RALEIGH — For a big, bad safety, Earl Wolff has a sensitive side.
And the hard-hitting senior, who will start his 42nd and final regular-season game for N.C State on Saturday against Boston College, is not afraid to share this particular secret.
Im a mamas boy, Wolff said. Always have been.
Wolff even has his moms name, Sharon Davis, tattooed on his chest, so as he puts it, shell always be close to my heart.
The tattoo was a symbolic gesture by Wolff, who knew he would be spending most of his senior season apart from his mother, a master sergeant in the National Guard.
Davis was deployed in Kuwait, with the 113th Sustainment Brigade, for a year. She worked in logistics and acquisitions, getting whatever the troops needed, basically, she said.
During her service in Kuwait, Davis missed her oldest sons graduation last December but she will be at Carter-Finley Stadium to walk her son onto the field for Senior Day.
Its a blessing to have her back, Wolff said. Im going to be emotional but Im going to enjoy it.
Wolff leads the Wolfpack with 123 tackles and 81 solo tackles through 11 games, both are career-bests with two games remaining.
The safety from Raeford had a career-best 19 tackles and an interception in last Saturdays loss at Clemson. When Davis talked to her son after the game, she could tell he was taking the loss hard.
He was down, said Davis, 52. I know they lost, but he shouldnt have been because he did great.
Wolff has played through injuries and he has played through some hopeless second halves this season. He has put up his best numbers in three of N.C. States five losses.
His effort at Clemson was particularly conspicuous, as it was in lopsided losses to Virginia and Tennessee.
Thats his calling card: great effort, N.C. State coach Tom OBrien said. Hes out there playing and giving it everything that he has.
It has been a difficult season for Wolff to reconcile. While he has played hard and made tackles and caused turnovers, the defense, as a whole, and the secondary in particular, has not been as good as Wolff thought it could be in August.
N.C. State led the country with 27 interceptions last season. With four starters back in the secondary, the Wolfpack has 13 through 11 games.
And its not the interception total that completely bothers Wolff but how the team arrived at its 6-5 record. In N.C. States six wins, the defense has given up 68 points, or 11.3 per game. In its five losses, the defense has yielded 217 points, or 43.4 per game.
That on-again, off-again nature led Wolff to coin the word sometime-y after the Wolfpacks 33-6 home loss to Virginia on Nov. 3
It was the perfect description for the program, which has been up and down since the start of the 2010 season.
Its frustrating and disappointing, Wolff said. I wasnt looking for five losses this season.
Tajh Boyd had done enough, nearly singled-handedly, to beat N.C. State last Saturday. The Clemson quarterback accounted for eight touchdowns in the Tigers 62-48 win. While Boyd was trying to run out the clock in the final minute, he took a shot from Wolff, a clean one, and it knocked Boyd out for a play.
While other players would just wait until the next game, Wolff was still going hard until the final moments.
Thats what makes me so proud, Davis said. He always gives his best, even when hes hurt.
His left eye was bloodshot from the pounding and collisions in the 35-21 loss to Tennessee in the season opener, in which Wolff made 17 tackles.
Wolff hurt his elbow against Connecticut in the second game. He had an interception and forced fumble in the 10-7 win over the Huskies.
He has played through the elbow and a knee injury the past two months. He attributes his toughness to his mother, who raised Wolff, his older sister, Shanee, and his younger brother, Eric, in Raeford.
She has always been real disciplined, Wolff said. She was always real hard on us. She never took anything for an excuse.
But she was always there for us.
And Davis will be there today for one last home game. When senior Sterling Lucas was asked earlier this week which teammate was mostly likely to cry, Lucas didnt hesitate with his answer.
Earls going to cry, Lucas said. Hes kinda emotional.
Yes, Wolff admits, the water works will probably be turned on about 2:45 p.m., when the seniors make their way onto the field for their last home kickoff.
After five years in Raleigh and four years of playing every play like its the last, the big, bad safety with a name straight from Gil Thorp isnt afraid to share his emotions.
I love this place, Wolff said. Im going to miss it.