The future of NC State football shows promise


Noah Dawley, Staff Writer

Carter Finley Stadium after NC State defeated Clemson. Photo by Noah Dawley

Noah Dawley

With football season steadily approaching, it’s time to give a preview of what’s to come for the Wolfpack in the 2022-2023 season. What should fans expect?

NC State football is coming off a great 9-3 season. Going into last year, there were a lot of unanswered questions regarding NC State’s football program. The 2019 season was head coach Dave Doerens worst yet with the Wolfpack, finishing at a disappointing 4-8 overall and 1-7 in conference play. His future with the Wolfpack was in question heading into 2020.

The next season had a few surprises in store for fans. The biggest difference was the signing of offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who brought a new outlook to the program. They started the year off strong with a tough win against Wake Forest led by backup quarterback Bailey Hockman. The Wolfpack’s starting quarterback, Devin Leary, returned for the next few games. Leary then sustained a devastating season-ending injury against Duke midway through the season.  With the throne empty, Hockman was ready. He went on to lead NC State to finishing with an 8-4 record.

The 2020 season relieved the pressure off of Doeren a little bit, but it was still unclear if he could do it again. This next season was crucial. Leary was coming off an injury, unsure if he could still perform at the same level. With the Wolfpack losing a lot of defensive players to the NFL draft, NC State needed players to step up and prove to be leaders. And they definitely did. Leary came back and snatched the starting position, proving why he had it in the first place. As far as the defense, they stepped up in a huge way. The Wolfpack had one of the best defensive lines in the country, led by linebackers Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas.

The 2021 season climaxed with a huge upset win against Clemson at home. This game shined the spotlight on everything that made this team great. Leary then went on to lead NC State to a respectable 9-3 record, and 6-2 in the ACC. Leary finished the season throwing for 3433 yards and breaking Philip River’s program record with 35 touchdowns this season. This brings us to 2022. Can Doeren lead this team to another great season? Or will he be back on the hotseat?

First, we have to mention who’s leaving. One of NC State’s most reliable receivers, fifth-year senior Emeka Emezie, graduated following the conclusion of last season. That’s gonna be a hard receiver to replace. The next player leaving is gonna hurt the Wolfpack the most. Star offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu is heading to the draft and is likely to be a top-10 pick. Other departures worth mentioning are both running backs Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight (they shared the starting position throughout the season), punter Trenton Gill, linebacker Levi Jones, and offensive guard Chandler Zavala.

Now, let’s talk about all the talent the Wolfpack have coming back. The return of the deadly defensive line fans saw last year is going to be the building block for the Wolfpack. Linebackers Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas are coming back, led by senior Isaiah Moore. However, the pressure of this team is no doubt going to fall onto the shoulders of Leary. With the unexpected losses of the leading rushers, Doeren is going to rely more heavily on the quick decision making of their star quarterback.

The two biggest questions leading into the 2022 season are the running backs and the secondary on defense. With both of our starting running backs making their departure, State is going to need someone to step up. The player who would be the most likely to is junior RB Jordan Houston. He’s proved to be a great speedster for the Wolfpack and with the absence of his competition, don’t be surprised if he takes over. It’s also worthy to note that State hasn’t relied on their run game in the past few seasons. They ranked near the bottom of the ACC in regards to our rushing, yet still finishing near the top. As far as the secondary on defense, fans will just have to see. It’s not as if the secondary is necessarily bad, it’s just that it’s the weakest point on the defense. So they will eventually need a player to step up, since you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

The future of North Carolina State football is bright. Doeren was recently signed to another contract extension through to the 2026 season, worth around $5 million/year. Each of the 10 assistant coaches also organized new deals. So it’s safe to say that State has the guys they want to stick with. The Wolfpack are coming in ranked 8th in the nation for ESPN’s “Way Too Early Top-25”, although this might not ensure they have a good season, it’s great to finally see this program getting some recognition. All one can say for now is, watch out for Wolfpack football.