Posts Tagged ‘Football’
Life has been something of a whirlwind for David Merritt ’94 since the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl earlier this month.
Merritt, a former linebacker at NC State, is an assistant coach for the Giants, with responsibility for the defensive secondary. So it was his guys — the cornerbacks and safeties — who were on the line when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tossed a last-ditch “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone as the final seconds of the game ticked away. When the ball hit the ground, incomplete, and the Giants’ victory was assured, Merritt hugged one of the other coaches working with him in the press box and then made his way to the field to find his wife, Yolanda Merritt ’94, and their children.
It was Merritt’s second Super Bowl championship with the Giants, both of them against the Patriots. Merritt said the latest one was the sweetest because of how the Giants rallied from a 7-7 record to win the final two games of the regular season just to get into the playoffs.
“We got healthy at the right time,” Merritt says. “And the guys started trusting one another. They were determined not to lose the games. Sometimes it may not be your ability. It may be that you were more persistent than the other guy.”
Since that win, Merritt says there has been little time to catch his breath. The coaches were given 10 days off, but Merritt was back at work on Tuesday. He was getting ready to return to Indianapolis this week for the college scouting combine and has already been assigned a list of free-agent players to study and grade. “Our next season started today at 7:30 a.m.,” he says.
But Merritt took some time on Tuesday to talk about the Super Bowl and his career in coaching. Merritt got into coaching, first at the college level, after playing in the NFL for a few years. He says that two of his coaches at NC State, defensive coordinator Buddy Green ’76 and linebackers coach Ken Pettus, served as role models when he became a coach.
“I really liked the fact that Dick Sheridan and his staff treated us like men,” Merritt says. “At the same time, they were like father figures to us. You have to reach these young men with more than x’s and o’s.”
Merritt worked his way up to the NFL, initially as a coach for the New York Jets. After three years there, he joined the Giants in 2004. Merritt says there is little difference in his approach to coaching college players and professionals.
“The teaching I was doing back then is the same teaching I’m doing today in the pros,” he says. “You have to start from ground one.”
Merritt spent most of his years coaching linebacker, a position he was familiar with from his playing days. But in 2006, Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin approached him about coaching the team’s defensive backs and safeties. “I had always told my wife I would never coach defensive backs,” Merritt says. “I don’t want anyone to see me when I screw these players up.”
Merritt told Coughlin that he wasn’t familiar with defensive backs, but Coughlin was persistent. “He said, ‘I know a good coach when I see one,’” Merritt recalls. “That was it. From that point on, I started finding every defensive back coach I knew, and conducted my own interviews. I learned as much as I could from film study and from talking to former NFL players.”
The Giants appreciate Merritt’s ability to get the most of his players, whether they be long-time stars or rookie free agents simply trying to land a spot on the roster. “I make sure that I teach them the basics,” he says. “Once you teach them the fundamentals, you can make a free agent or a high-draft pick look like he’s been playing for years.”
Merrill says the Giants approached the Super Bowl much like they would any other game. But he acknowledged being nervous about preparing his defensive backs to go up against Tom Brady and his talented receivers and tight ends. He says he still gets nervous watching tape of the game, even knowing the final result.
“It’s a nerve-wracking challenge,” he says. “You look at Tom Brady and you know what he can do with a football in his hands. He understands coverages and he can get the ball out of his hand.”
But Merritt told his players before the game that the only player who could defeat them in the Super Bowl was themselves. “You guys are prepared, you know what you’re doing, so I expect you to go out and execute,” he says he told them.
And as for that Hail Mary? Merritt says they practice defending that play every week during the season, but that one of his players made a mistake by not blocking out Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was almost able to grab the ball before it hit the ground. But Merritt says he can use video of that when his players return in the fall.
“It’s a tremendous learning tool,” he says, “one that I will probably use for the rest of my career.”
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We all know by now that NC State will be playing Louisville in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 27.
But did you know that 65 years ago today, NC State accepted its first bid to a bowl game?
On Dec. 6, 1946, NC State accepted an invitation to play in the second Gator Bowl, in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a history of NC State maintained by NCSU Libraries. The Wolfpack faced Oklahoma in a New Year’s Day game in front of 10,134 spectators.
Hopefully, the results will be better for this year’s team. The Wolfpack, led by Coach Beattie Feathers, lost the 1947 Gator Bowl.
Here’s an additional bit of trivia for all you ACC football fans: Wake Forest played in the first-ever Gator Bowl, defeating South Carolina.
