Walk-on leading Wolfpack defense

Safety Floyd's hard hitting earned him scholarship, playing time

Staff WriterOctober 8, 2009 

  • Although former walk-ons often play prominent roles as specialists, only a few get lots of playing time at ACC schools on offense or defense. Here are some of the ACC's most successful walk-ons:

    Terrance Ashe

    WR

    Clemson

    Starter has five catches for 58 yards.

    Sean Bedford

    C

    Georgia Tech

    Aerospace engineering major is OL starter.

    Lowell Dyer

    C

    North Carolina

    Starter sidelined with shoulder injury.

    Bobby Floyd

    S

    N.C. State

    Tied for third on team with 26 tackles.

    Taylor Gentry

    FB

    N.C. State

    Pack's No. 1 fullback in 2008, 2009.

    Koyal George

    CB

    N.C. State

    Has 14 tackles, a team-leading 3 PBUs.

    Andrew Gonnella

    OG

    Maryland

    Has made four starts this season.

    Cody Grimm

    LB

    Virginia Tech

    Leads team with 45 tackles, 3 caused fumbles.

    Paul Pinegar

    OT

    Maryland

    Has started all five games this season.

— After Bobby Floyd walked on at N.C. State, teammate and friend LeRue Rumph gave him valuable advice.

Rumph told Floyd that when he worked on the scout team, the starters would urge him to take it easy on them during practice. This was one case, Rumph said, where Floyd shouldn't listen to the veterans.

The only way to stand out, although it might annoy his teammates, was to hit them hard.

"That's what coaches see on film," Floyd said Rumph told him. "If you take it easy, you're going to be just another jersey out there."

Floyd is anything but another jersey. As a senior he is one of the most productive former walk-ons in the ACC. He is tied for third on the team with 26 tackles and is scheduled to start at boundary safety as N.C. State tries to improve its struggling secondary Saturday against visiting Duke.

He admits that redshirt freshman Earl Wolff, who will back him up Saturday, is more athletic than he is. But defensive coordinator Mike Archer said Floyd is the only player who knows what all 11 defenders should be doing on every play.

When Pittsburgh had first-and-goal trailing by a touchdown in the closing minutes on Sept. 26 at N.C. State, Archer put Floyd on the field because he wanted to make sure the Wolfpack got lined up right.

Floyd did his job, and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs. After N.C. State gave up 361 passing yards to Wake Forest last week, Archer wants Floyd on the field against Duke.

"He's earned the opportunity," Archer said. "He's a very smart guy. He knows what we want. He's like a coach on the field. He can play all four (defensive back) positions."

Walk-ons often toil in anonymity throughout their careers.

Still, many coaches consider them crucial to a successful program because of their contributions in practices and occasionally in games.

One of David Cutcliffe's goals at Duke has been to expand his walk-on program. He has 16 walk-ons now after starting with six two years ago, but said adding walk-ons there is difficult because of the school's high admission standards and expensive tuition.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney walked on as a wide receiver at Alabama and admires players who followed that path.

"Those guys tend to be guys who have had to overcome things, odd-against-them kind of guys," Swinney said. "They have to work hard to even have a chance to make it."

Floyd said N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien and his assistants give walk-ons a chance. Robbie Leonard, the Wolfpack's starting field linebacker last season, was a former walk-on.

Cornerback Koyal George, who started the first five games this season, once walked on as a wide receiver. After Floyd joined the team as a transfer from Truman (Mo.) State, his first goal was to get on the field.

He rattled the starters with big hits during practice. After Leonard told him that the kicking game was a good place for awalk-on to make an impact, Floyd asked special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie to work him in there.

Then, as a backup on the kickoff team, he urged starting safety DaJuan Morgan to tell the coaches that he needed a rest. On Floyd's first play two years ago, he tackled Clemson return ace C.J. Spiller on a kickoff.

Still, he wanted more.

When safety Clem Johnson suffered a broken jaw during the 2008 preseason, Floyd was a fourth-team linebacker.

He became a backup safety overnight because of Johnson's injury. Floyd made his first start in last year's regular-season finale against Miami when Johnson was hurt again.

Late in the second quarter, Floyd made perhaps the biggest play of the game. At 5 feet 9 and 211 pounds, he tipped a pass away from 6-4, 270-pound tight end Richard Morgan.

DeAndre Morgan intercepted the batted ball, and N.C. State went on to win and clinch a bowl bid.

"It did a lot for my confidence," Floyd said.

A funny thing happened to Floyd as he went from an unknown to a prominent role. Selfishly, early in his career, he cared more about getting noticed and getting on the field than about whether the team was winning.

As a starter, Floyd now gives his own advice to the scout team walk-ons.

"You've got to tell them, 'Go hard. I'm not going to be mad at you. Teach me a lesson. If you catch me snoozing on a play, knock my head off. It will make you better in the end.' " Floyd said.

More than anybody else on the team, Floyd knows that's the only way to get noticed.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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