RALEIGH — N.C. States football team will be young next season.
How young? Coach Dave Doeren begins his second spring practice on Wednesday morning with 21 redshirt freshmen. By the time the 2014 season begins in August, Doeren will have 51 freshmen in the fold.
Thats a lot of youth and inexperience for a program coming off a 3-9 season in 2013.
It is, Doeren said. Its part of what happens when you rebuild a program.
Doeren will put the Wolfpack through 15 practices over the next six weeks, culminating with the Kay Yow Spring Game on April 12 at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Theres much work to be done, even with seven starters returning on each side of the ball and both specialists, after the Packs first winless ACC season since 1959. The Wolfpack closed Doerens first season with eight straight losses.
It was a difficult year, Doeren said. All of our coaches, our players, we learned a lot. It was humbling going through a season like that but you do learn a lot.
How much progress the program can make will depend on how quickly the new dose of talent can acclimate itself to college football. Nine true freshmen have already enrolled, which is a head start.
Im not promising anything, Doeren said. Were a young team that has a lot of work to do but I like the way our guys are acting, the way they are working and the progress that is being made.
The biggest addition is at quarterback where junior Jacoby Brissett is eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from Florida. Brissett practiced with the team last season, and went through spring practice, but wasnt able to help the Wolfpack during games.
Quarterbacks Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell combined for 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. Both are gone. Mitchell was a graduate student and Thomas decided to graduate and transfer out of the program.
That means Brissett, who started three games in two seasons for the Gators, will have an important role.
All he needs to be is the best that he can be everyday for us, Doeren said. Thats it. Thats all were going to ask from him.
With Thomas exit from the program, junior Garrett Leatham and sophomore Josh Taylor, a pair of walk-ons, are the backups in spring practice. Freshman Jalan McClendon, a promising talent from Charlotte, will arrive in the summer.
Doeren got good news about left tackle Rob Crisp. Crisp missed the final 10 games of 2013 with a concussion. Crisp (6-7, 300 pounds) received a redshirt and will be back during summer school, Doeren said.
N.C. State hopes to receive a similar lift on defense. Safety Jarvis Byrd, who suffered a third major knee injury in the fifth game of the 2013 season, has applied for a sixth season of eligibility. Byrd missed all of the 2010 and 11 seasons with two different knee injuries.
Doeren also said that junior running back Shadrach Thornton, the teams leading rusher the past two seasons, remains on indefinite suspension. Thornton has a court date in Wake County on Wednesday for a misdemeanor marijuana charge. He was suspended one game in 2013 for an assault on a female charge from Aug. 2013.
Once I have all the details, pending the outcomes of everything, Ill be able to make a statement on where we go in the fall, Doeren said.
Thornton, who ran for 768 yards and scored four touchdowns in 11 games, has been working out with the team, Doeren said.