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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson

SOUTH JERSEY'S DEVIN LEARY IS LIGHTING UP SCOREBOARDS AT NC STATE

The former Timber Creek star has already thrown 41 career TD passes for the Wolfpack – and he is just a redshirt sophomore.



With great protection, Devin Leary has thrown 41 career touchdown passes for the Wolfpack. And he is just a redshirt sophomore. Photo by: Gregg Forwerck for NC State Athletics

It's what Devin Leary does...and he's done it very well for a long time. He throws touchdown passes sidearm, short yardage, bombs, you name it. It's what he does.


During his time as quarterback for Timber Creek High School in Sicklerville, NJ, Leary threw a New Jersey state record 117 touchdown passes and a state record of 9,672 passing yards.


Leary also rushed for 525 yards and 11 touchdowns.


Now a redshirt sophomore at North Carolina State, the 6-foot-1, 212 pounder has thrown 41 career touchdown passes at the Power 5 level. Leary has thrown25 touchdown passes over nine games this season.


And he has two years of eligibility after the 2021 season.


If you want to put Leary's college career in perspective, second overall NFL pick Carson Wentz threw 45 touchdown passes during his four seasons at North Dakota State.


Drew Brees threw 90 TD passes in four seasons at Purdue. Payton Manning threw 89 scoring strikes at Tennessee in four campaigns and probably a good comparison is Russell Wilson, who threw 109 touchdowns during three seasons at NC State and one at Wisconsin between 2008 and 2011. Philip Rivers threw 95 touchdowns in four seasons at NC State between 2000-2003.


Leary had earned the starting role in 2020, but suffered a fractured fibula in the second half of the win over Duke and underwent surgery the following day.


He was able to keep his redshirt sophomore status in 2021. Leary would not let this setback derail his dreams.

Leary talked to Footballstories about his journey at NC State.


“I think the journey for myself was not as I planned,” Leary said in a recent phone interview. “(Last year) obviously I was suffering from an injury for one season. Having the red shirt, being able to adapt to college football, being able to learn the game a lot more. I think really, for me, the biggest thing that stuck with me throughout the whole process was being resilient. Being able to respond with being able to push through the hardest days knowing that in the long term, the goals that I set out to achieve for myself and the expectations that I have for myself could possibly be through a rough, rocky road."


Leary said he looked to those around him for inspiration.


“I just leaned on my faith, my teammates, my coaches and my family too,” he said. “That helped me to prosper through everything and the different adversities I've face since I got to college. And then now I think it's just a little bit of a reward for myself just kind of seeing the hard work paid off. There's been a lot of preparation into the offseason and being able to carry into the season. Then it's really also earning the respect from all my teammates and coaches, for them to trust me to be the captain of this team too. It's been truly an honor throughout this whole process.”



Devin Leary is on track to set several passing records at NC State. Photo from NC State Athletics

HOW HIS COACHES HAVE WORKED WITH HIM

Leary was asked to talk about how his relationship is working with head football coach Dave Doeren and Tim Beck, the Wolfpack offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who joined the staff before the 2020 season. Beck led the offense for powerhouse programs Ohio State and Texas before landing in Raleigh.


Obviously the head coach and starting quarterback are always close.


Are there any challenges dealing with these two coaching him at the same time?


“We all have a great relationship between all three of us,” Leary said. “We're all open to communication, very honest with each other, which is something I'm very appreciative of,” Leary said. “Coach Beck does a great job coaching our entire quarterback room. He's constructed our offense within the system that he brought over here. Coach Doeren brought him onto the staff, introduced coach Beck to us, explained where our strengths and weaknesses were to him. Ever since then, we've really just been building off of everything. Coach Doeren has been doing a great job. Keeping our team very focused week-in-and week-out, communicating with me and being able to have the perfect game plan as best we can.Coach Beck has helped me prepare and he's taught me a ton of football. From in the film room, to defenses and offensive protections and then carrying on to the field and working on different fundamentals and mechanics, the three of us have a really great relationship.”


