RALEIGH — By the time N.C. States season was 25 minutes old, Quintin Payton had come within 27 receiving yards of matching his career output.
The junior receiver caught quarterback Mike Glennons first pass of the year, taking advantage of a blown coverage in the Tennessee secondary for a 49-yard gain in the Wolfpacks opener. Over the next quarter and a half, Payton made a 31-yard reception over the middle and an acrobatic 38-yard grab along the left sideline to give him a total of 118 yards before halftime.
Paytons has solidified his standing as N.C. States go-to receiver in the three games since the Wolfpacks loss to Tennessee.
The 6-foot-4 Payton made a circus catch against Connecticut to set up N.C. States first score in its 10-7 win over the Huskies. Last week vs. The Citadel, Payton reached the 100-yard receiving mark for the second time in his career, hitting the number right on the nose while making five catches.
As the Wolfpack (3-1) prepares to travel to Miami (3-1) for Saturdays conference opener, Payton is sixth in the ACC in receiving yards per game (84.5).
Hes just a consistent player, N.C. State receivers coach Troy Walters said. Everything he does is solid. Whether its running routes, catching the ball, technique all those things play into becoming a great receiver. He does everything well. I dont see him having many weaknesses, and he keeps getting better each week.
N.C. State has a history of developing receivers who required time to marinate before reaching their potential.
Jay Smith and Owen Spencer come to mind, but T.J. Graham might be the most vivid recent example.
As much a fast runner as a football player his first three seasons, Graham was most dangerous as a return man. Last season as a senior, however, Graham blossomed into N.C. States leading receiver, making a team-high 46 catches for a team-high 757 yards.
Intrigued by his skills, the Buffalo Bills traded up to draft Graham in third round, and Graham repaid the Bills confidence by making his first career touchdown catch in Sundays win over Cleveland.
No ones worked harder than T.J. Graham here at catching the football, N.C. State coach Tom OBrien said. By he getting drafted where he was and the success hes having now, I think that spurs these young kids on because they remember his work ethic. He must have caught 1,000 balls (after every practice). T.J. was always working on the ball machine, catching, working, doing those kinds of things."
Now its Paytons turn. While he bided his time during his first three seasons (he redshirted his first year), Payton studied receivers such as Smith, Graham and Jarvis Williams and tried to deliver when called upon. In all, he made a total of 11 catches for 145 yards during his freshman and sophomore years.
After seeing first-team action in spring practice, he knew coming into this season that hed have increased opportunities.
I was ready to get the season started, Payton said. Being named a starter, I was really excited to play my role and see how things went. I felt like I was ready. I felt like I was more experienced this year than I had ever been. I worked the hardest this summer and in camp to be prepared to start the season and play a different role for the team.
As much as he had prepared for that new role, it wasnt until Payton made those catches against Tennessee that he showed that he could do it.
His coaches believe that did wonders for his confidence.
And then it was a great catch against Connecticut, and it was a key catch, said Dana Bible, N.C. States offensive coordinator. Those are all things to build on. As a player, you go, You know what? I belong. I can do this. No matter how much you want to or how much you project that you can, we all know theres doubt until you do it.
He has answered for us. Hes always been a very positive, assertive, smart now its his chance to play more and grow.
With his height, Payton makes an easy target for Glennon, especially since the Wolfpacks other primary receivers are under 6 feet. Bible said that while that gives the offense a matchup where they have a chance to take advantage of smaller defensive backs, Paytons speed also cant be discounted.
As the season wears on, the Wolfpack coaches see no reason why Payton won't continue to excel.
Thats all what happens when you build a program, OBrien said. You get kids in, you recruit them, and they soak. We talk all the time about how a kids got to soak, and then its their time.
Staff writer Joe Giglio contributed to this report.