NC State football: Suspension over, D.J. Green ready to make impact

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJuly 27, 2013 

— D.J. Green could never quite find the right place to watch N.C. State’s football games last year.

He tried to go out in public with friends, he tried to sit in the stands with his family. Inevitably he ended up sequestered alone with his frustrations in his apartment.

The NCAA suspended Green for the 2012 season after he tested positive for a banned nutritional supplement. So while N.C. State’s defense was shredded – notably in losses to Tennessee, Miami, North Carolina and Clemson – Green could only throw his remote control or fume at his TV.

“It was hard knowing that I could have made plays that could have been the difference between wins and losses,” Green said.

Green, a senior linebacker, will be back in the middle of N.C. State’s defense this season, which begins with the first day of practice Friday. He will be counted on by first-year coach Dave Doeren and the new Wolfpack staff to be a team leader.

Green believes he can turn his year away from football into a positive for a revamped Wolfpack defense after a 7-6 season cost his former coach, Tom O’Brien, his job.

“It has been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to play football,” Green said. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot, though, so maybe I can take a bad thing and make some good of it.”

An ‘honest mistake’

Green regrets the suspension and letting down teammates, but he’s not looking for sympathy.

“I don’t need a pity party,” Green said. “I made an honest mistake, and I’m trying to move on with my life.”

Green tested positive for a banned nutritional supplement in January 2012. It was a regular-looking pill from a regular-looking bottle, Green said, from an over-the-counter supplement store.

How Green has handled the mistake, and subsequent season without football, is consistent with his character, his high school coach, Sheddrick Risper, said.

“He’s a very honest person,” said Risper, who also coached Green in middle school in Macon, Ga. “He manned up to his mistake, and I know he will learn from it. That’s the way he has always been.”

Green was injured twice during his abbreviated sophomore season in 2011 – he missed one game with an abdominal tear and another five with a toe injury. He started the other seven games, after converting in the preseason from safety to outside linebacker, and finished the season with 28 tackles, a sack and an interception.

While N.C. State prepared to play Louisville in the Belk Bowl after the 2011 regular season, Green went back home to Macon with the intention of adding weight to his 214-pound frame. He turned to Jerome Pope, 35, for help.

Green befriended Pope when Green was playing for Westside High in Macon. Pope’s younger brother played football at Westside. Green’s mother, Stephanie Patterson, described Pope as “more of a mentor than friend” to her son, someone Green would talk football to after games, and Pope came up to Raleigh for at least one of Green’s N.C. State games, Patterson said.

“He was just always there,” Green said of Pope.

Green said he got the supplement from Pope. He said he should have checked with the N.C. State training staff before taking it, but he didn’t. Pope could not be reached for comment.

When Green got back to Raleigh in January, his name was pulled for a random NCAA drug test. Unlike school-monitored tests, where multiple failed tests usual trigger a suspension, there’s no leeway in the NCAA rules.

The NCAA manual, under section reads: a positive result of a test administered by the NCAA results in the “loss of a minimum of one season of competition.”

Green failed one test. The NCAA moved quickly, and unlike other types of suspensions where athletes are allowed to redshirt, Green lost the year of eligibility. N.C. State made the announcement late in February 2012.

“That’s the first time in a long time that I cried,” Green said.

What could have been

Green spent his junior season on the scout team. He was allowed to practice and be around teammates, but his skill was a daily reminder of what the Wolfpack defense was missing.

“He was worth at least two wins,” said former safety Earl Wolff, who led the Wolfpack in tackles in 2012 before being picked in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

N.C. State’s linebackers were integral to the success of O’Brien’s best teams in 2010 and ’11. Nate Irving, Terrell Manning and Audie Cole, starters from those teams, all played in the NFL last season. While at N.C. State, they made linebackers coach Jon Tenuta’s pressure-based system go.

Cole was a senior in 2011 and led the ACC in tackles for loss. Manning and Green were in line to be the top blitzers in Tenuta’s scheme in 2012. Manning decided in January to skip his senior season and jump to the NFL. He was a reserve on the Green Bay Packers last season. Green was suspended. That left senior Sterling Lucas, coming off of major knee surgery, at middle linebacker and a bunch of inexperienced options at the two outside linebacker spots.

N.C. State’s defense suffered. The premise of Tenuta’s defense was to get to the quarterback – State ranked fourth in the country in sacks in 2010 and eighth in 2011 – or get enough pressure to force bad throws. The Pack led the country with 27 interceptions in 2011.

Without Green, or any dynamic options at linebacker, the Pack finished 2012 with 16 interceptions. State’s secondary, which featured draft picks in Wolff and cornerback David Amerson, got chewed up for 333 passing yards in the loss to Tennessee, 566 by Miami, 358 by UNC and 426 by Clemson.

Ready to prove point

State lost three starters in the secondary and two more at linebacker, but Green is confident the group, which will still play a 4-3 under new coordinator Dave Huxtable, will be significantly improved.

State ranked 68th in total defense, 52nd in rushing, 83rd in passing and 52nd in scoring defense last season. Its sacks and interceptions were down from the previous two seasons.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty good defense, and those who don’t know are just going to have to find out,” Green said.

The defense, which has six regulars back from its line rotation, was clearly ahead of the offense in the spring game. With a new quarterback in a new system on offense, Doeren might need the defense to carry the mail early this season. That will be easier with Green.

“Getting him back is going to really help us,” senior cornerback Dontae Johnson said. “He’s strong, he can run sideline to sideline and he can cover. He’s a smart player and anticipates.”

Green, who will start at strongside linebacker, is more than ready to help. The spring game in April was as close as he has been to a real game since the Pack’s 34-0 loss at Florida State on Oct. 29, 2011, when he suffered ligament damage in the toes on his right foot.

“He’s anxious and ready to prove a point,” Patterson, his mother, said.

There was also an ancillary benefit to Green’s suspension his mother said. If Green had played during the 2012 season, he probably would have left school after his junior season for the NFL, she said.

“Well, now, he’s on track to get his degree, and that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” she said. “So in the end, it will all work out for him.”

News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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