Fifth-year senior safety Earl Wolff is almost always the last player off the field at NC State football practices.
After a cold practice on Tuesday, after most of the team had headed inside, he worked with defensive line coach Keith Willis on his form tackling for several minutes, despite the fact that he tied a career-best with 18 tackles the previous Saturday. Even if he doesn't have another player to work with following practice, he'll pull a tackling dummy out and go at it, no matter the weather conditions or what else he has going on that day.
"I just feel like every day, there is something that I have to work on," he said. "If it's not tackling, it's foot work; I can get better at everything - covering, tackling, whatever it is. I just like to work on something small each and every day to get myself better."
Wolff's work ethic should come as no surprise to those that have heard his story before. He was an unknown player from Raeford, N.C., who stood out at the Wolfpack's summer camp and received his offer there. It didn't take long for Wolff to accept his lone tender, and he quickly worked his way onto the field as a redshirt freshman, despite flying under the radar during the recruiting process.
The strong safety has worked tirelessly to become the, "heart and soul of the defense," as coach Tom O'Brien has dubbed him, and the veteran has totaled 354 tackles during his career. He has already recorded a team-best 99 stops through nine games, and he has logged 18 tackles in a game three times this year.
"I felt like last game was probably my best game, form tackling-wise," he said. "I felt like I had some pretty solid tackles and the hard work is paying off. People don't understand, but once you start doing extra drills like this, it just builds your confidence. To me, everything in football is about confidence. If you feel like you can go out and compete, you basically can."
With an inexperienced group of linebackers, Wolff, a veteran of 47 games and 39 starts - totals that both stand second on the squad - has had to lend a hand to the defenders in the middle.
"Some games I feel like I'm playing linebacker because I'm in the box a whole lot," he said. "We have some young linebackers and I like to help out wherever I can. I'm glad the coaches put me in that spot.
"I kind of like doing it all. Usually in our scheme, I help out on the run most of the time on first and second-down. Wherever I can help out, I'm happy to."
Although the veteran had a strong game from an individual standpoint against Virginia, he was not happy with the outcome in the loss. Wolff noted the defense is chomping at the bit to get back out there and show they are better than the unit that gave up 33 points to the Cavaliers.
"I feel like last week gave us even more motivation," he said. "When you put on that film and watch what happened, it's kind of sad. It's just pride for our guys. We just have to come out and compete on Saturday - be more physical and don't let anybody just pound the ball down our throats. That didn't feel good, especially on homecoming, at home. We can never allow anything to happen like that ever again."
As a leader of the defense, Wolff and the fellow veterans have talked to the group about getting off to a better start, and that has been a focus this week in practice. NC State has only held a lead after the first quarter against The Citadel and South Alabama. In the other seven games, the team has been outscored 90-28 in the opening frame.
"In the games that we've lost, we've given up a whole lot in the first quarter," he said. "We can't put that on the offense because it puts them in a bind. We're going to come out trying to start fast. [Tuesday] was a little different - the scout team came out ready, we came out ready and, from the first play, everybody was running to the ball."
Wolff especially wants to see the team rebound from last week's disappointing loss because he'll have several special visitors in the stands at Carter-Finely Stadium. Despite what he expects to be a large turnout of family and friends, none of the spectators will be more important than his mother, Sharon Davis, who recently returned from a deployment to Kuwait. Wolff still hasn't seen her since she returned, but he says that should change in the near future.
"She's back in the States and should be at the game this Saturday," he said. "I can't wait to see my mom, I haven't seen her in a while. It's just a blessing to have her back here.
"I think she's still in Texas right now, but she should be back any day. She said whenever she gets back, she's going to call me and come down. I have a lot of family coming down this weekend to see my mom, and almost all of them are coming to the game. All of my family is from up North, so I rarely see my family. About 15 of them are coming down from the Philadelphia and Maryland area because my mom is from Philadelphia. A lot of them are coming down to watch me play and I probably haven't seen them since I've been in college, so it's going to be a big sight.
"I'm going to have to put on a show for them, especially with my mom going to be back."