Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

NC State Wolfpack

Dave Doeren

Devin Leary

Isaiah Moore

Drake Thomas

Press Conference

Q. Over your first five games last year you averaged 166 yards per game on the ground. Over the last seven nowhere close to that, four games where you didn't even break 100. This despite having two running backs who are now good enough to be in the NFL. Was it because of injuries to the offensive line or was it actually by design?

DAVE DOEREN: I don't know exactly if I can give you that. I think it's more about winning, and at that time Devin, was throwing the ball pretty good and Emeka and some of the guys making plays.

Our offense is built to take what we get, but there is a mentality about rushing the football. I do think the loss of Chandler Zavala, which happened in conjunction with what you are talking about, was a bigger loss than probably people thought at the time. He is a very good run blocker for us. Having him and Ickey next to each other presented a pretty good challenge to the defense as we were playing.

Definitely an area we want to improve upon. I know that's something that that room takes a lot of pride in.

Q. I'm curious, for a coach to have a returning quarterback, to have a player with that level of experience, how does that dictate the pace of how quickly you can install and do things in camp and overall just how big an advantage is it to have experience at that position?

DAVE DOEREN: I think if you look at the Atlantic Division all seven teams have their quarterback returning, so all of us have the same blessing right now. It's different when you know who that guy is and you like what that guy brings to the table and he is a good leader, and he can not just go out and execute your offense, but in Devin's case, he is doing different things than he was doing last year and the year before. He is studying defenses. He is not worried about what our plays are or how he runs our plays as much as he is what he can do to help teach those plays to other players and how committee get the guys around him to perform.

So he is in a different place, which makes what's going on our team different. If you don't know who your quarterback is, it's a lot different dynamic. For the entire roster, even the defensive guys. The leadership that comes from his position is paramount.

Q. So in looking at the fact that this is the last time we're going to see divisions in the ACC, how you're handling that and looking at that 3-5-5 model and if you have been a proponent for wanting those top two teams in the conference to really be the ones that get to vie for that championship.

DAVE DOEREN: Well, I'm excited about it, Dan. I was one of probably many coaches on our side of the division. As a player, and I'll use Isaiah as an example. He is a Virginia native. We're going to play the schools from Virginia twice every 12 years, so he will get to play them one time maybe in his career. For us we play Duke one every six years.

I just don't like that cycle of playing other teams in your league. Particularly teams that are close that you recruit against where players are going to be on your team and would like to go play back against those other teams.

On top of that I think the best two teams should play each other for the championship game. I think that that's how it ought to end up. It ought to be settled on the grass, even if it's a rematch. It ought to be settled on the grass. I like the dynamics of that.

I'm excited about it, and excited to get to play the other teams more often. You just think that's good for the television. It's good for the fans, and it's really good for the players.

Q. Coach, we've asked the players this, but in the offseason when all the guys started the run it back hashtag and so many key pieces started to return, what were your thoughts and what did it say about the culture and the guys that are building that so many guys wanted to come back from last year and try to do something special?

DAVE DOEREN: I think it speaks volumes that they want to be a part of it. Several of them could have left that were healthy. Cory Durden, guys like that, and some of them needed to come back because of injury. It doesn't happen if you don't have that kind of setup. Not just in the locker room, but with player to coach, coach to player.

I'm very proud of that. I think we're the only staff in the ACC that had all ten assistants return. We had at one time the fewest number of players in the country in the portal leaving our roster. We had a lot of players return, as you mentioned.

I think all of those things are indicators that it's a great place not just to play, but to work. I'm very proud of that. It's not always been that way. It's taken time not just on my behalf, on the players' behalf, the coaches' behalf, the chemistry, getting it right. It's fun to be a part of that transformation, and very proud of it.

Q. NC State Athletics has been interesting lately: The baseball team in 2021 got removed from the College World Series. The 2022 team was the last team in. The women's basketball team had their struggles with some things. Last year the football team day before the bowl game got the rug pulled out from playing a bowl out west. Is there more of a chip on the shoulder of this roster just more of an attitude of ready to take control just than other seasons that you've had before, and maybe that plays into some of the players coming back, but is this roster particularly looking forward to getting revenge on maybe not playing a bowl last year?