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Tommy Kane interviews Mr. Wuf
Keep an eye out on campus and throughout Homecoming Weekend. Former NC State basketball player Tommy Kane ’93 will be prowling the grounds visiting classes and filming spots for his award-winning show, “ACC Road Trip.”
Kane, who earned his degree in mass communications from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has been immersed in the world of sports broadcasting since graduation. An unpaid internship at Turner Sports in Atlanta evolved into a 14-year career doing on-air promotions and creative services for Fox Sports South. He’s emceed a steady stream of ACC gigs and even developed his own video production company, PACK 30 Productions, LLC.
Tommy Kane helps introduce the Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium
But in the fall, Kane spends each week traveling across the country to report on the game day traditions at ACC football games. Kane said the trips are a blast, particularly when the producers suggest that he partake in some off-the-wall traditions. This year, he painted himself from head-to-toe in glitter following the lead of two iconic Florida State fans known widely as the Glitter Guys.
“We definitely push the envelope a little bit,” Kane said in a phone interview this week. He still finds gold glitter lurking in his hair now and again.
Kane is starting his campus visit with a trip to the NC State-Princeton basketball game tonight, followed by a meeting with CHASS Dean Jeff Braden and speaking in Jim Alchediak’s video production class. He’ll later meet with the coaches and do a radio interview.
No word on exactly what or where he’ll be filming in Raleigh on Friday and Saturday in advance of the NC State-Clemson football game, but he said there’s one place where the cameras will definitely be rolling — at the tailgating parties at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“When it comes to tailgating and the big atmosphere before the game, NC State ranks in the top one or two schools in the league,” he said. “Clemson’s experience is also among the best in the ACC. When you get the two together, it ends up being an exciting place to be. I can’t wait.”
– Diana Smith
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It’s Homecoming week, and the Clemson Tigers are coming to town this weekend to take on the Wolfpack. We recently spoke by email with Derek Hodgin, a 1989 NC State grad who lives in Clemson, S.C., about what it’s like to live and work among Tiger fans (Hodgin is the owner and president of Construction Science and Engineering Inc.), his memories of his time at NC State and his prediction for this weekend’s game.
What brought you to Clemson? I moved my family and business to Clemson to be close to the mountains, to be proximate to a research university, to enjoy outdoor recreation and a small town environment.
What are Clemson’s fans like? Do you ever go to Clemson’s games? Clemson fans are enthusiastic, but respectful and nice. My family (as well as CSE team members) attends Clemson games as much as we can fit into our schedule.
Your prediction for the game? Unfortunately, I think Clemson will likely beat the Wolfpack in a convincing manner. Score: Clemson 38, NC State 14
Does your NC State heritage take a beating in another ACC town? My NC State heritage is always a source of fun conversation with local Clemson fans. I also catch grief from my oldest daughter, a sophomore attending Clemson University.
What’s your favorite memory of NC State? I always enjoyed homecoming week at NC State because of the extra spirit and energy around campus. I started my NC State career in 1984; one year after the NCSU basketball team won the national championship. I always enjoyed attending basketball games and the high energy that Coach Valvano exhibited. I remember leaving basketball games at Reynolds Coliseum soaked with sweat and little to no voice left. Go Wolfpack!!
– Jeannene Lang
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Leon Grimes is a 1996 NC State graduate who happens to live in a place called Tar Heel, a small town in Bladen County in eastern North Carolina. With the biggest rivalry of the season coming up this weekend, when NC State welcomes UNC to Carter-Finley Stadium, we spoke by email with Grimes about how it feels to be a Wolfpacker living in Tar Heel. The answer? Grimes assured us he feels right at home.
First, the essential question – Is there any relationship between UNC-Chapel Hill and Tar Heel, N.C.? I am given to understand that the area in which the Town of Tar Heel (two words) is located was a busy shipping location on the Cape Fear River during the colonial period in North Carolina history. Turpentine and tar were widely used products during that time (especially with regards to naval stores) and many agricultural and forest products were harvested and shipped from the location. As a result, locals walked through spilled tar constantly and were subsequently known as “Tar Heels.” I have also heard that Confederate soldiers from North Carolina during the Civil War were referred to as “Tarheels” (one word) because they remained at their fighting positions as if tar were stuck to their heels. I freely admit that I am no expert in the matter. However, after considering both explanations for the origin of the term, I suspect that the former is more closely related to the town and that latter is more closely related to Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina.
