Fifth-year senior wide receiver Tobais Palmer had big expectations coming into this year. The 5-foot-11 speedster, who originally signed with the Wolfpack in 2008 but prepped at Georgia Military College then redshirted in 2010, entered the season as the top returning wide receiver with 37 catches for 496 yards and five touchdowns.
Palmer expected to build on what he started last year, but he saw extra attention from defenses and was limited to 20 catches for 214 yards in the first seven games.
"Coming out in the first couple of games, I saw where teams doubled me and started to key in on me," he remembered. "It opened it up for Bryan Underwood, Quintin Payton and some of the other guys to make plays. I guess once everyone started being a threat, it opened it up for everyone.
"That was real frustrating, though, because this is my last year. I felt like I would've been the strong point [coming into the season], but at times, you have to be that team player and sacrifice, do it for your teammates."
In the last four games, Palmer has absolutely exploded despite finishing the game against Virginia with just one touch. He has totaled 933 all-purpose yards and five scores, including 19 catches for 401 yards and four scores.
He etched his name atop the ACC record book with 496 all-purpose yards against Clemson last Saturday, and set a school record with 277 kickoff return yards. Palmer's 219 receiving yards stands as the third-best single-game total in program history, and only Pack legend Torry Holt has recorded more receiving yards in a contest. The receiving total also marks as the ACC's biggest of 2012 heading into the final week of the regular season.
"It's a big stage when you know you're going against a top-ranked team," he said. "You just have to bring your game, that separates the men from the boys. I knew last year I had a breakout game against them, and I just felt like this year, I had to do more than I did last year. I succeeded.
"I couldn't have done it without my teammates. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish any of those things. As a team, I feel like we accomplished [the records]."
Palmer's hot streak began with his first 100-yard receiving game in the loss to North Carolina on Oct. 27. He hauled in five passes for 119 yards and a score, his first of the year, and he also returned five kickoffs for 116 yards. It was the second time that he reached triple digits on kickoff returns this season, and his second contest with 200 all-purpose yards, a feat he also achieved against Miami on Sept. 29.
"That helped out a lot," he remembered. "It let me know that I still had it, it was still there and it wasn't going anywhere. I just had to be patient and wait for my time, that's what I've been doing so far."
The following contest against Virginia was a forgettable one for the entire NC State roster, and Palmer finished with just one kickoff return for 13 yards. However, he bounced back the next week with a huge game against Wake Forest. The Pittsboro, N.C., native tied a career-high with seven catches, which went for 63 yards. He also recorded a huge 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half that reignited the team, which had hit a lull in the second quarter, en route to a dominating 37-6 performance.
Then came Palmer's 496-yard outing against Clemson, which ranks as the third-most all-purpose yards ever in an FBS game. At the end of the game on Saturday, Palmer's mark was the second-highest total ever, but then West Virginia's Tavon Austin racked up 572 all-purpose yards in a 50-49 loss later that day, which fell just six yards short of the all-time mark.
Coach Tom O'Brien said Palmer's strides, especially as a kick returner, have been obvious as the year has worn on. The coaches even considered replacing him on kickoff returns a month ago, but their patience as been rewarded with 626 return yards in the last five games.
"Earlier in the year, he had a chance, but he missed some seams," the coach noted. "He's feeling it much better than he was early in the year. He's seeing the seams now and getting in the seams. When he gets there, he certainly has enough speed to run away."
Palmer had no idea he was in the midst of recording one of the all-time greatest performances in school history while the Clemson game was going on, he was simply trying to provide a spark for his team.
"I didn't have one clue how much it was," he said. "I just kept playing and kept making plays for my team.
"I had a game like that in high school, when I actually had 503 all-purpose yards. Just being able to do it at the college level is a blessing. Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to do it."
Palmer was happy to give his team what they needed, and he hopes to close his career in similar fashion at Senior Day on Saturday afternoon.
"It's going to be real emotional for me because of all of the things that I went through just to get here," he said. "I guess it's been a long journey and I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I wouldn't trade it, not for anything.
"It's the perfect ending. I never dreamed of going to college or getting scholarships to different Universities. Actually being here to play at home after doing what I had to do at Georgia Military, it's a blessing to finish up here and be successful in what I have done here."