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Super Bowl’s Wolfpack Connection

Only two Wolfpack players have their names in the Super Bowl record book. Kicker Mike Cofer set the record for the most points after touchdown (7) in San Francisco’s 55-10 blowout of the John Elway-led Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV and defensive back Dennis Owens had two sacks for New England in Super Bowl XX. They could get some company this weekend as a record four players and one coach with NC State ties are participating in America’s biggest sporting event.

Three of the players – quarterback Russell Wilson, offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy and placekicker Steven Hauschka – are on the roster of the NFC-champion Seattle Seahawks, who are also coached by former Wolfpack assistant Pete Carroll. Former Wolfpack linebacker Nate Irving will be on the other side of the field, as a starter for the AFC-champion Denver Broncos.

It will be the seventh time in Super Bowl history that the Wolfpack has had players and coaches on both sidelines.

They all have a chance to join the relatively small list of former Wolfpack players and coaches who have won Super Bowl rings. Cofer and New York Giants cornerbacks Perry Williams are the only ex-Pack player to win twice. Former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Torry Holt made two appearances, winning it as a rookie in 1999 and losing two years later.

In all, 11 former NC State players have been part of Super Bowl champions: 10 of those were players, but former Wolfpack linebacker Bill Cowher also led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the title in his second trip to the big game as a head coach. Various other former players, including the New York Giants’ David Merritt, have been assistant coaches on Super Bowl champion teams.

All four players in Sunday’s game were recruited by former head coach Tom O’Brien, who had a teleconference late last week to discuss his former players.

“They’re all great success stories,” said O’Brien, now an assistant at Virginia. “They’ve worked so hard in getting to where they wanted to get to, and that’s what’s so exciting about coaching and being around kids like Nate and Steven and J.R. and Russ, the same way.

“All of the work they’ve put in off the field to get to be in this situation, that’s the exciting part for a coach.”

At Tuesday’s media day, all four players had the chance to share their thoughts about reaching the biggest game of their careers.

Nate Irving, linebacker, Denver Broncos

Irving grew up in Newark, N.J., about five minutes away from MetLife Stadium, the site of Sunday’s game. At the age of 13, as he began to wander into the mean streets of his hometown, Irving asked to move to North Carolina, where his father lived in the small eastern town of Wallace.

Nate Irving is one of four former NC State football players competing in the Super Bowl.

He came to NC State as a highly touted recruit and was on his way to stardom before he nearly died in an early morning, single-car crash on his way from Wallace to Raleigh. His multiple injuries forced him to miss NC State’s 2009 season, but he came back to win both first-team All-America honors and the ACC’s 2010 Brian Piccolo Award as the league’s most courageous player.

He was drafted by the Broncos and spent two years working his way onto the active roster. He’s started four games this season at linebacker, including the AFC Championship game two weeks ago against New England.

Irving’s return to New Jersey this week for the biggest game of his life is nothing short of triumphant.

Media day hype: “It’s a dream come true, since I was a little kid, to be able to play in the pros, and then to actually be on the biggest stage in my profession back home, it’s just amazing. That’s all I ever try to do is be a role model, someone kids can look up to, because I know how important that is. Not just for my siblings, but for all these kids in Newark who are trying to fulfill their dreams.”

Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

The big news from the second-year quarterback, the most visible NC State graduate at the game, is his new hair, which he describes as a cross between Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson. That’s about as controversial as Wilson, who was the Wolfpack’s starter under center for three years, ever gets.

Quarerback Russell Wilson tucks and runs against ECU. PHOTO BY ROGER WINSTEAD
Russell Wilson played football and baseball for the Wolfpack.

The former two-sport star – he played both baseball and football for the Pack and was drafted in both sports – has become a star in Seattle in the two years since the Seahawks drafted him in the third round, after Wilson guided Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl championship in his single season with the Badgers.

He was a star at Tuesday’s media day, engaging with the press and with fans.

But he’s really no different than the kid from Richmond, Va., who became the first freshman quarterback to ever earn first-team All-ACC honors.

Media day hype: “Just to be here is a dream come true. To be able to focus on this moment is really special.”