DAVE DOEREN: Yeah. Well, you're a doom and gloom guy, huh? (Laughter) I mean, damn. That was day of the bowl game, by the way. Not day before. I wish it was day before. We might have found a team to play us.

Yeah, we've had some tough things happen, and I think adversity creates opportunities. Nobody likes feeling like you got the raw deal, which several of our teams have probably felt that way.

It's going to come full circle, and we're going to be smiling at the end of it, and I believe that whole-heartedly. It's about how you act and how you respond and who you are with. I'm with three incredible people today that I get to go to work with a great staff and a great locker room, and that's going to come full circle. It will. I believe that. This is going to be a great time for that to happen.

I know our fan base feels the same way that you talked, that there's been some bad things for whatever reason. I would love to set the record straight that we want to get that right and see the right things happen. I believe when you do the right things over and over and over, eventually it comes back to you. That's what we're going to try to do.

Q. What gets this team over the hump to win an ACC Championship?

DAVE DOEREN: It's another play. I think any time -- we lost two games last year that kept us out of that game to win it. It's one more play that you have to make. That's it.

Whether it's a defensive play, an offensive play, or a special teams play, we lost two one-possession games and had we won either one of those, Wake Forest game we recover an on-side kick right on the 10-yard mark, and replay says we didn't get it. We make that play, then we probably go score and win that game.

Miami game, there were several plays that prevented us from winning. If any of those plays change, we win that game.

It's really no different than how we beat Clemson. Devin threw a pass to Devin Carter in the corner of the end zone, and we made a play. That's how we won that game.

UNC game, Emeka makes a play from Devin. Chris makes an on-side kick recovery, Chris Dunn. Emeka makes another play. That's how you win football games.

There's a lot of mistakes that happen on both sides. At the end it's going to come down to one player making sometimes a routine play that changes the outcome of the game. For us it's just doing that repetitively. You have to do it in every game you play in the conference.

Q. What do you think about the depth of talent at the quarterback position in this division? Can you also speak to your own quarterback and what your expectations are with Devin?

DAVE DOEREN: I have never seen it. As a head coach in this league where all the seven coaches in the Atlantic had all their starting quarterbacks returning. I think you're going to see a slugfest. We know. You ask our players, when you play ACC football every week, you've got to show up. It's a very well-coached league. It's a tough league. The kids play hard.

Every time you go out there, you have got to earn a victory. And if you are playing a team whose quarterback is not savvy and doesn't have experience and yours is, you have a great advantage. We don't have that in any game as far as playing against a nonstarter.

As far as our guy goes, I think his stats speak for themselves as a player. The things he did, taking care of the football, the clutch drives, the two-minute drives, the red zone performances. On top of that, as you get to know Devin, the human being that he is, the teammate that he is, the coachable player that he is, the family person that he is, that's what makes it fun to coach him.

God blessed him with arm ability, but the family that raised him gave him the opportunity to be the young man that he is. So I'm privileged to coach people like that. It's not always like that. You don't always get people that you get to coach that are humble. With him it's been a great journey, and just look forward to extending it.

Q. Last year you held opponents on third down to a very low success rate. Going into the season, how excited are you knowing that you have some really solid defensive starters coming back? How can you then utilize this to improve what was already a really good opponent third-down percentage?

DAVE DOEREN: Yeah, I think Coach Gibson and the defensive staff present different things that are unique, and our scheme of the 3-3-5 allows us to do a lot of things, to hide things, to bring pressure from different places. It's simple. It doesn't seem simple to the teams we're playing, but to the kids, they can play really fast in that scheme.

How do we get better? To me it's about creating more fumbles on defense. If we can continue to do what we've been doing, stopping people on third down, intercepting the football, the takeaways. When you get more sacks, you usually get more fumbles, and I think just creating more short fields for our offense and that's the one area, if you look at us statistically, would be getting the ball back through the fumble category more, and that to me happens when you sack the quarterback more. I think that's where the ball gets fumbled most probably.

