By Joe Giglio
RALEIGH Sterling Lucas didn't play a down of football for N.C. State last season. He injured his left knee in training camp, almost a year ago to the day.
Still, Lucas' teammates voted him one of the team's two captains for the 2012 season on Monday, which is both a testament to his leadership and his popularity.
"It's an honor and I don't take it lightly," said Lucas, a fifth-year senior. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to lead this team to an ACC championship."
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon, the face of the program, was the players' other choice at captain. Behind the scenes, Lucas has been as important of a leader for the Wolfpack as Glennon has been publicly.
"He was working just as hard as anybody," Glennon said. "I know he has been waiting for this."
With a new group of linebackers to break in on an otherwise experienced defense, Lucas' role at middle linebacker is all the more magnified.
Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien called Lucas a "de facto" assistant coach. Instead of sulking about the injury last year, Lucas refocused his attention on helping the other linebackers.
"I think he has really good leadership qualities,," O'Brien said. "And I think (his teammates) recognize that."
Lucas was relegated to the injured list after aggravating a meniscus injury in his left knee, an injury he first suffered in the spring of 2011, in the team's first scrimmage last August.
Lucas, who has two career starts and 86 tackles in three seasons, believes he can turn the year off into a positive.
"I learned the ins and out of coaching," Lucas said. "Now, I'm on the field and I can use what I learned last year."
The injury forced him off the field but it might have been a good break for the Orangeburg, S.C. native. With Audie Cole set in the middle, Lucas would have been a backup last season.
"Everything happens for a reason," Lucas said. "I'm a strong believer in that."
Cole led the Wolfpack with a 132 tackles last season from the "mike" linebacker position. Nate Irving, Cole's predecessor, had 92 in 2010. Both are in the NFL, along with fellow linebacker Terrell Manning.
"Terrell, Nate and Audie have set high expectations for our linebackers," Lucas said. "We want to keep that going and I think we have the talent do that."
The linebackers, under the guidance of assistant Jon Tenuta, have been the strength of N.C. State's defense the past two seasons. The Pack ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks in both 2011 (eighth with 40) and 2010 (fourth with 41).
Lucas will be counted on to get sophomore Rodman Noel and junior Rickey Dowdy up to speed in Tenuta's high-pressure system.
He spent a good part of spring practice fielding questions from the other linebackers. He expects to remain busy on that front during training camp. The best part of sitting out last season, Lucas said, was he learned the intricacies of all the positions on defense, not just middle linebacker.
"I was able to learn the defense from a different perspective," Lucas said. "It was my spot and what the other guys around were doing and why they do it."