Last Saturday at Miami, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Carlos Gray became just the second rookie to earn a start for the Wolfpack this season. The other was true freshman running back Shadrach Thornton against The Citadel Sept. 22.
Gray, who missed the Connecticut and South Alabama contests with an injury, logged 32 snaps at Miami and had a solo tackle while getting the start over redshirt sophomore Thomas Teal, who was dinged up during The Citadel contest.
To be expected, Gray acknowledged some nervousness.
"Just a little going into the game," Gray clarified. "Once I got the first play out of the way, it was on. After the first play, I felt good about the game.
"I just knew I had a big burden on my back, had to do what I had to do for the team."
It's been a long journey for Gray onto the college football field. He signed with UNC in 2010 out of Pinson (Ala.) Valley High, but for academic reasons enrolled at Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military Academy that fall. Instead of sticking with UNC though he switched his verbal to NCSU.
Then Gray redshirted last fall, meaning that by the time of the 2012 season opener when he took the field for the first time he could have theoretically been a true junior at UNC had his original plans bore out.
Thus far this year in three games, Gray has five tackles, four of them solo.
"It felt real good to be back on the field, but I am trying to get all the rust of me being off so long," Gray noted. "I could have done better [against Miami]. I guess it's just young mistakes. It gets better over time though."
Gray has already learned some valuable lessons about the college game.
"It's more than about you," he noted. "You got a team, and it's not just playing straight ahead football anymore. You got play everything."
Gray also said that playing college football has proven to be "very exciting," and Saturday's game against Florida State is likely to top his previous experiences.
"We got to play at the top of our game," Gray said. "We got to bring it."