We're going to work hard in this training camp coming up and every single facet of what we do. I know if you asked Isaiah and all the guys, it's always about getting better. It's always about raising the bar on our program.

Q. You've got all-conference defenders up and down every level, especially in the second level. Got two all-conference linebackers right here. Is this the best defense you've had in your time in Raleigh?

DAVE DOEREN: It could be. Last year's was statistically, and now these guys and all of us have a goal of being better. Like I just said, it's always about raising the bar. So last year's defense statistically did a lot of things that we haven't done, and so now it's about improving upon those statistics.

Last year's stats don't win this year's games, so we need to go do it and go out there and I think these guys understand that it's not easy. I mean, every time you go out there, you're going to have to prove it. You have a circle on you on the calendar now. You know you're in a little different position. With the notoriety and the stats comes people's best efforts, right? That's what we're up against right now.

Q. You lost Payton Wilson early with an injury. Still had one of the two best defenses in the league. How is Payton? What impact do you expect him to have? With so many players returning, I think you have 10 out of 11, how high is the ceiling for this team defensively?

DAVE DOEREN: It's interesting because last year there was one towards the end that might have been the bowl game, but we had eight starters out going into the bowl. We played UNC with seven starters out on defense. That says a lot about the guys that stepped in. What Levi did playing for us last year, the way Josh Pierre-Louis stepped up at nickel. Devan Boykin comes in at safety. Each week a new guy came in and just elevated play. C.J. Clark goes down, and we move Cory Durden to nose, and he is all conference. A lot of cool things happened that way.

What that did is create depth for this year because now the guys are back, like Payton, that you mentioned, along with the guys that played all season, like Drake. It built that depth in your roster. Now we can rotate, or if you have a guy out, you feel better about what's coming in the game.

Payton is 100%. He feels great. He is excited. I'm happy for him. I thought last year would be the last time I coached him, and so I think he'll tell you that it wasn't fun going into what he did, but he is in as good of a place as he has been mentally right now, so I'm excited for what he can bring to the field for us this year.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You can switch spots with Devin.

Q. You heard me ask Coach just about having experience at your position. What changes for you? How much more do you understand about what you guys are doing and maybe what opponents are doing at this point in your career?

DEVIN LEARY: Yeah, I think just first it starts with advancing our offensive system. Now this being my third year in the system, you know, I've got to take that next step of getting us out of bad plays to bad looks. I think that all starts with focusing more on defensive ID and bringing along younger guys too. I have a really good grasp of the system, and guys that we need to step up, kind of teaching them and making sure they understand what they need to do, and just in general having the whole offense understand from my perspective. Just being in the system for a good amount of time and just keep collaborating with Coach Beck.

Q. Your left tackle moved on obviously to the NFL. Just what you can say about what he brought to the line and who you see stepping up there to fill in those shoes as you get set for the season.

DEVIN LEARY: Ickey is a tremendous talent. There's a reason why he went sixth overall. He is an awesome player, but an even better person. I think that really translated our offensive line because those dudes do everything together.

They work out together, train together, eat together, hang out together off the field. I think we have a bunch of dudes that are trying to compete to get that starting spot that Ickey was in, but I know with the other four offensive linemen that we have coming back that they hold that room to a high standard. Whoever it is filling in into that role, they understand that the other four offensive linemen will be counting on them, just as they did on Ickey.

Q. Coach just talked about raising the bar. A lot of eyes on the program this year. If you guys live up to the expectation and take care of business, what would that do long-term for the brand and the recognition of the NC State football program?

DEVIN LEARY: I think it would do a lot for the NC State program. Each and every year we do have high expectations, and you know, a little bit of what we put on film last year, we're kind of earning that respect a little bit.

For us we know at the end of the day nothing is accomplished until what we do on Saturdays. That's all that's going to matter is how we perform on Saturday. If we prepare each and every week like the way we're supposed to and perform the way we're supposed to and capable of doing, I think this could raise the standards to this program tremendously.

