It wasn’t long after Kentavius Street arrived in Raleigh last year that coach Dave Doeren and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen sat down their prized recruit.
Those precious stars he accumulated as one of the country’s top defensive ends? All five of them?
Street didn’t need to worry about the high expectations, he just had to focus on grasping the defensive scheme.
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“(He’s) very humble,” Doeren said of Street’s commitment to those instructions. “Works for everything, doesn’t ask for much. I love his personality and his attitude.”
That doesn’t mean Street’s teammates will let him off the hook. During a recent interview, he tried not to laugh as they muttered “five star” under stifled, fake coughs.
Street can’t hide his smile, though. Nor should he. After a freshman season at defensive end, Street shifted inside and now holds a starting defensive tackle spot.
The Wolfpack lost last year’s starters T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal to graduation, which left a void that the 6-foot-2, 290-pound sophomore has moved over to fill.
“I think he can play either spot,” Doeren said. “We just want to get our best guys on the field, and we felt like we had better depth at end than we did at tackle (during spring practice), and it was just a way to get our best players out there.”
Nielsen said Street’s fluidity, power, intelligence and low pad level put him in that category. And while Street’s freshman stats – 23 tackles, two quarterback hurries and one tackle for loss in 12 appearances – didn’t blow anyone away, Nielsen said not many freshmen could play as much as Street did at such a difficult position.
“My freshman year, the beginning of it was a blur,” Street said. “Everything was really fast, but the better I knew the scheme, the slower things went.”
“I feel like I’m coming along,” Street said. “I still have a lot of things to work on. My conditioning is probably the biggest factor, but besides that, I think things are going well.”
With an abundance of youth at the position – there are no seniors and only two juniors among the 11 defensive tackles on N.C. State’s roster – Nielsen has relied on tape of former players to serve as a guide.
The process has helped Street pick up the necessary techniques, Nielsen said and as long as Street continues to make strides and perform in the same manner, he doesn’t expect the guys behind him to steal the starting spot.
As the Wolfpack looks to improve upon its 30 sacks from last season, tied for 48th in the nation, Street’s talent should provide a boost.
Doeren was quick to point out that it might take a few weeks before the coaching staff is sure about Street’s potential.
“He adjusted to the position change in the spring, and I think now it’s just understanding what he can do with the techniques and seeing his progress,” Doeren said. “He’s going the right way. He’s not thinking anymore and (he’s) taking everything coach Nielsen’s teaching him and applying it to making plays. Hopefully that’s what we’ll see.”
Before the Sept. 5 opener against Troy, Street will have to continue to get familiar with the blocking tree, the various blocks used by an offensive lineman, and learn to react to down blocks, pulls, scoops and double teams. Compared to the complexities of the defensive end position, Street finds the tackle spot lets him pin his ears back and go.
“Everything is really pretty dumbed down,” Street said. “At end, it’s a lot of dropping in coverage, reading tight ends and offset backs. At tackle, I’m just getting off (the line) and trying to disrupt something.”
And with every bull rush, the expectations will be clear: It’s time to earn those stars.
DiLalla: 919-82-4835; @AricDiLalla