Redshirt sophomore cornerback Jeremy Gray could get his first start this weekend against the Akron Zips, and he is eager for the opportunity.
"I'm approaching it like any other game," said Gray. "I know I'm going to have to step up and play more snaps than I might have been getting. I'm accepting the challenge, and I'm going to go with the flow."
Starting cornerback A.J. Davis is listed as doubtful for Saturday's game, and Gray and sophomore Levin Neal will receive a great deal of reps against the pass-happy Zips. Gray is ready because he has been working with the starters throughout fall practice and is comfortable with the Wolfpack's defensive philosophy.
"I've been working with the one's all through camp so that's no different," he said. "I'm used to it, and I'm ready for it. I hope A.J. can play, but I think me, Levin, Phil [Holloman] and Jimmie [Sutton] can get the job done.
"Levin, he came in as a receiver and switched to corner, but he's doing real good. He's one of the strongest corners on the team... he benches like 380 pounds. He's fast, athletic, and he's really looking good at that spot."
What does Gray expect from Akron?
"I think there will be more passing this game," he said. "Appalachian, they were just running the ball, they didn't really give us any threats, as far as passing. I think there will be some threats this game because Akron's quarterback looks real good."
Gray played 39 snaps against Appalachian State, recording a tackle and a crucial pass breakup late in the contest. With the Mountaineers trailing and looking for a big play, Gray's man beat him inside but the 6-foot-2 cornerback used his size and quickness to deflect what could have been a crucial touchdown pass.
"I had inside-leverage, but he got inside, so I was running and saw the ball get thrown," said Gray. "I was on the outside and knew I had to break it up or he would be free, so I jumped the route and knocked down the pass.
"I talked with coach Williams about the play when I came off the field. He said that I made a good play, but if I had my technique right I wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. If I had my technique down on that play, I could have had a pick, but I think I learned from that."
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Gray is one of the tallest cornerbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and his size will be a major advantage for NC State as teams across the league feature tall, physical wide receivers.
"My size helps me," said Gray. "That's like with that pass against Appalachian. If I was shorter, I might not have been able to knock down that pass.
"With my jam, it's hard for a receiver to get off me, and when the ball is in the air, I feel like I can get it. Also, when the ball is in spots that short corners can't get to, I think I can get there."
A standout at Opelika (AL) High, Gray came to NC State three years ago looking to make an impact. He was attracted to the Wolfpack's physical defensive philosophy, and he was already accustomed to playing bump-and-run coverage.
"That's all I've ever played," he said. "In high school, all we played was bump-and-run, so when I got here I knew that's what I would be doing. I just try to use my size and be physical with the receivers."