all competing. It's great competition and competition always makes people better."

With those four running backs returning to the roster from last year and an offensive line that is more experienced than this time last year, the Pack is hoping to improve on last year's ground results. NC State ranked only ahead of Duke in the ACC with 123.3 rushing yards per game and no one back tallied a 100-yard game all season.

"The first-team line is great," the tail back said. "What helps them out is experience. All of them played last year, a lot of them started most of the games. All of them returning is going to help us out a lot, our running game is going to be awesome."

Creecy has also been helped by the arrival of new running backs coach Everette Sands after former mentor Jason Swepson took the head job at Elon.

"Coach Sands is a great guy, he expects the best out of us," he said. "Every day after practice, he gives us a sheet with what he did right, what we did wrong and our focus points."

The backs in the NC State offense are also heavily involved in the passing game, whether its pass protecting - one of the most common focal points on Sands' post-practice report according to Creecy - or catching the ball out of the backfield. The backs combined for 87 receptions in 2010.

Creecy was already proficient in one passing game area when he enrolled in Raleigh - catching the ball - thanks to his experience as a prep receiver. The redshirt freshman was ranked as a four-star player, the No. 26 receiver nationally and the No. 188 overall player in the class of 2010.

However, pass protection was a foreign concept and it took a while for him to pick up the finer points of protecting the quarterback, although he has worked hard to improve his performance in that area. O'Brien always stresses the importance of a back pass blocking if he is going to get significant playing time.

"We've been working really hard and what we've really been focused on is pass blocking," Creecy said. "It's easy to run the ball, but it's harder to block and we've been stressing our blocking a lot. We've been working really hard at it.

"There's a lot of focus on [catching the ball] and we practice that a lot. I think we're all ready to catch the ball, as we've seen in the scrimmage where we get out on flat routes or swing routes and catch it in open space, where we can make moves. With me, playing wide receiver [in high school] helps a lot."

Some fans might think that the running backs are really feeling the pressure with the combination of their production last year, a new quarterback breaking into the lineup and Greene's injury. However, Creecy is at ease heading into the season, fully confident in the ability of himself and his teammates in the backfield.

"We don't feel any pressure because Mike Glennon is a great quarterback," he said. "We're behind him 100 percent so we don't feel any pressure. We're going to go out there and play Wolfpack football."

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