What is the town of Tar Heel like? The Town of Tar Heel is very small and very rural. It is located on the Cape Fear River roughly 25-30 miles south of Fayetteville, N.C. Until the arrival of the hog processing plant (Smithfield Foods), there were only 5-6 small businesses (gas stations, restaurants, etc. ), the U.S. Post Office and the Tar Heel Middle School (formerly Tar Heel Jr.-Sr. High School) along with at least two local churches located along N.C. Hwy 87. Not much has changed over the years. Tar Heel remains a small and relatively quiet and peaceful place to live. When others ask where I am from, I often respond that I am from a town that is so small that you could throw a rock over it.
Does it feel odd to be an NC State alumnus in a place sharing its name with one of our chief rivals? It does not really feel at all “odd to be an NC State alumnus” living in the Tar Heel area. I say this despite the fact that both my mother and mybrother are UNC-Chapel Hill grads. A great NC State/UNC rivalry has existed in the area since well before I was born and continues to this day. Located right down the road and within easy driving distance from Tar Heel in St. Pauls is a restaurant called TARPACKERS. As you might imagine, this well-known local establishment caters to both Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans and is famous for its local cuisine. I assure you that while the the town may share a name with a certain university located in Chapel Hill, NC State is well-represented in and around Tar Heel, N.C.
Will you be in Raleigh for the Carolina game? I am afraid that I will not be attending this year’s game in person. While I sometimes miss the tailgate activities, the food and the camaraderie of watching the Wolfpack play football from the stands, I have obligations and responsibilities that often require me to watch from the couch. I will be supporting the Wolfpack wearing my NCSU hoodie and baseball cap as I watch. Rest assured that I will continue to scream and cheer at the widescreen with each and every great play or blown call.
What’s your prediction for the game? Of course, I will always pick the Wolfpack to win against the Tar Heels!
Can you share a favorite Carolina rivalry memory? My cousin, Mr. Mack Woodlief of Garner, N.C., played football for NC State during the mid-late 1980s. I remember visiting with him at the training facility at NC State and accompanying him down the path from the training facility to the practice field. At that time, I had never been to a college football game and only a few high school football games. I was impressed. Later, I went to watch my cousin play. It was during that time that I first witnessed State and Carolina playing football firsthand and up close. I vividly recall the chill in the air, the traffic, the sounds and smells of the nearby State Fair, the brightly colored leaves falling from the trees and the resounding cheering and echoes of my first NC State v. Carolina football game from Carter-Finley. I would not trade the experience of the memories for anything.
– Jeannene Lang
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Brian Ezzelle ’90 moved to Richmond after graduating from NC State, but never lost touch with his strong Wolfpack roots.
As a dedicated alumnus living close to the home of NC State’s ACC opponent this week, Ezzelle spoke with us this week about what it is like to be a member of the Wolfpack living among fans of the Virginia Cavaliers.
As a student at NC State, Ezzelle was an active member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. He frequented sports events with his fraternity brothers and enjoyed them thoroughly. Reminiscing about one particular game against Clemson, he described it as “a perfect win” for the Wolfpack.
Trying to stay connected across state lines, Ezzelle participates in the NCSU Club in Richmond and has been a co-chair of the organization.
“I haven’t been as active, my kids are getting older,” Ezzelle say. But he still helps fellow Wolfpack lovers stay connected in the area by helping to maintain the chapter’s website.
Ezzelle says he has yet to see NC State beat UVA in Charlottesville, but he is pulling for a Wolfpack win this Saturday. “I hope they do [win], but I bring bad luck,” Ezzelle joked.
His prediction: A close game, 24-20, with UVA as the winner.
– Jeannene Lang
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What is a Chippewa, the mascot for the Central Michigan University football team that is visiting Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday to take on the Wolfpack?
Not surprisingly, the Chippewas were a tribe of Native Americans that once lived in the area where the university is located. The Chippewa River flows through Mount Pleasant, the home of Central Michigan University.
The university’s athletics teams were not always known as the Chippewas, though, according to an article on the university’s website. They were known as the Dragons until 1927, when the mascot was changed to the Bearcats.
In 1942, concerned that bearcats were nearly extinct and had little geographic relevance the university, Central Michigan changed its name to the Chippewas.
At one point, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission recommended dropping the Chippewas nickname. But the university decided to retain the name and develop educational programs with the local Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council to help the university’s students gain a deeper understanding of traditional Native American culture.
