Weekly NC State Wolfpack football notebook: Devin Leary emerging as leader
At halftime of NC State football’s loss last Thursday at Georgia Tech, Wolfpack redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Leary felt the need to address the team. He also felt he had reached a point where he could do such a thing.
“Week-by-week [I’m] embracing my role more and more, learning the game more,” Leary noted. “Everything is slowing down. Just being able to earn everyone’s trust first, and speaking for the guys and in front of the guys is really big for me.”
NC State was trailing 21-3 at the time, but Leary wanted to make sure there was no quit. In a weird way, the signal-caller felt like the offense was finding some rhythm. It only had three points to show for it, but Leary thought they were close.
“I felt [the rhythm] in the first half, which is one of the reasons why I kind of stood up in front of the team at halftime,” Leary said. “Obviously things weren’t fully clicking in the first half, but I felt it all the way through. I knew that as long as we trust each other, it was going to break out.”
Leary’s message was simple: keep the faith.
“I just said that we got to keep pushing, that eventually we’ll break through,” he noted. “Have to continue to trust one another and make sure everyone is following and trusting one another.”
The results in the second half in Atlanta were promising. The Pack had four possessions, and it scored three touchdowns and a field goal in a rare show of consistent offensive efficiency for NC State.
“That’s just getting into a rhythm. As long as we get into a rhythm we know what we are capable of doing offensively and how explosive we could really be,” Leary said.
Now the task is to continue that against archrival North Carolina on Saturday.
Leary has a unique background playing around this time of the year. A tradition at his high school, Timber Creek High in Sicklerville, N.J., was to play a game on Thanksgiving, during the middle of the state playoffs, against rival Winslow Township High from Atco, N.J.
This is one of Leary’s favorite times of the year.
“Any Thanksgiving game, being able to play around this time, this is what football is all about,” Leary said. “Even enjoying Thanksgiving week with family and watching football, that’s what it’s all about.”
Payton Wilson To Face UNC For First Time
In the class of 2018, linebacker Payton Wilson was a prized four-star prospect from Orange High in Hillsborough, N.C. And for a long time it looked like he would be playing in Saturday’s rivalry game on the other sideline.
Wilson was a long-time North Carolina commitment, but on Nov. 22, 2017, Wilson announced he was decommitting from the Tar Heels. Ten days later, Wilson announced he was going to NC State instead.
He missed last season while rehabbing a knee injury, which means the first time he’ll play the Tar Heels will be in the more-friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium.
“Either way, it wouldn’t matter,” Wilson countered. “I’m going to hear it from [UNC fans] anyway. I’m just going to kind of zone them out and play my game.”
Wilson is second on the Wolfpack team with 56 tackles. That includes five for loss, and he’s also had three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He will be on the field a lot Saturday trying to defend UNC’s explosive offense.
“We need to have a great four quarters,” Wilson said. “I feel like that’s something we haven’t done for a while, have a whole game where we play good the whole game. We got as much talent as anybody we’ve played this year, we just haven’t put together a whole game yet.”
Wilson is also motivated to send out the seniors as winners in their final game. He noted that is more serious to him than beating his rival.
“We don’t like UNC, we want to beat them pretty bad, but it’s giving the seniors a win,” Wilson confirmed. “They really built this program. Came in and got nine-win seasons. Sending them out with a win would be awesome.”
Tabari Hines Has Unique Background On Rivalry Games
NC State fifth-year senior wide receiver Tabari Hines has a unique perspective on rivalry week.
The North Carolina at NC State game at 7 p.m. Saturday is the third different rivalry he’s experienced the last five years. Hines played at Wake Forest his first three years before graduating and leaving for Oregon, where he learned about the Civil War with Oregon State. Injuries curtailed Hines’ year with the Ducks and he came back home to the Carolinas, landing at NC State.
It hasn’t taken him long for him to understand what playing UNC means at NCSU. Wake Forest played NC State and Duke regularly, but Hines hasn’t faced UNC since losing 50-14 on Oct. 17, 2015.
“I see that these guys here take it real serious. ... Obviously, the rivalry here is much bigger than where I was at. I can’t wait to take part in it,” Hines said.
Hines is also wise enough to understand what a big win Saturday would do for the NC State program. He knows people are down about NCSU’s 4-7 record, but a win over UNC would bring some momentum to the offseason, and fans always remember who has big games in a rivalry game (see running back Reggie Gallaspy last year).
Hines has 30 catches for 313 yards and a score this year. He is from Florence, S.C., so has seen how the players from North Carolina react to playing against opponents they grew up with or attended camps with over the years in high school. A lot of the players on both teams attended big Junior Day events at the two respective colleges.
“Regardless of how the season goes, we come out and win this game, the fans will throw what happened this season away,” Hines said. “When I first got here, the fans said some crazy things when it came to UNC and baby blue. I haven’t been here a lot, and don’t know the gist of it, but I feel like these guys will get up to the game. There is a lot of bragging rights.”
The Civil War isn’t on the scale of Auburn/Alabama nationally, but it is always an underrated rivalry. Hines got hurt in the third game of the season, but was still around to watch the Ducks win 55-15 on Nov. 23, 2018.
“That is just about the same hate,” Hines said while comparing it to NCSU-UNC. “Oregon State will sometimes surprise them here and there, but Oregon dominates that series. It’s a great series and they get up for that game. Obviously, Oregon treats Oregon State like their little brother.”
UNC is 5-6 going into Saturday’s game and the Wolfpack players would love to end the Tar Heels season with a win. Preventing their rivals from reaching the postseason is just added motivation, even though the 4-7 Wolfpack won’t be in a bowl game this season.
“That just adds juice to the game to ruin their season,” Hines said. “This will be our last game of the season. I won’t be there, but winning this game would build things into the offseason and summer.”
When NC State played at Wake Forest, Hines was swarmed after the contest by his old friends and coaches. It was a touching scene on what was not a good day for the Wolfpack, who fell 44-10 on Nov. 2.
Hines also feels he’s made some life-long friends at NC State with his fellow receivers and quarterbacks, plus USC linebacker transfer Levi Jones. Going to three schools in five years was not part of “the plan,” but it has made him a better person.
“It’s been a long ride and a crazy story,” Hines said. “I know how to respond to anything and have been through injury and being the No. 2 guy or the No. 1 guy. I’ve had it all.”