RALEIGH — Growing up, it was The Game in a household that bleeds Wolfpack red.
Now, N.C. State redshirt freshman defensive back Juston Burris can’t believe he actually gets to play in it.
“This was the biggest game in my house growing up,” Burris said, breaking into a huge smile. “I have a mom and dad who both went to State and came to those games when we played Carolina 20 or 30 years ago. So I’m proud to be playing in it for the first time as a State player.”
The former Broughton standout learned quickly about the N.C. State-UNC rivalry – and choosing sides – after moving here from Virginia.
“I was born in Virginia, so I was a Cavaliers fan when I was little,” Burris said. “But when we moved here, my mom loved N.C. State and helped me fall in love with them. So playing in Carter-Finley Stadium is basically like living out a dream.”
Burris has emerged as this season, mostly in the nickel package alongside David Amerson and Dontae Johnson. Thus far, the 6-foot-1 corner has one interception, three pass breakups and one tackle for a loss.
It’s on the beginning, safety Earl Wolff said.
“He reminds me a lot of Dontae [Johnson] with his size and speed,” Wolff said. “But when they put him in during the season, we saw a different side of him come out that you don’t see in the offseason. It’s crazy because he’s not only a great cover guy but a great tackler and very physical.
“I’m just happy to have him on my team because he’s good now, but he’s going to be great down the road.”
In the past two games, Burris produced game-changing plays for the Pack. He intercepted FSU’s E.J. Manuel in the third quarter to set up the Pack’s first touchdown in their eventual upset of the then-No. 3 Seminoles. This past weekend, he had a critical break up on Maryland running back’s Stefon Diggs’ pass in the first quarter. The masses might not remember that play, particularly given how the game ended, but Wolff realized its importance.
“That was a huge play,” Wolff said. “He knows he could have picked it off and was still a little unsatisfied about not making the big play for us. That just shows us how important helping the team is to him.”
Defensive backs coach Mike Reed said he used it as a teaching moment for the young corner.
“He should have intercepted the ball if he was doing the right thing,” Reed said. “It’s over now and he was a little upset about it, but learning from those mistakes is what makes you a better player. He watches a lot of film and he will make corrections to get better and that’s all you can ask for.”
But with the learning curve being quick in college football and traveling to play a Carolina team coming off its first lost to Duke in eight years looking for its first win over State in five years, Burris knows he has to perform well against the Heels to reach the team’s final goal – becoming ACC champions.
“It’s important to me and the team to not be the first team to lose to UNC,” Burris said. “But each game is important and we are trying to just go out and win every game. Yes, this one is important, but we have a lot more to accomplish this season and we know we need to beat Carolina to get there.”