When Toney Baker declared for the NFL Draft it left a gaping hole at tailback but opened the door for players like James Washington to showcase their ability.
"It's a big opportunity," said Washington. "The seniors left and it opened up the door for me and Curtis [Underwood Jr.] to step up and be able to carry the team with the ground game. We're not just ready to run the ball though. We're going to block and go out for passes too."
Washington enrolled in January of 2009 fresh off a stellar career at Orlando (FL) Boone High School. He rushed for 1,597 yards on 175 carries during his senior campaign, an average of over nine yards per carry. He also scored 17 touchdowns en route to leading his squad to the 6-A state semifinals.
Listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds, there was an assumption among many that Washington would be redshirting his first year in the program. With the return of Baker to go along with Jamelle Eugene, Curtis Underwood and redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes, it looked like the Pack already had a full stable of backs.
But Washington forced his way into the rotation and played in six games as a true freshman before a knee injury ended his season.
"I'm thankful I was able to come out and get a few games under my belt," said Washington. "It allowed me to get in the flow and feel the game out on the college level.
"I believe that because I got to play I understand the offense more and see how teams play. That year of experienced helped me out a lot... I'm going to use it when I'm on the field."
A year later, Washington has added weight to his frame and is all the way back from last year's knee injury.
"I'm a little over 190 right now," he stated. "That's about where I want to be at. I feel like I'm stronger and more explosive on the field. The added weight should do wonders for me as the year goes on.
"I feel like I've done some good things so far this fall," he added. "I see some things I need to work on, and I'm trying to get it all ironed out by the first game against Western Carolina."
Washington admits that the practices have been beneficial for both the offense and defense as he has noticed improvement on the other side of the ball.
"We've seen a lot more blitzes and coverages," he stated. "They are pulling out everything to slow us down which in the end is going to make us both better because we're one of the high-powered offensive teams in the ACC."
The opener is just over a week away and Washington has been competing for the starting job with Underwood and two talented true freshmen. Washington has been impressed with what he has seen so far from Mustafa Greene and Tony Creecy.
"Both of them are very talented," he said. "Mustafa is the smaller one, but he's a very good player. He's going to be very good in the future.
"Tony Creecy, he's a big back. He came in around 230 pounds so you know he can definitely move the pile. I think he's going to be real good too."
NC State returns arguably the top quarterback in the ACC as well as All-ACC tight end George Bryan and every wideout who contributed in 2009 when the Wolfpack averaged 30 points a game. The offense expects to be strong and Washington thinks they can be even better.
"I think the offense is a lot better than last year," said Washington. "I think we should be able to come out every game and easily put up over 30 points. I feel like our defense is stepping up too and they will be able to slow down... shutdown other teams. That's going to be key for us this year."