Q. Devin, you had an interception just once every 86 throws. No other quarterback can come close to that. In addition, Coach talked about you have the ability of to throw in tight windows. Coach talked about the Clemson game. We could mention the win at Pitt when you threw a back shoulder throw with two seconds left. Perfect strike between the defenders.

My question is how much of that accuracy is judgment as to exactly what nanosecond to let the ball go? How much of it is on your receivers? How much of it is just pure accuracy at your part?

DEVIN LEARY: I've always prided myself on accuracy. Playing the quarterback position, getting with your receivers and tight ends. It's all about timing and spacing. I think that really all starts in the offseason.

Making sure that I understand the way that each and every one of my receivers runs their route and how I want them to run it and on top of that, just really being prepared for what defensive look that I'm getting to certain coverages, whether certain routes are going to convert versus certain coverages or not. Just being able to be on the same page as everyone, but also making sure that I'm able to layer that ball into a second window or if I have to zip it in, I'm able to do that and kind of just being able to get every aspect of every throw is something that I work on a ton.

THE MODERATOR: I'm curious for the room to learn this, you are predominantly left-handed, but you learned to throw with your right?

DEVIN LEARY: Yes, sir.

THE MODERATOR: How is it in your childhood that you learned to throw with your right?

DEVIN LEARY: Growing up just from an early age I did everything left-handed. I still write left-handed to this day. My dad is actually a completely left-handed person as well. He was a pitcher in college.

Growing up he thought I was going to be a left-handed pitcher, and I think I was five years old. I was throwing left-handed my whole life until then. One day I picked up my older brother's glove and tried out righty, and turned out I could throw a little bit better with my right arm. I just stuck with it.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for taking us through that. You can switch places with Isaiah. Five minutes with our linebacker, graduate student, Isaiah Moore.

Q. Isaiah, I wanted to ask you the same question I asked Devin: If you guys have a successful year and accomplished all your goals, what would that do for the brand, the image of NC State football moving forward nationally?

ISAIAH MOORE: I think when we all came to NC State, we wanted to put NC State in a place it's never been before. While it's still in progress, it hasn't been done yet. For the brand of NC State, it would do wonders for it. We're always trying to get better as a group, and it doesn't stop with our brand as well.

Q. I know when it comes to NIL, you have gotten involved with your clothing line and what not. Just what can you say about what your experience has been like with name, image, and likeness, and what it meant that Drake rocked one of your shirts to show support for you.

ISAIAH MOORE: I think NIL is a very -- it's something that's continuing to grow across our country and then in this sport. I think it provides student-athletes with a great platform to not only build just monetary value right now, but have some longevity as well with an increasing platform of social media and things of that nature.

As far as Drake rocking my shirt, it meant the world to me considering what happened to me the week before. The way he played in my absence that following game, it meant the world to me.

Q. You missed part of the season because of an injury. How did losing football for a little while kind of reignite that passion?

ISAIAH MOORE: It definitely humbled me tremendously. I put a lot into last season, and I put a lot of hopes and dreams into last season, and to have it taken away from me was tragic and humbling and emotional, really just to be Frank.

It definitely reignited a passion about how much I love the game and how much I really, really want this to be my life career. It's just continuing to spark, and I plan to use that as my fuel this season.

Q. You were just harking on your injury. Are there certain things that you took notice to off the field that you learned about on the field, certain things that you can't sort of grasp on the field?

ISAIAH MOORE: I think any time you go from being on the field a lot to being on the sideline, I think you look at the game differently. You look at different things differently. I think one of the things I did tremendously was I took a lock back at our entire scheme and how we attacked people and how people attack us, and I tried to just gain a better understanding of that and tried to pass that on to my teammates throughout the year, and I want to continue to pass that on to my teammates as we come into this next year.

Q. Last year 342 total snaps, only two missed tackles. What can you attribute to being such a great tackler?

ISAIAH MOORE: I just try to be as consistent as possible. We always preach about coming in and being the same guy every day, and I just try to be the best me that I can be every day.

As far as not missing tackles, I just try to my best to remain focused at the point of attack and not shoot until I can smell his breath is what we can say as far as our tackling technique. Just try to be strong at the point of attack and bring them down.

