Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
NC State tight end George Bryan doesn't rattle easily, as evidenced by the ball python named "Louie" he keeps as a pet.
So when the Wolfpack needed their third-string tight end most last weekend against East Carolina, it's no surprise Bryan came through in the clutch. His touchdown catch with just over a minute left in regulation sent the game into overtime and helped the Wolfpack to a shocking 30-24 upset of the then-ranked No. 15 Pirates.
Bryan was thrust into the top spot against Clemson because starter Anthony Hill has been out indefinitely since the season opener with a pectoralis strain, and his backup, Matt Kushner, left the William & Mary game after 24 snaps and is now out for the season with a knee injury.
Now, Bryan is one of just two healthy scholarship tight ends left on the roster. The other, true freshman Mario Carter, will likely be redshirted. So far, it hasn't been a problem, as Bryan heads into Saturday's game against South Florida leading NC State in catches (13), and is third in yards (127), and tied for first with two touchdowns.
"We had no idea that he would be able to play and perform the way he did," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said. "He's gotta do it again this week against another great defense coming in. He's been a pleasant surprise, but I don't want to be in this situation [in which] I see all these surprises."
Who can blame him? It's the second straight season O'Brien's roster has been hindered by an absurd amount of injuries to key players. In 2007, 13 players who were starters at some time (or in the case of Hill, a projected starter), missed a total of 44 games. Six of those starters missed multiple games. In all, the program's medical staff performed 10 knee surgeries between the spring of 2007 and the end of the year.
Four players on this year's roster have already been lost for the season, and the Wolfpack will also be without top linebacker Nate Irving on Saturday, and quarterback Russell Wilson is listed as doubtful.
The plethora of injuries, though, has allowed athletes like Bryan, a redshirt freshman, to shine.
"It was a big role," Bryan said. "I was ready for it, I thought, because I have two great guys ahead of me, Matt Kushner and Anthony Hill, and coach [Jim] Bridge that prepared me very well for just about anything. They basically were saying this could happen, you never know what could happen so you've always got to be ready. They prepared me well. It was a big challenge but I think I handled it well."
Agreed. He caught his first career touchdown against William & Mary, but his second touchdown obviously caught him the most recognition. He called it the high point of his career so far.
"It was an awesome feeling," he said. "It was great to catch that ball in a big situation. That was a real big touchdown."
Bryan said he now has a lot of friends on Facebook he didn't have before, and got tons of text messages, two things he welcomed with a smile. He said his family has helped him stay humble, and that he can't wait for his teammates to return.
Meanwhile, he's got a job to do.
"I just go out there and do what I'm coached," Bryan said. "I trust my coaches and everybody else on my team. We just all do our jobs and it turns out good."