Storm cuts short Wolfpack's first workout

O'Brien likes how veterans are taking charge in his third season

Staff WriterAugust 4, 2009 

— A bolt of lightning flashed, an air horn blew, and a team of red- and white-jerseyed football players raced off the field toward cover.

With that, the first practice of coach Tom O'Brien's third season at N.C. State ended prematurely Monday evening, with about a half-hour of work unfinished in what was supposed to be a 2 1/2-hour session.

The players waited patiently under a covered area near the practice field as a monster thunderstorm raged. After sheets of rain soaked the field and lightning continued to flash for 45 minutes, O'Brien decided practice was over.

Players are still taking final exams for their summer school classes, so O'Brien didn't want to keep them at practice all night. It was the most unusual start he could remember since three feet of snow fell in 24 hours on the day of his opening spring practice in 1997 at Boston College.

"I've had days like this," he said. "There isn't anything you can do about it. You don't worry about the weather."

N.C. State's already-thin defensive secondary grew thinner Monday as sophomore safety Jimmaul Simmons did not join the team for practice. O'Brien said Simmons has decided to leave the team and withdraw from school.

The loss of Simmons, a sophomore who played in 11 games and made two interceptions last season as a reserve, leaves N.C. State with little depth at safety.

"We're down in numbers, but we're pretty much focusing on what we can control," senior starting safety Clem Johnson said.

The defense also won't have signee A.J. Ferguson of South Brunswick High this fall. O'Brien said Ferguson won't be with the team but didn't elaborate.

Despite those losses, the mood at N.C. State's practice was upbeat, even during the rain delay. Running back Jamelle Eugene -- elected a team captain Sunday along with defensive end Willie Young and offensive tackle Jeraill McCuller -- playfully showed off his bowling form as the players waited for the rain to subside.

After two seasons with the Wolfpack, O'Brien sees the veterans taking charge in practice rather than looking confused like the freshmen. Running back Toney Baker, who is returning after missing all but one game over the past two seasons because of a knee injury, said he feels much better than he did even during spring practice.

Returning first-team All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson said he enjoyed playing summer baseball for the Gastonia Grizzlies but is ready to turn his attention to football.

"I feel strong. I feel healthy. I've been working hard." Wilson said. "Everybody else on the team has been working hard. ... I'm definitely excited for the season."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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