It doesn't have to be pretty all the time, but as long as he is on the ground, that's all we need.

Q. I want to get back to the topic of NIL. The players have been adamant about wanting to see it open up. Some of the administrators in schools have said they want to kind of see some regulations on it. I know you can't speak for all players, but I was wondering what you thought about that and what you think when you see some other players and some other conferences making a ton of money versus others that really don't do so well?

ISAIAH MOORE: They say comparison is the thief of joy. What we get as far as NIL at NC State and the platform that we have individually as student-athletes, that's kind of just who we are.

We can't sit around and compare that other schools or what other players are doing. We're taking away from it all the things that we've accomplished and all the things that we have put forth to make our platform the way they are. NIL provides us with a great opportunity to continue to grow that platform. It's up to us to really take action and do stuff.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You can switch places with Drake. We'll spend our last five minutes with Drake Thomas, linebacker, junior out of Raleigh.

Q. I'm curious, when Isaiah went out last year, what kind of an influence, impact did he have on you? Was he able to help you, give you any advice, both on the field for the position and some of the leadership stuff as well?

DRAKE THOMAS: Yeah, he definitely prepared me for the moment. Just putting on display what a good leader and a good -- like someone in that position, how they're supposed to go about their everyday business definitely prepared me to step up into that role, and I can't thank him enough for everything that he helped me with through that process.

Q. The versatility that you have now going into this season, having to fill in for Isaiah and then having that experience in the middle as well as on the outside. Just what you can say how it's improved your game and what you bring to the table now in that linebacker unit?

DRAKE THOMAS: I've played on the field from all three linebacker positions now: Mike, Will, and Sam. Going into Louisville week when I had to fill in for Mike, I hadn't played Mike in two years, maybe since my freshman year of spring, something like that. It was a little bit new.

Every single thing that I've had to do, whether it was switch positions and adjust or whatever, it's made me that much better of a player and a person. Just having to adapt and continue to push forward and do whatever I can do to get the defense going and play the best of our ability.

Q. So when you have guys like Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson and yourself in the linebacking core, does it embolden you to be more competitive or to push to another level in moments when they aren't there? Like you said, you showed up Louisville and made excellent plays to keep a quarterback like Malik Cunningham under wraps. How does playing with guys like that impact your play?

DRAKE THOMAS: There's a competition between us three every time we step into the building every single day. Whether it's workouts, practice, or game. It's a race to the ball. We're trying to make plays. We push each other to get better.

We want the best for each other every single day in everything that we do, but it's also a competition. That makes me so much better of a person and a player.

Q. My question is this: You've had a chance to look over the offseason and kind of see spring went by, and you had a chance to see all your fellow teammates. Is there anybody in particular you say to yourself, man, I can't wait to see that person in game one? Maybe somebody we don't get a chance to see all the time or maybe we don't get a chance to hear about them all the time. Is there somebody you're excited to see in game one?

DRAKE THOMAS: Yeah. I think there's a number of guys that kind of stepped up in the spring because there are still some guys hurt, still some guys injured that didn't participate through the spring.

I think there's a number of guys. An example is Davin Vann, Anthony Smith. Just some young guys that have got some playing time, but haven't necessarily have been asked to have as large of a role as they're going to have.

Josh Pierre-Lewis is another one I'm excited to see. There's a number of guys that I'm really looking forward to see, and I know they've put the work in, and they're going to make a huge impact for us on Saturdays this year.

THE MODERATOR: Just 21 miles from your high school to Carter-Finley Stadium. What's it been like to play so close from home to the high school field?

DRAKE THOMAS: It's been a blessing really. My family can make it to every single game. My parents, my little brother, they can come and watch practices. They can come help me move my apartment. It's been a really -- it's really been a blessing.

Not just my parents, though. Growing up in the area just having people who have supported me along my whole journey, being able to still be a part of my journey and still support me and still be in the area, be able to come watch my games. I'm very thankful for that, and it's definitely not taken lightly or for granted.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. NC State, good luck this year. You are excused. Good luck the rest of the day as well.

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