CHARLOTTE — The disappointment over NC State’s dismissal from the College World Series because of a COVID-19 cluster within its roster, one win from playing for a national championship, still lingers more than a month after it happened.
It’s an event Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary called “very tragic.”
At the same time, though, Leary said the baseball team’s misfortune in Omaha can serve as a cautionary tale to others, including his teammates as they begin preparations for what they hope will be an equally successful season.
“It’s definitely eye-opening,” he said Thursday at the ACC’s Football Kickoff media event. “Hopefully everything stays the way that it has been and everything continues to be clean and we have everyone at full capacity. But it’s definitely a different learning experience everyone can use.”
The baseball forfeit drove home the reality that despite appearances to the contrary, the coronavirus pandemic has not yet run its course.
Not that those among the Wolfpack football program need any reminders.
Not only did the team have its opener postponed for a week because of a COVID outbreak in preseason camp last year, but Leary had to sit out the first game that did get played because of contact tracing.
Because of the severity of the pandemic, the ACC did its best to reschedule games that couldn’t be played for medical reasons. Although the conference has yet to announce whether it will reschedule or forfeit games lost to COVID, as the SEC and Big 12 already have, there’s a good chance it won’t be as flexible this year.
Regardless of which way the ACC goes, it’s a situation coach Dave Doeren would prefer to avoid.
He said that he’s already had individual conversations with several of his players and plans to “talk about it when we get together collectively.” But he stopped short of saying whether he would encourage them to get the COVID vaccine, if they haven’t already.”
“My job is to help these young men grow, help these guys compete, put them in the best places they can be and keep them as safe as I can keep them,” he said. “At the same time, it’s not my job to make medical decisions for our football team. All I can do is educate them, get them around the people that can help them make great choices. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
While Doeren didn’t have an exact count of how many of his players have been vaccinated, he said that the Wolfpack is “going to be in a good place.”
“I feel comfortable with where we’re headed,” he said. “Guys have to make decisions for themselves. I just want to know why they’re making those decisions and can I help them get the info to make the right ones for them and protect us, protect our team, but ultimately make them feel good about the decisions they’ve made.”
STEMMING THE TIDE
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson acknowledged that he isn’t going to win many football recruiting battles against Alabama. But in Christian Beall-Smith, he knew he had a prospect not even the mighty Crimson Tide could pry from his grasp.
“He was one of the few people that would have picked Wake Forest over any school in the country,” Clawson said. “When I went and did my home visit with him, he said Coach, I want you to check out my room. And his entire room was covered with Wake Forest posters for 15 years.
“I said to our running back coach, who was with me, this might be the one player in the country we could beat Alabama or Clemson for which was neat, because you want players that want you.”
A complementary player for most of his career, the redshirt junior running back became the Deacons’ primary ballcarrier during last year’s COVID-shortened season. After gaining 732 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 5.5 yards per carry, the 5-foot-10, 201-pound Winston-Salem native is primed for an even bigger season in 2021.
“When you’re local, and he comes from East Forsyth, there’s all this community pressure on you as soon as you go to Wake Forest: ‘Why aren’t you playing right away.’ And every time he goes home, ‘Why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you doing that?’” Clawson said. “To his credit, he became a great special teams player and then he started in the rotation with Cade (Carney) and Matt Colburn. He’s a really good football player who has grown up a lot.”
The news that retired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is suffering from a terminal medical condition hit everyone at the ACC’s Football Kickoff hard.
None more so than those in the contingent representing the Seminoles.
“One of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had is when Coach Bowden came up to the office early last spring and I was able to sit down with him and have a one-on-one,” current FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “That was an incredible moment. But then we went down to the staff room because I wanted him to get a chance to meet our staff.
“As I opened the door, Coach Bowden walked in and I was able to see the faces of (assistants and former Seminoles players) Ron Duggans and Odell Haggins. When I saw their faces when their coach walked in, that told me everything I needed to know about Bobby Bowden — who he is, what he meant to them. That’s what I aspire to do one day. He’s an all-time great.”
Bowden won 316 games and two national championships in Tallahassee and finished his career with a total of 411 in 44 seasons as a head coach. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
The 91-year-old’s medical condition was disclosed by his family on Wednesday.
During his stay in Charlotte for the ACC Kickoff, NC State center Grant Gibson took time out to tour the Harvey Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture.
It was an especially meaningful visit for the well-rounded Wolfpack co-captain because Gantt, the first black student admitted to Clemson and a former Charlotte mayor, is his grandfather.
“My grandfather is a big inspiration in my life, all the things that he did,” said Grant, who in addition to being an All-ACC caliber football player, is a leader in State’s #PackUnited movement for social justice.
“The thing I learned from him is to just stand up for what you believe in, because he had to fight through some things back in the day. If he didn’t fight through those things I might not have the opportunities I have right now. Just seeing him and seeing what that center stands for is huge.”