RALEIGH — NC State’s homecoming game isn’t until Nov. 4, when the Wolfpack hosts Clemson.
For at least one person in Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, State’s home opener will be homecoming weekend.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday called NC State home for five years at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, Holliday left his job at West Virginia to join new Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato’s staff. He served as associate head coach for Amato and was in charge of the wide receivers.
Marshall at NC State
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh | Saturday, 6 p.m. | ACC Network Extra
During his five years with the Wolfpack, Holliday coached three of the best receivers in school history in Koren Robinson, Jerricho Cotchery and Bryan Peterson. The three rank close to the top in every receiving category in State’s record book, combining for 449 catches, 6,927 yards and 49 touchdowns. Robinson was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and he and Cotchery combined for 20 seasons in the NFL.
Despite the successful run of the unit he coached at NC State, as Holliday prepared to face the Wolfpack this week, he focused on a different area of those teams.
“That defensive front is as good as it was when I was at NC State,” he said. “With Mario Williams, (John) McCargo, all those tremendous players. They have the same kind of guys — NFL guys. We had three first-rounders in that defensive front, with McCargo, Manny Lawson and Mario Williams, which is what their guys this year look like.”
Holliday will need to find a way to match up with the 2017 Pack’s front line of Bradley Chubb, Justin Jones, B.J. Hill and Kentavius Street. That challenge is keeping him from feeling too much nostalgia as game time approaches.
“Once the whistle blows, it’s all between the lines, you know,” he said.
On the other side of the field, NC State head coach Dave Doeren has an appreciation for what Holliday is going through. He’s been in the position of returning to a place where he’s coached before, looking for a way to upset his former employer.
“It depends on how long you’ve been gone,” he said. “He hasn’t coached here in awhile, so it’s not like he coached any players on our team. Back in one of my first games at Northern Illinois, we played Wisconsin, and I’d recruited about half the guys that were on that team. That was really hard, just seeing them, watching them. It’s emotional.
“It’s different when you coach against a team that you were at, but you don’t know anyone on the team and you didn’t coach with any of their coaches,” he continued. “I know he’s going to have friends in Raleigh — maybe even in the administration, maybe in the Wolfpack Club. But it’s not as personal to our roster and our staff as if he’d just been here.”
While Holliday may not know any of the current Wolfpack players personally, they remind him of the caliber of athletes that wore red and white a decade and a half ago.
“I remember we had a quarterback there that was pretty good for about four years, named Philip Rivers,” Holliday said. “He had a couple of receivers. We had some really good players. Dave’s done a tremendous job of getting the same type of players in there. He coaches them hard. They’re extremely well-coached. He’s done a tremendous job with that team.”
While game week is no time for Holliday to reflect on days gone by in Raleigh, he did have fond memories of the Wolfpack faithful.
“If y’all haven’t been there, what they’ve done with their facilities, it’s just a beautiful place,” he said. “They’ve got a tremendous fanbase. One thing about them — it doesn’t matter who goes and plays in that stadium, the place is filled up to the max. It’ll be a great atmosphere. I’m sure our kids will enjoy playing in it.”
As for Holliday, he’ll enjoy it more if he can figure out a way to stop that defensive line in the next few days.