Wolfpack looking to reach new heights

Coming off its third nine-win season in five years, NC State eyes the top of the ACC

Drake Thomas (32) is part of an NC State linebacking corps that also includes Payton Wilson and Isaiah Thomas. (Karl B DeBlaker / AP Photo)

After being denied the chance to register a 10-win season, coach Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack are aiming to make it a reality in 2022. As evidence, look no further than the number of NC State’s returning super seniors who decided to give it one more run.

The Wolfpack did lose some key players from the offense, but with enough integral pieces returning, quarterback Devin Leary should have the weapons needed to keep the touchdowns rolling.

Then there is the case of the Pack’s cream-of-the-crop defense that returns most of its starters return and has the potential to be among the top units in college football if it can stay healthy.

Doeren has guided the Wolfpack to steady growth after a disappointing 2019 season, and many believe this is the year NC State will have its big break out.


There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Wolfpack’s offense as it’s led by Leary, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year.

Last season, the redshirt junior threw for 3,433 yards, and his 35 touchdowns eclipsed Phillip Rivers’ single-season touchdown record, earning him a spot as one of the five finalists for the Golden Arm Award.

However, Leary will have to prove he can do it all again without a unanimous All-American protecting his left side after star offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu was selected sixth overall by the Carolina Panthers.

The Pack will also feel the loss of a few key pieces of the offense, namely NC State career receptions record holder Emeka Emezie, and running backs Zonovan “Bam” Knight and Ricky Person Jr., who all declared for the NFL Draft after last season.

The Wolfpack will need some of their younger talent to make the jump, but the return of key players such as Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter should help stabilize the offense.


Long the gem of NC State football, the defense is hoping to keep the domination going.

With the majority of its starters returning, the Wolfpack defense is among the best in the country so long as it can stay on the field.

Despite an injury-riddled season, NC State’s defense proved just how good its depth was, particularly at linebacker. The Wolfpack lost two All-ACC talents in Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson to injury during the season, but Drake Thomas stepped up to fill the void last season. Now all three are healthy.

The secondary is led by first-team All-ACC safety Tanner Ingle, who decided to return for one more year, and Shyheim Battle and Tyler Baker-Williams also provide dependable coverage.

Add in a healthy Cyrus Fagan and the transfer of Derrek Pitts Jr. and the defensive backfield — one of the Wolfpack’s historical weaknesses — looks like one of the top units in the ACC.

The return of Cory Durden can also not be overstated as the defensive lineman earned All-ACC first-team honors last season without even setting career highs.

Special Teams

When it comes to special teams, NC State is looking at some definite highs and lows.

For highs, NC State’s career scoring leader, career record holder in field goals and one of its most consistent kickers ever, Chris Dunn, will be back again this season. Dunn should provide Wolfpack fans with confidence in a kicking game that has caused them to lose a fair share of sleep in the past.

The Pack did lose one of the top punters in college football when Trent Gill left for the NFL and was selected in the seventh round by the Bears.

Knight’s departure also leaves a huge hole in the kick return game. Last season, Knight averaged 34.4 yards per kickoff return and scored two touchdowns, including a 100-yard return against Wake Forest.

Jordan Houston is set to slide into that role and has a lot to live up to as the primary returner.


Despite some tough departures, the NC State Wolfpack should be expected to compete for the top spot in the ACC again this season.

There is some tough competition along the way in Clemson, Pitt and Wake Forest, but the Pack has the firepower on offense and talent on defense to compete with the conference’s best.

Could this be the makings of the first 10-win season of Dave Doeren’s NC State career and first for the program since 2002?

The expectations are high for NC State, but that’s the territory that comes with success. If the Wolfpack wants to relish in those expectations, they’ll need to produce results on the field.