RALEIGH — Cyrus Fagan swung his arms across his chest and let out a thunderous scream as he ran onto the NC state football practice field Tuesday morning.
It was a triumphant moment for the defenseman, who after moving from Florida State ahead of the 2021 season last fall tore his biceps in the Wolfpack’s first road game and was forced to fill a motivator role for the rest of the year.
“I thank God for the situation He put me through,” Fagan said. “It made me a bigger, better man. I put in a lot of hard work to get back on this field. I love football and it means a lot to be back.”
Cyrus’ joy shone over the first day of fall camp as NC State’s defense returned to full strength for the first time since injuries decimated the starting lineup last year.
Despite losing Fagan, linebackers Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore, and defensive tackle CJ Clark, NC State’s defense finished second in the ACC and 14th nationally with 19.7 points per game behind linebacker Drake Thomas (99 tackles, three INTs) and DT Cory Durden. NC State finished 9-3 and one game short of its first appearance in the ACC championship game.
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The defense is expected to take another step forward: Best in ACC? Maybe the nation? Fagan seems to think it’s within the realm of possibility.
“We hold ourselves to a high standard so I think we could be the best defense in the nation,” he told media after Tuesday’s training session. “We’ve got all 11 back and all of these guys are dogs.”
With that returned experience, the defense could focus less on filling the positions and instead focus on fine-tuning the smaller details.
Tanner Ingle, the senior safety selected to the All-ACC preseason first team, spent his offseason watching a movie for up to two hours a day and took “classroom steps” to make sure his preparation matched his intensity on match day.
“I went back and looked at NFL guys like Jessie Bates, Quandre Diggs and Jevon Holland and then looked at teams like ECU coming in this year,” Ingle said. “I’ve even spent time with people like Isaiah (Moore) to learn more about what he sees as a linebacker and to get a better understanding of the other positions around me.”
He agrees with Fagan when it comes to where NC State’s defense should rank this season.
“Best in the nation,” said Ingle. “We have all the tools and the talent. We have the fire and the passion that other teams don’t have.”
Wilson, who lost most of his 2021 season to a shoulder injury, said individual players are expected to conduct their own film study in addition to what the team is watching together.
“In the past, we might not have known what to do with every game,” Wilson said. “That’s what we’ve set out to do this year – to know what we’re doing on every single play, on every single snap.”
Every snap will count as the Wolfpack look to end a 42-year drought in the ACC Championship.
“Last year’s stats aren’t going to win this year’s games,” said coach Dave Doeren, entering his 10th season with the Wolfpack. “But if we can keep all these guys on track, we can be very good on defense this year.”
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network, covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at [email protected], at 828-231-1747 or on Twitter at @daveth89.