FAVORITE TOUCHDOWN PASS?

Leary obviously throws a lot of touchdown passes. Does he remember all of them? As team captain, it is part of his job to keep the excitement of the game front and center whether it's a close low-scoring game or a blowout.


Leary was asked if any one of his strikes to the end zone stood out in his memory. The October 3, 2020 game against Pitt has to stick out, right?


Leary led his team on back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, the second one giving the Wolfpack the one-point lead with just 23 seconds remaining in the game. NC State pulled off a 30-29 upset of the nationally ranked Panthers.


NC State also had a signature win over Clemson earlier this year, a 27-21 overtime thriller. Leary looked back on those moments.


“I think there's a couple,” Leary said. “I always think about the game last year versus Pitt coming down to the last play, last end of the stretch like it's one of the biggest things that a quarterback wants to do, throw a game-winning touchdown in a two minute drill.”

Leary continued

“Clemson and double overtime, able to have a chance to chuck the go-ahead touchdown to win the game. But really every touchdown I kind of get that same feeling, that same energy, that same thrill, knowing that everyone on the field was doing their job and that at the end of the day, if everyone could do their job, we have a chance to have a positive outcome. And when that positive outcome is a touchdown, or we have a long drive that leads to a touchdown. I mean it's just very rewarding to see everything fall into place each and every touchdown.”


Leary talked about keeping that energy alive


“I try to keep everyone's energy high,” He said. “I also lean on some of my teammates because I I lean upon my receivers Devin Carter and Emeka Emezie or our center Grant Gibson are our left tackle Ikem Ekwonu. They bring a certain type of energy to the field and for me to construct the offense, being able to keep their energy, positively uplifting other players and not let them get away from their own type of personality. I mean, it really helps our team tremendously and just being able to keep everyone very level headed. Whether we're winning or whether we're losing no matter what the score is. Keeping that high energy within our own offenses is huge for us.”


EAGLES FANS WOULD LOVE THE WOLFPACK OFFENSE

Eagle fans would be envious looking at the balance the NC State offense has achieved this season.


While Leary rules the air, NC State has a solid running game led by redshirt sophomore Zonovan Knight who, after nine games, has rushed for 617 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Ricky Person, Jr. has rushed for 487 yards and four trips to the end zone. Slot receiver Thomas Thayer, a junior, has caught six touchdown passes after nine games.


Nine different players have caught at least one touchdown pass from Leary this season.


He talked about how important it is to keep a balanced offence.


“I think it helps a lot,” Leary said. “Anytime you're able to establish the run, anytime you're able to win in the box. It just opens up so much more within our offense I mean we do a great job. Being able to run counter inside, zone outside. We've been able to establish that early and being able to show our dominance at the line of scrimmage, just opens up different passes, whether it's middle passes downfield, our RPOs (run, pass option), and different progression reads. As a quarterback, [balance] gives me so much more protection and so much more confidence. Whatever pass play we're going to call, it is going to catch them off guard because we're such a balanced offense.”


As of press time NC State's record is 7-2 overall, 4-1 in the ACC Atlantic Division play. The Wolfpack's only losses were a 24-10 non league verdict at Mississippi State and their 30-29 defeat to Miami, also on the road.


One game the offense struggled, the other, the defense had a rough day.


Do the team leaders take it on themselves to talk about what went wrong on those days?


“We do,” Leary said. “Especially after the Mississippi State and the Miami games, we really had to reflect on the entire team. It's something that coach Doeren preaches to be able to really invest and play complimentary football. The offense and defense, special teams, and those not on the field, we like to say is the sideline. All four parts working and having great chemistry with each other.

"It's something that's going to help us win. If the offense is not necessarily performing up to par. The defense needs to go above and beyond to help pick up the offense or special teams needs to help pick us up by producing a better position and vice versa. If the defense is struggling, offense needs to execute on our plays to help get us going. It's something that we always talk about. We reflect on it all the time to be able to accomplish that complimentary football.”


