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North Carolina State is dealing with heightened awareness and expectations following a wonderful start to its football season.
Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, there are new injuries and an unexpected passing to cope with.
As N.C. State heads into its Atlantic Coast Conference cross-divisional matchup versus Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Wolfpack, while focusing on the task of winning their first Atlantic Division title, also has those special to them on their minds.
Riley Nicholson has decided to quit playing football for health reasons. The junior linebacker has suffered multiple concussions over the past few years and will call time on his playing career. Nicholson will now transition into coaching while taking a medical hardship.
“Riley Nicholson has been out since the first kickoff of the first game,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said. “He’s decided to hang it up and medical it out. This was his second concussion since he’s been here and he’s had some in high school so he’ll finish his academic career here with us.
“Riley is doing great. He’s going to be a student coach and help us out on the field everyday and finish his degree here.”
As a freshman, Nicholson posted a game-high nine tackles in N.C. State’s win over Syracuse.
“After much thought and consideration I have decided to retire from football,” Nicholson said in a statement released on his Twitter account. “I’ve suffered two concussions in the last year alone and have decided to walk away from the game I love to preserve my future health.”
The Wolfpack took another hit at the linebacker position as redshirt-freshman Brock Miller will have season-ending shoulder surgery.
“He has been playing with a banged up shoulder for a couple of weeks and it’s just not getting better,” Doeren said. “We’re going to get it fixed.”
Over the weekend Johnny Roseboro, the father of junior defensive lineman Darian Roseboro, tragically passed away. There was a small service back in Roseboro’s hometown of Lincolnton on Monday.
Darian Roseboro is expected to play Saturday and N.C. State will be honoring his father for the remainder of the season.
“I’m looking forward to having Darian back with the team,” Doeren said. “We are going to have Johnny’s initials on the back of our helmet, which you guys will see a ‘JR,’ on the back of our helmet this week to represent that.”
N.C. State is a top-20 football team.
The Wolfpack placed at No. 20 in both Associated Press and Amway Coaches Poll released this week.
It is the first time since 2003 that N.C. State has earned a spot in the top 20. The Pack has picked up steam lately, with victories against ranked opposition in two of its last three games and five straight wins overall.
“That’s been our goal along and so it’s great to see the progress,” Doeren said. “We’re not focused on where they have us right now. We want to continue to stay and climb and the focus here is what are we going to do in week seven. That’s all we’re talking about.”
N.C. State has struggled over the year with complacency at key moments.
Doeren seeks to avert that and start a new legacy with the Wolfpack. The fifth-year coach wants his team to be known for its focus.
“We can’t ever think that we’ve made it because we haven’t,” Doeren said. “We’re at the halfway point right now and we want to continue this ride. The only way to do that is to improve.”
Doeren, who is signed through the 2019 season, is involved in negotiations for a contract extension. N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow released a statement Tuesday, saying: “We’re glad to be in negotiations. We want Dave here a long time and appreciate the progress that has been made.”
With that, all he is interested in now is Pittsburgh.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great place but that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied at all,” Doeren said. “It just means that we’re in a place that we want to be and got a great focus on where we want to go.
“I’ve coached against (Pittsburgh offensive coordinator) Shaun Watson before. He was the offensive coordinator at Nebraska when I was at Kansas. He was a pro-style coach then and he ran a lot of spread stuff with Louisville and in Texas.
“It’s an opportunity to play in the NFL stadium, a great one at that, and a tremendous city up at Pittsburgh and Heinz Field. It’s a place that obviously believes in blue-collar and toughness.”