With the sports world largely at a standstill, N.C. State football coach Dave Doeren found time to announce his team’s starting quarterback.
Doeren announced on Wednesday during a Zoom conference call with reporters that quarterback Devin Leary will open the season as the team’s starter whenever the season begins.
“Devin will be our starter,” Doeren said. “It’s his job to lose. I know he’s excited about the opportunity to grow from where he was.”
Leary played in eight games and finished last season as the starter, but was one of four quarterbacks who saw significant time during the 4-8 campaign. In his time under center Leary passed for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns, and will hold the starter job ahead of three other players.
Bailey Hockman played in seven games and threw for 546 yards and one touchdown, while Matt McKay, who started the team’s first five games, announced his intention to transfer in December.
The positional group also includes redshirt freshman Ty Evans and freshman Ben Finley, younger brother of current Bengals and former NCSU quarterback.
“I know Bailey (Hockman) wants to be a better player than he was and will compete his butt off to do so,” Doeren said. “And you have two young guys, Ty and Ben, that are just trying to learn the offense right now.
“So really we have two guys that have played significant reps that we’re counting on, and two young guys that we’ll see get better. I like where we’re at, we just need an opportunity to coach them now. That’s the biggest thing moving forward. Reps are so valuable, and until we can get back on the grass with them it’s kind of a standstill situation.”
The Wolfpack closed the season with six consecutive losses, and didn’t get to take advantage of extra practices that bowl-eligible teams get. After the Nov. 30 loss to North Carolina, the season was over and a focus had been shifted toward the spring workouts.
It was supposed to be busy.
Doeren added five new assistant coaches to his staff, and another two were entering new roles. Learning more about an untested quarterback room was in the plans, as was having an early look at the recently-graduated high schoolers that arrived on campus to participate in spring football activities.
The latter was an option that benefitted a couple local current NCSU players. Rocky Mount High’s Shyheim Battle and Southern Nash’s Zonovan Knight each arrived on campus in the spring of 2019 before starting their freshman seasons with the Wolfpack that fall.
(Knight would finish the 2019 season as the team’s most productive running back.)
Now, the work and responsibility is largely placed on the athletes to stay on track. Doeren said the coaching staff isn’t allowed to monitor the athletes when they’re away from campus and can only provide workout routines.
Whether or not the work is being done is largely based on the honor system.
“This is an opportunity for us. Every team has the same issue,” Doeren said. “We can’t hold them accountable for working out right now. What they have are accountability partners that they call and check on each other every day to make sure they’re doing the work.
“We have an opportunity to leapfrog other (teams) who don’t do it the right way, and it has to be player-led. … I think it will teach independence. There’s a lot of monitoring at the college level. We don’t have that right now. This is going to show us who is really serious about it.”
Doeren said he is trying to control what he can, and knows that the return to football hinges on being able to move forward safely.
When that happens, whenever it is, Doeren said that six weeks would be the ideal timeframe to have his team ready, but acknowledged that four weeks would be sufficient. As for when football will return, Doeren doesn’t know. He just wants football back.
“We need to play football,” Doeren said. “That’s the one thing that everybody recognizes, from a financial standpoint in college athletics, for universities and just for probably national morale. When that happens, I don’t care. I think whatever is best for the health of our athletes and for the country. You don’t want to put them out there before all this stuff is taken care of.
“Whether it’s delayed a month, two months, three months, whatever it is, it’ll be a blessing for us to have these guys back. I expect that to happen, I just don’t know when.”