Let’s get this out of the way: There are high expectations for N.C. State’s new quarterback Jacoby Brissett this season.
But whatever your expectations are for Brissett, a transfer from Florida, they don’t compare to his.
Look no further than the screen saver on Brissett’s cellphone. Every time the 6-foot-4, 236-pound junior pulls his phone out of his pocket, he’s greeted by a picture … of the Heisman Trophy.
“He’s not here to fool around,” senior running back Tony Creecy said. “He’s here to win.”
That’s not to confuse Brissett’s confidence for cockiness. To be great, you have to want to be great. And make no mistake, Brissett wants to be great and he wants his team to be great, too.
Brissett, a top-100 recruit out of high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2011, spent his first two college seasons in the SEC. He believes an N.C. State that went 3-9 and winless in ACC play last season can take inspiration from an SEC team.
Auburn went 3-9 in 2012, and 0-8 in the SEC. A year later, the Tigers went 12-2, won the SEC (7-1 in conference play) and came within 13 seconds of winning the national title.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but we have a great opportunity to do something special,” Brissett said. “A lot of people don’t think it’s possible, especially coming from 3-9, but Auburn did it. It’s possible. You just have to believe.”
Pack must ‘finish games’
Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon set a certain standard at the quarterback position at N.C. State, one Wolfpack fans have gotten used to, one that wasn’t met last season.
Brandon Mitchell, a graduate transfer from another SEC school (from Arkansas), won the job in August then broke his foot during the second series of the season. He missed the next five games.
Mitchell finished with 1,011 passing yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Neither Mitchell nor the offense ever got back into the rhythm it showed in the 40-14 win in the opener over Louisiana Tech.
Pete Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State, stepped in when Mitchell was hurt and then rotated with Mitchell when he returned. Thomas finished with 1,667 passing yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Thomas was recruited to play in Tom O’Brien’s pro-style offense. Despite his efforts, he didn’t fit in Doeren’s spread concepts.
After the 41-21 loss to Maryland last November, Doeren was asked what the program needed to do to significantly improve. He specifically mentioned quarterback play and the 15 combined interceptions between Thomas and Mitchell.
Duke, which won 10 games and the Coastal Division title, actually threw more interceptions (19) than N.C. State last season. So it wasn’t the volume, but the timing, as Doeren pointed out on Meet the Pack Day earlier in August, when asked again what the Pack needed to do to improve.
“Finish games,” was Doeren’s answer. Of the 15 interceptions thrown by Mitchell and Thomas, 11 came in the second half.
Mitchell threw two interceptions in the second half of 27-19 loss to North Carolina. The two quarterbacks were intercepted three times in the fourth quarter of a 38-20 loss at Duke, including two returned for touchdowns.
Brissett sees talent on roster
Brissett, who left Florida in January 2013, practiced last season and watched the Pack struggle but his biggest takeaway wasn’t “if only I could play.”
It was that his teammates didn’t get rewarded for the work they put in, he said.
“It wasn’t like no one cared,” Brissett said. “The result just wasn’t what I felt was right for the work they put in.
“Every game last year, we were in — besides the Florida State game — and we could have won.”
The most frustrating part, Brissett said, is the Wolfpack had talent, enough to go to a bowl game, but it never got any breaks.
“The crazy thing was (N.C. State) pretty much had equal talent here to what we had at Florida,” he said. “That’s the honest truth.”
Finally geting his chance
In Brissett’s last season at Florida in 2012, the Gators went 11-2. He started one game, a 23-0 win over Jacksonville State, but was beaten out for the starting job by the more mobile Jeff Driskel.
Both Brissett and Driskel were top-100 recruits. Then-Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis preferred the powerful arm of Brissett, who also had quick enough feet to avoid the rush.
Weis left Florida after one season and Driskel, who ran for 408 yards, led the Gators to a 7-1 SEC record and a spot in the Sugar Bowl in 2012.
The offense changed without Weis and was to fit Driskel’s running ability.
“I could have done some of the stuff, but I’m not as fast as Jeff,” Brissett said. “That just wasn’t me.”
Brissett started three games in two seasons at Florida. He threw four touchdowns, ran for two more and was intercepted four times. Hardly Heisman numbers, but those who know Brissett know he can do more. He just needed a chance.
Enter Doeren, who had recruited Brissett out of Dwyer High when Doeren was an assistant at Wisconsin. (Coincidentally, Brissett almost chose the Badgers in 2011; they ended up with Wilson as their starter instead.)
“I recruited him at Wisconsin for four years, so I’ve known the kid. I know everything about him,” Doeren said. “I know his personality, I know his competitive nature.”
Doeren knew Brissett was a hard worker and a respected leader in high school. Dwyer won the 4-A state title when Brissett was a junior in 2010. Matt Elam, a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, was the star of the Dwyer team, Brissett readily admits.
“I was all right,” Brissett said. “I had a great team, to be honest with you. I was kind of part of the package deal.”
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels disagrees. As a senior, Elam was gone (to Florida) and standout tight end Nick O’Leary, now playing at Florida State, got hurt in the state semifinal game against Tampa Armwood. Brissett threw a 13-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left that looked like it would put Dwyer back in the title game.
Armwood then kicked a 47-yard field goal with no time left to pull out a 22-20 win.
“He’s definitely downplaying his role,” Daniels said. “He put us on his back in that game and for most of the season.
“Jacoby’s very talented, but he’s a hard worker and really, he’s just a good kid.”
Showing leadership has earned him respect
It didn’t take Brissett long to win over his new teammates at N.C. State. Transfers aren’t allowed to travel with the team, and the school can’t pay for them to travel, either.
That didn’t stop Brissett from getting in his car and driving to the Wolfpack’s game at Florida State.
“He could have just stayed in Raleigh and watched us on TV,” senior receiver Bryan Underwood said.
If there was extra work to be done on the practice field, Brissett did it. He didn’t have games, so he made the most of the scout team opportunities in practice. He also made sure he was getting ready for this season.
“He was a leader when he didn’t need to be,” Underwood said. “He earned our respect before the season ended.”
Being great starts with team success
Back to the picture of the Heisman on Brissett’s phone. No one, at least not successful people, sets out to be honorable mention All-ACC. Brissett wants to be great. He believes the best way to accomplish any individual goal is through team success.
N.C. State’s success is intertwined with Brissett’s this season. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a quarterback who hasn’t been a regular starter since high school.
That’s fine with Brissett. You can have your expectations, he’ll keep his.