The Wolfpack enter the season having lost 19 seniors from a team that finished 2-8 a year ago. They enter Friday’s season-opener at Cross Creek with an upbeat outlook.
“We’re very optimistic,” said Wolfpack head coach Kevin Hunt. “We’ve got a young team, but the kids are working hard and I feel like we have some key players that we can lean on. We have some experience in some of those players, so we’ll go to work every day and do what we can do to improve and get better every day.”
One of those experienced players is senior offensive lineman T.J. Borders, who will be called upon to open holes for running backs like junior Jamal Richard, who scored a team-high 12 touchdowns in 2012.
“I think we’ve got a lot more potential than we did the past years,” Borders said. “People here are focused, they want to do what they came here to do, which is play football. I think we have a great chance to make something out of our team.”
In the second year of his program, Hunt thinks the team is not that far away.
“If you look at last year’s schedule, and look at some of the games, we finished 2-8 but were 10 plays away from finishing 5-5,” he said. “Sometimes people really look at that end result and that does matter, but we were in a lot of football games … we’ve just got to learn to finish games and make that big play in those big games at that big opportunity and capitalize and pull out that win.”
Driving the offense early on will be quarterback Allen Walls, a junior who transferred from Atlanta.
“He’s working hard and we’re trying to make sure our system fits him,” Hunt said. “It’s so he doesn’t feel like he has to go out there and win football games for us. Just manage the game and make good choices and good decisions.”
To keep the pressure off the offense, the Wolfpack will have to be better defensively. Hunt believes that some of the pieces are already in place.
“Malcolm Thomas, he was a great player for us last year and he’ll be in there at defensive tackle some for us and (junior linebacker) Josh Smith will be a key player for us.
The Wolfpack have fewer on the squad than they did a year ago, but competition for positions is just as intense.
“Out here we have a very core group of players that if they want the spot, they’re going to fight for it,” senior running back Travis Martinez said. “Like last year we might have had the numbers, but we just didn’t have the dedication like we do this year.”