The last few years NC State has had several big names known across college football with guys like Bradley Chubb, Ryan Finley, Nyheim Hines, Kelvin Harmon etc. Now that all those older players have taken their talents to the No Fun League, there is a youth movement of sorts taking place. Currently listed on the official roster are 56 freshman and redshirt freshman. Now there are still plenty of names and faces that have been big-time contributors at NC State, but with roster turnover comes a lot of unknowns. There will be new faces stepping in to bigger roles, so here’s a few guys you may not know too well, but could become big factors.
#2 Louis Acceus – Junior, LB
Acceus is probably the most recognizable name out of this group as this will be his third season in Raleigh, but for the first time he has the opportunity to play a significant role on defense. He has appeared in every game in his two years, with the majority coming on special teams where he was the second leading tackler last season. He got one start at linebacker against Marshall in replace of an injured Isaiah Moore and played very well, recording nine tackles.
He’ll get the first crack at the starting linebacker spot next to Moore tomorrow and will look to solidify his place there. The two could compliment each other nicely. Moore thrives stopping the run, while Acceus is much more effective in pass coverage. At 5’11” 223lbs, he’s a little undersized but is probably the most athletic linebacker on the roster. If State implements more of a 3-3-5 defense at times, which there are rumblings of with former West Virginia DC Tony Gibson on staff, then there’s an even better chance you’ll see a lot of Acceus this year.
#79 Ikem Ekwonu – Freshman, OT
The biggest question/concern this year, even more so than quarterback play, is the offensive line depth. The starting five should be solid again led by Justin Witt, Josh Fedd-Jackson and Joe Sculthorpe. But after that there is next to nothing in terms of experience, and some attrition in fall camp only made matters worse. Ekwonu came in with a college-ready body at 6’4” 308lbs and clearly impressed the coaching staff, earning a spot on the first two-deep depth chart as a Fall enrollee.
He’s listed as the backup to RS Sr Emmanuel McGirt, who is FINALLY getting his shot after battling injuries for the past 4-5 years. Best case scenario is everyone stays healthy and you don’t have to see much if any of “Big Icky”. But with McGirt’s injury history and offensive lineman being susceptible to injuries in general, the likelihood of that is not great. Ekwonu may end up being a swing lineman in the second unit, playing at either tackle spot. He also has experience playing playing on the interior as he played mainly guard in high school. Dave Doeren has spoken very highly of this freshman O-line group, calling it one of the best he’s been around, and Ekwonu could end up being the gem.
#85 Keyon Lesane – Freshman, WR
In one of NC State’s most heralded recruiting classes in 2019, Keyon Lesane found himself towards the bottom in terms of ranking. However, the Matthews, NC native has apparently turned heads in practice and joins Thayer Thomas and Tabari Hines on the depth chart to make slot receiver one of the deepest positions on the roster. The 6-foot Lesane is explosive with the ball in his hands and brings a level of speed that the offense severely lacked last season.
When Doeren has been asked about freshman that have been standing out, Lesane seems to be a guy that is mentioned repeatedly. He’s the type of playmaker that is always a threat with the ball in his hands. His usage at slot receiver should be minimal if both Thayer and Hines stay healthy, but the coaching staff is making it a point to get him touches by naming him the starting kick returner. Nyheim Hines was a huge threat on kickoffs for three seasons, but State was unable to replicate that last year. Lesane brings that home run threat back in the return game, in what could be an early season audition to see whether or not to burn his redshirt. Keep an eye on him tomorrow. Hopefully he takes one 100 yards to the house and makes me look smart; would be a first.
#99 Joseph Boletepeli – RS Freshman, DE
Pause for a second and try to say Boletepeli five times fast. Now try to spell it without looking at the roster like I did. Can’t guarantee I got it perfect. But thankfully he has become more commonly known by the nickname “Bolt”. Before enrolling at State, Bolt was a standout at local Millbrook and then Heritage. He’s an exciting prospect who saw some action last year (3 games, 32 total snaps) but not enough to burn the redshirt. In the offseason he really worked on his body and has put on nearly 20 pounds, now weighing a sturdy 262.
Bolt won the starting DE job opposite James Smith-Williams over sixth year senior Deonte Holden, who you’ll probably see more as a pass rush specialist off the edge. Upon winning the job he said “I don’t just want to be a starter. This is just the first stepping stone”. If he means first stepping stone to becoming the next Bradley Chubb, that’d be cool. But actually, this feels similar to the JSW career path: star from Raleigh (even same high school at one point), comes in undersized as a freshman, gets bigger and stronger, becomes a starter and big contributor on the line. Could be a solid season for the redshirt freshman.