Georgia on Their Minds
June 25, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. - To many NC State football players, Atlanta's Georgia Dome feels like home.
That could be beneficial for the Wolfpack when they open the 2012 football season there against Tennessee August 31.
Wentz, from Marietta, played a Pop Warner game there and went with his family multiple times to watch the NFL Atlanta Falcons.
Allen, who grew up in Tifton, competed in a state high school playoff game at the big stadium and calls the atmosphere memorable. And Smith, a Dublin product, played there three times during his prep career.
In other words, they know the neighborhood.
"I love playing in the Dome,'' Smith said. "It's really special...one of the best facilities in all of football."
While Smith, Wentz and Allen are hyped about performing before home folks, helping them get enough tickets could be more challenging than beating the Vols.
Wentz estimates as many as 50 of his family members and friends might show up. Allen figures he'll have a personal fan base of "30 to 40" and Smith expects about 30 relatives and supporters, not to mention the overall Wolfpack Nation.
Although the kickoff is more than two months away, this trio --like in one of Willie Nelson's hits -- has "Georgia... Georgia" on their minds.
"I think about it every day,'' Smith said. "I'm ready for the first game."
Every Pack player needs to be ready. Unlike in some previous seasons, this opener isn't a tune-up against an inferior opponent. It's an ESPNU nationally-televised game versus an SEC foe with tradition and a fanatical football fan base.
That level of competition heightens the sense of urgency among State players, even now during summer workouts. "You don't have time to feel it out (for a few games),'' Wentz warned.
Coming off a late-season surge that led to a final 8-5 record and bowl victory last year, the Pack wants, needs, a fast start and another strong finish.
A talented two-year starter at center, the gargantuan Wentz (6-3, 301) can envision State's offense rolling on the ground and in the air this fall.
"We've got four returning offensive linemen and six or seven who have started,'' said Wentz, a senior. "If we can keep Mike (quarterback Mike Glennon) upright, he can do special things this year. All the running backs are good. Our goal is to have a 1,000-yard rusher."
Allen added: "We've got a lot of veterans and athletic guys, and a lot of chemistry. And we are not afraid to work hard."
Neither Allen (6-3-328) or Wentz seem afraid of anything. While they flash that Georgian, gentle giant look, they exude a knock-down mentality when in pads and helmet.
Expected to start for the third straight year at right guard, Allen has allowed just 6 sacks in 2,092 career snaps. Yet while pass blocking is a strong trait, he relishes run blocking more.
"In run blocking I have a chance to completely control my opponent. The mentality is to completely dominate an opponent," said the aggressive Allen, who chose State largely because of the "family" atmosphere fostered by coach Tom O'Brien.
Though growing up in Georgia and Georgia Tech country, neither Allen, Smith or Wentz were Bulldog or Yellow Jacket fans. All three followed Florida, but are happy they became part of O'Brien Wolfpack program.
Wentz, who also swam and played lacrosse in high school, is wolfish like Allen in the middle of the line.
On of the ACC's top centers, he protects his quarterback better than a Secret Service Agent could, having yielded just one sack in each of the last two seasons.
"I've always worked hard, but never expected to be a three-year starter,'' Wentz said.
The athletic Smith is a player in transition, moving from cornerback to wide receiver. Having played quarterback in high school and point guard in basketball, he's looking forward to creating some offensive fireworks again.
"Coming from the defensive side helps me in running routes,'' he said. "I know how the defense reacts. My role is to provide big plays."
Smith had several offers to play college basketball as well as football. Had he gone the hoops route, which school would he have chosen?
"Tennessee,'' he said.
Now Smith will try to beat the Vols in August, launch the season on a positive note --and help create a happy Pack "homecoming" in the Dome.
By A.J. CARR, GoPack.com