Pack looking for luck

O'Brien hoping for injury-free Wilson, Baker this season

Staff WriterMarch 17, 2009 

  • WHEN: April 18, 1 p.m.

    WHERE: Carter-Finley Stadium

    NOTE: Coach Tom O'Brien has renamed his team's spring football game in honor of the former Wolfpack women's basketball coach, who died in February after a long battle against breast cancer.

    Children will be admitted free. The price for adults is $1, with all gate receipts going to the Kay Yow Foundation for cancer research. O'Brien said he hopes to have State's women basketball players on hand collecting money from fans, who can donate more than the $1 to the Yow fund.

A box of Lucky Charms sat on the table beside N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien, courtesy of the school's sports information staff.

O'Brien didn't eat the candied cereal Monday, but he might like to feed it to running back Toney Baker and quarterback Russell Wilson, both of whom he hopes will have better luck dodging injuries in the future.

Baker has undergone two knee surgeries and played in part of just one game the last two seasons, but the former prep All-American will be back on the field when spring practice starts Friday.

Wilson has been rehabilitating his knee since injuring it in December in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The All-ACC quarterback is expected to get clearance from doctors next week, and the two-sport athlete will play baseball while attending most of the football team's workouts, O'Brien said.

As a freshman last fall, Wilson wowed fans and wrecked opponents with his running (388 yards) and passing (1,955). Now O'Brien just wants him to make plays and avoid taking unnecessary hits.

"There's a lot of decision-making he has to get better at that will keep him from these injury situations,'' O'Brien said. "Obviously, one of his strengths is to pull the ball down and run with it.

"We don't want to discourage that, but there are times when he could complete a pass and get a 20-yard gain rather than running 60 yards to get 20. There are times he's gotten hurt, if he makes a better decision, he doesn't put himself in a position to get hit."

With a healthy Wilson and Baker, 11 total starters returning and and an expected boost from a few younger players, the Pack hopes to continue upward under O'Brien.

While Wilson is the incumbent quarterback, promising redshirt freshman Mike Glennon will be battling for the position.

"We hope he will compete for the job and try to take it away from Russell,'' O'Brien said. "No one owns a jersey. N.C. State owns the jersey. He's much better than a year ago."

Asked about the 6-foot-6 Glennon's attributes, O'Brien reeled off a list.

"Great arm,'' the coach said. "Has a lot of natural physical abilities for that position. He makes all the throws you want to make. He has the right head on his shoulder. ..."

The next step is making split-second decisions under game fire.

Baker is a player who welcomes the competitive battle on the field. A Parade All-American at Jamestown Ragsdale, he arrived in 2005 with great expectations and gained 546 yards his first season, the second-highest rushing mark on the team.

Then adversity knocked him down. He played just 26 snaps in 2007 after going down with a season-ending knee injury in the first game. A second surgery in the summer sidelined him for the entire '08 season.

Exuding patience and perseverance, Baker committed to the arduous rehab program and is ready to test his ball-carrying skills again.

"It's been very difficult for him,'' O'Brien said. "He came in with such high expectations from us. He did very good in the running test. He'll be a big boost if he is able to come back and help us."

aj.carr@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8948

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