NC State is talented across the board. If the Wolfpack want to make a run at a FBS College Football Playoff sport, the team is going to need to be brutally honest with itself. Leary is going to be the key and a leader that will help make it happen while this group is together.


“Absolutely. I mean, I think every team that plays in the Power 5 conferences has an

opportunity to compete at that level and compete for the college playoffs and for us the ACC championship,” Leary said. “Something I really like about this team, going back to the leadership role, is that everyone on this team really cares. Everyone really wants to achieve the goals that we set out to achieve. To see everyone's reaction after we do lose a game is pretty tough because you could just tell how bad everyone wants it.”



Devin Leary launches a pass during his days at Timber Creek. Photo by Michael Corsey

DEVIN'S YOUNGER BROTHER WAS ABLE TO LAND A SCHOLARSHIP DURING THE PANDEMIC

Leary has a younger brother Donovan, who has been making noise as a quarterback at Timber Creek even though the Chargers have struggled this year finishing with a record of 3-7.


Many high school observers thought Donovan was talented enough to challenge some of his older brother's passing records.


But COVID-19 severely hampered those efforts with a limited schedule in 2020 . The NCAA added a year of eligibility to its players creating a logjam for high school players trying to get into college sports programs.


Because of limited access to high school campuses and games last year, it was tough to even get looked at by college scouts.


Donovan luckily already had interest before the pandemic and accepted a scholarship to play for Illinois of the Big10.


Devin talked about the situation.


“COVID was a tough time, just talking to my little brother,” Leary said. “As far as being a high school student-athlete trying to get recruited to different colleges. At that time, they really weren't able to come in and see these kids in person. I thought it was tough. Before my brother committed, a lot of schools were coming in before COVID. They were coming in for the eye test, trying to see him throw and just kind of test to see him in person.”


Leary said many players are discovered when scouts came to see him or his brother. With COVID and the restrictions, a lot of those opportunities were lost.


“Being from 'Creek. I just know that usually that leads to other kids that have potential, being able to introduce themselves to the (college) coaches whether they're in different contact information and they really didn't have that opportunity this year. That was tough.

“I'm really proud of my little brother, he took it into his own hands to still prepare with his teammates. He would post where he would have different workouts at a local park near our house, because the school wasn't going to be open. He wanted to make sure he kept up the chemistry with his new receivers.”


Leary says he still stays in touch with his South Jersey trainer Chad Hallett of Adrenaline Sports Performance. His coach at Timber Creek, Rob Hinson moved on to take a job as an assistant coach at Rutgers last year.


NCAA RULE CHANGES PUTS MONEY IN STUDENT-ATHLETES POCKETS

Things change. A new rule in place is that college athletes can now make money from their name and likeness as student-athletes.


Leary says he has stuck his toe in those waters, not too far. He apparently wants to keep developing team chemistry and build for the future. He still has two seasons of eligibility after this season.


He wants to stay humble, but he has taken advantage of the new rule.


“Yeah, I mean, it's pretty open. We haven't had much discussion within our team, but our athletic staff at NC State, they've held different meetings on just explaining the different regulations, the rules of what we can and can't do. But yeah, I mean, it's pretty much open to be able to connect to different businesses, different sponsors, different companies.

“I haven't really delved into it because I don't fully understand the ins and outs and where my career will take me...but small deals, whether it's taking a picture out front of their restaurant, for a discounted meal.”


That has O-line written all over it, right? Food? Leary says he also signed up with a popular site people use to pay a celebrity to send a friend or loved one a message for a birthday, graduation anniversary, etc.


“I've actually signed up with Cameo,” Leary said. “I have a Cameo account where people can book requests for a video for me to send back to them and I can make money. Some members of the team have taken full advantage of it, starting their own podcast, and I think it's a huge opportunity for all athletes to really embrace.”


At the rate he's going, Leary won't need to pose for pictures in front of a restaurant to hook up his teammates with pizza. *


Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii


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