The number of true freshmen N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has had to play has gone down in each of the past two years.
That’s a trend the fifth-year coach likes and one he hopes will continue with this signing class.
N.C. State added 19 scholarship players on Wednesday and seven more preferred walk-ons. The class ranks No. 10 in the ACC, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and No. 53 in the country.
In Doeren’s first two years, he used 12 true freshmen. That number dropped to nine in 2015 and just five last season. The chance to redshirt the bulk of each class gives Doeren and his staff a better chance to develop the players.
Doeren cited the growth of recent stars Joe Thuney, Matt Dayes and Bradley Chubb on Wednesday.
“It’s one thing to talk about developing players, it’s another to be able to prove it,” Doeren said.
Doeren did single out defensive tackle Grant Gibson, from Mallard Creek, and running back Erin Collins, as two freshmen who could help right away.
But Doeren made it clear the Wolfpack was in its best position in his tenure with 11 senior starters returning.
“Last year we had two,” Doeren said of his senior starters. “That’s a huge difference.”
The class was heavy on linebackers (six) and defensive linemen (six). The Wolfpack got a surprise late addition from Louisburg College defensive tackle Larrell Murchison. A junior-college All-American, Murchison had been recruited by Ole Miss, Georgia and Texas but ended up staying in state.
Notably missing on Wednesday was one of the Wolfpack’s top targets in linebacker Darius Hodge. Hodge helped Wake Forest win the 4AA state title and was the AP defensive player of the year. He had originally committed to the Wolfpack but due to an academic issue signed with Marshall on Wednesday.
The Wolfpack ended up with more scholarship signees from Florida (eight) than North Carolina (seven). Rivals rated Gibson, cornerback Chris Ingram (Mooresville) and receiver Emeka Ekezie (Waxhaw) among the top 25 players in the state.
Collins, a big (6-1, 200 pounds) running back from Plant City, Fla., has the size to help right away, Doeren said. With the graduation of Dayes, the team’s 1,000-yard rusher, there’s room to play at running back.
Doeren was taking more of a wait-and-see approach with the rest of the class. He even noted quarterback Matt McKay (6-4, 186), an early enrollee from Wakefield, was only 17.
“His upside is incredible because of his age,” Doeren said of McKay, who threw for 58 touchdowns in his career and ran for 39 more.
With so many players coming back from a 7-6 team, which won its last two games, Doeren has some time to develop this class instead of throwing it into the fire.
“It has been a long time to get there as a staff,” Doeren said. “I think that’s the fun part of what’s going on here right now, the way the culture has changed.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
NC State Wolfpack signees
Antoine Thompson: WR, 6-1, 176, three-star, FL - Did not compete at Plant High School after suffering a torn ACL. He caught 30 passes for 692 yards during his junior season.
Grant Gibson: DT, 6-1, 305, three-star, NC - Played defensive tackle and offensive guard for Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte. He was a member of three state championship teams. Has a 4.2 GPA.
Matthew McKay: QB, 6-4, 185, three-star, NC - Dual threat QB, who threw for 5,932 yards and 58 touchdowns over his career. He rushed for 2,386 yards and 39 touchdowns.
Liam Ryan: OL, 6-3, 295, NR, NC - Enrolled at N.C. State in January after spending last year at Fork Union Military Academy.
Damien Darden: TE, 6-4, 245, three-star, NC - During his high school career he had 63 catches for 853 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Louis Acceus: OLB, 6-1, 190, three-star, NJ - Played linebacker and running back. He finished with 101 tackles, 14 for a loss and 6.5 sacks during his senior season.
Isaiah Moore: OLB, 6-2, 205, three-star, VA - Had 106 tackles, 15 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, five blocked kicks, and three interceptions during his senior season.
Chris Ingram: CB, 6-0, 175, three-star, NC - Had two interceptions, seven pass breakups and 53 tackles during his senior season. He was also N.C. State’s first commit.
Raven Saunders: OLB, 6-0, 215, three-star, FL - Ranked No. 26 inside linebacker nationally by rivals.com. Only played high school football as a junior and senior.
Erin Collins: RB, 5-10, 180, three-star, FL - He rushed for 1,559 yards, 8.7 yards per carry, and 31 total touchdowns during his high school career.
Joshua Fedd-Jackson: OG, 6-3.5, 300, three-star, NJ - Played right guard and defensive tackle. He tallied 21 pancake blocks in 10 games during his senior season. He also had 16 tackles.
Damontay Rhem: RB, 5-11, 205, NR - He played in seven games at UNC Pembroke in 2015, tallying 90 yards on 28 carries.
Max Fisher: WR, 6-3, 188, three-star, DC
Kevince Brown: DE, 6-5, 230, three-star, FL - He finished with 55 tackles, 12 sackles and 19 tackles for loss during his senior season. He also had one interception, which he returned for a 76-yard touchdown.
Adam Boselli: TE, 6-4, 210, three-star, FL - Caught 41 passes for 736 yards and seven toucdowns during his senior season.
Xavier Lyas: DE, 6-5, 210, three-star, FL
Nakia Robinson Jr.: WR, 6-1, 170, three-star, FL - Played running back and cornerback in Miami. During his career he rushed for 836 yards and 10 toucdowns.
Bryson Speas: OG, 6-4, 260, three-star, NC - Recorded 74 pancake blocks in 27 games over his high school career, including 47 during his senior season.
Ibrahim Kante: DE, 6-5, 240, three-star, NY - Spent a post-graduate season at a prep school. He played both defensive and offensive line.
Dante Johnson: DE, 6-4, 252, two-star, FL - He finished his career with 104 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 16 sacks.
Danny Blakeman: LB, 6-2, 225, NR, NC - Played for Leesville Road High School.
Emeka Emezie: WR, 6-3, 200, three-star, NC - Played for the North Carolina team in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Rated the No. 18 wide receiver in the state by 247sports.com.
Dalton Counts: S, 6-1, 199, NR, NC - Played high school football at Garner Magnet High School.
Cayman Czesak: LB, 6-3, 185, NR, NC - Was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on. Recorded 138 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss for E.A. Laney High School in Wilmington.
Charles Fletcher: OL, 6-3, 280, NR, NC - Played center and tackle for J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, NC.
Trenton Gill: K/P, 6-3, 180, NR, NC - Played for Cedar Ridge in Hillsborough. Chose NC State over, UNC, Duke and NCCU.
Jessie Malit: LB, 6-3, 215, NR, NC - Two-sport athlete for Cox Mill High School in Concord.
Larrell Murchison: DE, 6-4, 280, three-star - Played in junior college for Louisburg College, where he was a junior-college All-American, and helped the Hurricanes to a 9-0 record. He recorded 18 tackles for a loss and six sacks.