The Wolfpacker

Sept.-Oct. 2020

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 19 of 51

20 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY MATT CARTER npredictable is the appropriate adjective for NC State football in 2020. This promises to be a season like no other in a year that has been and will continue to be unparalleled. That is the conse- quence of playing in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to that for NC State, however, is the unknowns of how the Wolfpack will bounce back from a challenging 2019 season during which head coach Dave Doeren was forced to play younger players while multiple key veterans were sidelined with various injuries. Projecting how well the return of the injured performers will mesh with the now-seasoned younger players is challenging. With that caveat noted, here is The Wolf- packer staff's annual Top 25 countdown for the football team based on talent, impact and indispensability, which features a senior-less top five. 2. Zonovan Knight, So., RB The 5-11, 206-pounder ran 136 times for 745 yards while making seven starts in 2019. He fell short of becoming just the third run- ning back to rush for more than 1,000 yards during their freshman season at NC State (Joe McIntosh ran for 1,190 yards in 1981 and T.A. McLendon for 1,101 yards in 2002), but Knight's average of 5.5 yards per rush is the third-highest ever by a Wolfpack rookie with a minimum of 85 carries. Knight's explosiveness was on display at U YOUNG & HUNGRY No Seniors Are In The First Five Of The Wolfpacker's Preseason Top 25 Players List 1. Alim McNeill, Jr., DT Under strength and conditioning coordinator Dantonio "Thunder" Burnette, NC State has a history of producing "freak" defensive linemen. Kentavius Street and James Smith-Williams, now both in the NFL, previously made The Athletic writer Bruce Feldman's annual "Freaks List" of the top athletic marvels in college football. Brad- ley Chubb proved during the 2018 NFL Combine that he also probably had a case for the rankings. Now comes McNeill, who checks in at No. 32 nationally on Feldman's yearly countdown. The reporter noted that McNeill's most freakish at- tribute is "explosive strength," and he deemed the local product "a powerhouse 326-pound former four-star recruit." "McNeill, despite his massive size, vertical jumped 32 inches," Feldman continued. "Don't be surprised if the junior runs in the 4.9s by the time he's ready for the NFL Combine. He also benches 445 pounds and squats 640." McNeill is more than just a freak athlete, how- ever. He had 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season, second on the Wolfpack defense in both categories, and the former Raleigh Sanderson star was named a third-team preseason All-American by Pro Football Focus (PFF). PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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