- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the season began, NC State receiver Quintin Payton knew he had a huge opportunity in front of him.
He earned a starting job for the first time in his career, and he wanted to prove he deserved it. He has done so, leading the Wolfpack with 29 catches for 551 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging 71 yards per game to rank No. 8 in the ACC.
Consider that Payton had 11 catches for 145 yards receiving combined headed into this year.
"I knew that I had to play a different role for the team this year, just with me being one of the upperclassmen, so I took every opportunity that was given," Payton said in a recent phone interview. "I knew it was my turn to lead the receiver corps this season. So I just got more focused, and more consistent with the playbook."
Payton has two 100-yard receiving games this season to lead the Wolfpack, and also has been the team's leading receiver in four of seven games. He got a huge confidence booster in the season opener against Tennessee, when he had four catches for 129 yards. Against Florida State, Payton had 79 yards as well. He and Bryan Underwood have formed a nice receiving tandem so far this season.
Underwood is coming off a 134-yard game against Maryland, and leads the team with eight touchdown receptions. You can bet North Carolina will be focused on stopping these two players in the pass game come Saturday.
"He was the most experienced guy we had coming back from last year and from the start he was a guy Mike felt most comfortable with,” coach Tom O’Brien said. “He continues to make big plays, none bigger than the fourth down catch before the touchdown against Florida State. As we talked about at the start of the year with the new wide receivers, it was going to take some time. Everybody had to get on the same page. I go back to Coach (Troy) Walters coming in and that was a good move on our part, hiring a wide receiver to help these young guys progress at the rate they’re progressing.”
Payton also cited Walters as being a big reason why he has improved so much this year. Walters joined the Wolfpack staff in June, and is the first receivers coach O'Brien has ever hired.
"It's been great," Payton said. "He has a lot of knowledge about the game, played in the NFL for a number of years. He brings a lot to us and shows us little things the receivers have to do to get open."
Payton says he believes the Wolfpack are finally clicking on offense, after overcoming some injuries up front and at running back. The close call to Maryland last week also served as a confidence booster, he said.
"Things weren't going right for us in the game, and we still managed to play well enough to win," Payton said. "The defense came out and played great in the second half. On offense, we got some things going, too."
As for his own play, Payton says, "I feel like I've done pretty good. I feel I can play better as well. There are things I need to work on personally with my game, like staying low and getting in and out of breaks faster. Just little things."
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1dJared Shanker and Andrea Adelson