J.R. Sweezy, offensive lineman, Seattle Seahawks

Converted from defensive to offensive line in his rookie season of 2012, Sweezy has prospered at his new position in the NFL. The Mooresville, N.C., native is a third-generation Wolfpack football fan. His grandfather played football for the Wolfpack in the 1950s and both his parents attended the school.

He was resistant when Seattle head coach Pete Carroll asked him about making the switch from offense to defense, but not anymore. The move paved the way for him to reach the Super Bowl.

Media day hype: “[The transition to offensive line has] been tough. I took to it pretty well and I have had a lot of help along the way. I feel like an offensive linemen and I feel like I’m playing like an offensive lineman. My one regret, if I have one, is not being able to play defensive line in the league. I thought I could. The Seahawks drafted me and gave me an opportunity…I am going to make the best of it. I love offensive line. I wish I’d been playing it my whole life, but I just started it a year ago. I’m learning every day and I’m enjoying it. I love going to work. I have no complaints.”

Steven Hauschka, placekicker, Seattle Seahawks

Hauschka is a remarkable story of perseverance of a college soccer player whose only early dream was to become a dentist, like his mother and brother.

That dream was derailed in his freshman year at Middlebury College, when he was cut from the soccer team. A roommate convinced him to give football a try and he spent three years as a starting placekicker. When NC State needed a kicker in 2007, Hauschka was the perfect fit, taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed him to play one year at any Division I school after graduating from Middlebury, since he had one season of eligibility left. He spent his time in Raleigh playing football and applying for dental schools all over the country.

He was nearly perfect during his one season with the Wolfpack and caught the attention of NFL teams. However, he was cut from six different franchises before landing with the Seahawks. Now, he faces the prospect of having Sunday’s outcome resting squarely on his foot.

Media day hype: “I’ve been preparing since April for this opportunity. We had a goal-setting thing then and I said my dream was to have a game-winning kick in the Super Bowl. I’ve been thinking about it and visualizing it for a while now.”

Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks

Carroll spent three seasons (1980-82) at NC State as the defensive coordinator under head coach Monte Kiffin in the early days of his coaching career. Two years after he left Raleigh, he moved on to the NFL, where he coached for multiple teams before returning to the college ranks as the head coach at Southern California (2001-09).

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll listens to a question during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

When Seattle needed a starting quarterback prior to the 2012 season, Carroll immediately took to Wilson, a third-round pick, in part because of their shared experiences in Raleigh. Now, there is no bigger Wilson fan in the country.

Media day hype, about Russell Wilson: “We’ve never seen anything from Russell that wasn’t a consistent, direction, support, mindset, character, work habits; he’s never changed at all. Nothing’s ever changed. The way we deal with him has been very consistent because he’s been so rock-solid consistent. He’s ready for this opportunity. He’s been readying himself throughout his playing career in all sports. He’s got a great savvy about him and I think he’s going to continue to show that. I don’t expect anything to change on game day or in preparation. He’s shown us no reason to think anything but that.”

NC State Super Bowl Firsts

First participant: Charley Young, WR, Dallas Cowboys (1976)
First to catch a pass: Charley Young, WR, Dallas Cowboys (3 recs, 31 yards, 1976)
First participant on winning team: Dan Medlin, DL, Oakland Raiders (1977)
First starter: Lin Dawson, TE, New England Patriots (1986)
First sack: Dennis Owens, DB, New England Patriots (2 vs. Chicago Bears, 1986)
First to score a point: Mike Cofer, K, San Francisco 49ers (41-yard FG, 1989)
First touchdown: Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis Rams (9-yard pass from Kurt Warner, 1999)
First 100-yard receiving: Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis Rams (7 reps., 109 yards, 1999)
Most appearances: Jim Ritcher, OG, Buffalo Bills (4 – XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII)
Most total points scored: Mike Cofer, PK, San Francisco 49ers (15 – 2 FGs, 9 PATs)
Most starters for one team: 3 (Russell Wilson, Steve Hauschka and J.R. Sweezy, 2014)