“The university’s goals are to use the name with honor and respect, increase supportive connections between CMU and Native Americans, and improve efforts to sensitize students, faculty, and staff to Native American traditions and cultures,” reads a statement on the university’s website.
Click here if you want to read more about the Central Michigan University Chippewas.
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The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced today that former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher ’79 is one of 11 new candidates on the list of modern-era players, coaches and others who will be considered for enshrinement next year.
Cowher joins two other coaches, Bill Parcells and Marty Schottenheimer, on the list of new candidates. Some of the former players included on the list for the first time are running back Tiki Barber, quarterback Drew Bledsoe and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Cowher played linebacker at NC State, lettering all four years and serving as a team captain his senior year. Cowher led the Wolfpack in tackles his junior and senior years.
Cowher was featured in a 1994 cover story in the NC State alumni magazine. By then, Cowher had achieved success as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he was quoted in the article talking about his days playing for the Wolfpack:
“I was an emotional guy,” he said. “And when game day rolled around, it was always business, I was in a different state of mind. I could really get into it.”
The complete list of nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012 has 103 candidates. That list will be pared down over the next few months to a list of 15 modern-era finalists in January.
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After attending NC State for undergraduate studies in civil engineering, Donald Katz ’07 still cheers for the Wolfpack as a graduate student at Georgia Tech. As part of our series during football season on alumni residing behind enemy lines, we spoke with Katz about his experiences as a Wolfpack fan studying at Georgia Tech, his favorite memories of his time at NC State and, of course, his prediction for this weekend’s game between NC State and Georgia Tech.
What made you choose Georgia Tech for graduate school? They had a large degree program for my area of focus, transportation engineering, with many faculty and researchers with whom I could work.
How would you describe Georgia Tech’s fans? Georgia Tech fans love to come to campus, set up tailgates amongst the buildings, and walk down to the stadium to cheer on their Yellow Jackets. Tech fans have many traditions, and they take great pride in them. I also found Tech fans to be very polite to their visitors, as I experienced first-hand at last year’s game when NC State won. In both going to and from the stadium, no one harassed me for wearing red and white!
Will you be making the trip to the game on Saturday? I won’t be making the trip up this year, but it was a real thrill to watch the Pack beat the Jackets in Atlanta last fall. I’m excited for NC State’s game vs. Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2012 here in Atlanta.
Who do you predict will win the game this Saturday? I know it’s been a less-than-desirable start, but the Wolfpack are back at Carter-Finley, and I always have faith in our team. I think the Wolfpack will beat the Yellow Jackets again. We were able to slow down the triple option in 2010, and it can be done again. Final score: NC State 31, Yellow Jackets 21.
What’s your favorite memory of your days at NC State? I remember when we beat UNC in basketball in 2007. I was at Sammy’s Bar and Grill on Avent Ferry, and it was a thrilling game to watch. Right after the win, we headed straight to the Bell Tower, already lit up red, and marched up and down Hillsborough Street several times with thousands of other students.
Do you wear any NC State apparel around the Georgia Tech campus? I wear NC State shirts and hats around Georgia Tech all the time, and no one I don’t know says anything. My friends in my graduate office who went to Tech for undergrad, on the other hand, love to give me a hard time.
– Jeannene Lang
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With this week’s news that Syracuse and Pitt will leave the Big East Conference to join the ACC, we decided to check in with some NC State alumni who live in Syracuse and Pittsburgh to get their take on the change.
We reported earlier this week on the reaction from Pittsburgh. Today we hear from David Yontz, a 2005 NC State graduate who now lives in Syracuse after going to law school there.
Yontz was at NC State when Philip Rivers was playing football and Julius Hodge was playing basketball, so he is hooked on Wolfpack sports. He says one of his few complaints about living in Syracuse is that NC State games are rarely shown on television there.
Yontz says many Syracuse fans are not excited about the upcoming move to the ACC.
“They foster the mistaken belief that the Big East is the superior basketball conference in the nation,” Yontz wrote in an email. “I, however, am very pleased. With two elite programs now joining, the ACC will dominate more than ever before.”
As an alumnus of NC State and Syracuse, Yontz says he will get another bonus when Syracuse joins the ACC: “I can hate Duke and UNC twice as much now.”
And he looks forward to seeing the familiar red and white when the the Wolfpack comes to town once or twice a year.
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