N.C. State will be taking 20 seniors to the Sun Bowl and there’s a chance that one, defensive end Bradley Chubb, could sit out the game.
Chubb, the ACC defensive player of the year and the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as the nation’s best defensive player, figures to be a first-round NFL draft pick, with millions of dollars in his future. Why risk an injury?
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said he has talked with Chubb at length. If he knows Chubb’s decision about playing, Doeren isn’t saying.
“He wants the focus to be on the senior class and how hard these guys have worked in the last stage of this journey,” Doeren said Wednesday.
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For the seniors, for players such as Jaylen Samuels and Tony Adams, the journey will end with a fourth straight bowl game. And while a victory would give the Pack a nine-win season, the seniors believe it’s also about cementing the legacy they will leave.
“We understand we started something special here at N.C. State,” said Adams, a four-year starter on the offensive line. “The legacy will be in how we came into this program and changed the culture of it.
“We’re always that team with the chip on our shoulder. We’ve always got to go out and prove something. Us coming in, we started something and finishing it as strong as we can is very important. We want to make sure we leave with a stamp, to make sure people understand this program is special.”
Adams, an All-ACC selection at guard, suffered a leg injury in the final regular-season game, against North Carolina. But he said “everything is good” and that he will play in the Dec. 29 bowl game against Arizona State in El Paso, Texas.
The Pack’s 33-21 win over the Tar Heels gave N.C. State a sixth ACC victory for the first time since 1994. The Wolfpack has not won an ACC championship since 1979, but the seniors believe the program now is a championship contender under Doeren.
“This senior group went though a lot in this program the past four or five years,” Samuels said. “I think the legacy we’re leaving for the young guys is that the standard now is very high for them.”
Samuels, like Chubb, could have entered the NFL draft after last season. The versatile back – “I still don’t know what position he plays,” Adams joked – was named the offensive MVP in last year’s Independence Bowl, catching six passes and scoring three touchdowns in the Pack’s 41-17 victory over Vanderbilt.
“After the bowl game I talked to my family,” Samuels said. “We just had a sit-down meeting and figured things out and what the future held for me. I felt my best decision was to come back and show people what else I’ve got as far as the offense in my senior season.”
The season ended with the ACC creating a new position on the All-ACC team: all-purpose back. Samuels was named first-team All-ACC, accounting for 15 rushing and receiving touchdowns.
“First-team All-ACC was one of my main goals this season because I didn’t make that last year,” Samuels said. “I felt like I didn’t play up to my potential last year, so making first team team was really special.”
Samuels wasn’t the only Pack back to make the All-ACC team. Junior Nyheim Hines emerged as N.C. State’s big-play man this season, rushing for 1,040 yards – despite being limited by injuries in three games – and leading the ACC with 140.9 all-purposes yards a game, eighth-best in the FBS.
Hines was a finalist for the 2017 Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and a second-team All-American.
“He had a tremendous season,” Samuels said. “He had some big shoes to fill with Matt Dayes leaving, but I feel like there was no dropoff. With that kind of speed in the backfield it’s hard for defenses to game plan.
“With the season he had, I’m excited about what the future holds for him and what he’s got in store for the Wolfpack.”
Hines, like Samuels a year ago, may have a decision to make on the NFL. Quarterback Ryan Finley is another who could return next season or give up his final year of eligibility to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
But first, there’s a bowl game to be played against Arizona State, which fired coach Todd Graham despite a 7-5 finish capped by a win over rival Arizona.
“It’s extremely important to us and this whole program to win this bowl game,” Adams said. “Being a nine-win team and being in position to finish in the top 20, it means we’re a special group here.”