Pop quiz: Name the ACC team with the most players in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Florida State? Nope.
Miami? Try again.
If you said NC State, give yourself a shiny gold star. The Wolfpack have four former players preparing to start in the Super Bowl -- three on the Seahawks and one on the Broncos. But perhaps more impressive, all four were together on the 2007 NC State team:
Quarterback Russell Wilson, who redshirted that year.
Defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who also redshirted.
Linebacker Nate Irving, who became a starter as a redshirt freshman.
Kicker Steven Hauschka, a fifth-year graduate transfer from Middlebury College.
What are the chances? Pretty remote. While Wilson gets all the headlines, each player made his own impact for the Wolfpack -- and each overcame his own bit of adversity. Seeing all their success had former NC State coach Tom O'Brien sounding like a proud papa during a conference call with reporters last week.
"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."
Sweezy and Wilson were part of the first class O'Brien signed at NC State. While Wilson seemed destined for greatness, the coaching staff was unsure where to play Sweezy initially. He eventually settled in on the defensive line and was selected a team captain his senior year. But he got hurt that season and missed significant time. He was drafted in the seventh round but is now a Seahawks starter -- on the offensive line, protecting Wilson.
Hauschka just wanted a chance to play big-time football. After enrolling at Middlebury as a soccer player, he began playing football for the first time his sophomore year. NC State gave him an opportunity to come in for his final season, and Hauschka led the ACC in kicking and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. After entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, he bounced around a few teams before finding his home with Seattle in 2011. So far this season, he has made 33 of 35 field goal attempts and all his extra points.
In another interesting twist, Wilson, Sweezy and Hauschka -- all with the Seahawks -- lived in the same hall at NC State in 2007. Their friendship grew from there.
As for Irving, his chances of making the NFL appeared much dicier in 2009 after a car accident left him seriously injured. In fact, Irving sent O'Brien a text message last week that said, "Ha ha, the doctor said I’d never play football again."
Irving is penciled in to start the Super Bowl at strongside linebacker.
"Everybody looked at the car and said they don’t know how he got out of the car," O'Brien recalled. "I can remember being in the hospital room the next day. They knew he had a broken leg. He was in a neck brace, his lung was collapsed. I think he separated his shoulder. They weren’t sure about a spinal injury. ... What a great story for Nate to have the opportunity to come back and really work his way back. He was really very tentative when he came back, but certainly by the end of his senior year he was really a heck of a player for us."
So was Wilson, but he ended up transferring to Wisconsin for his final season. The two remain on good terms despite O'Brien's controversial decision to release Wilson from his scholarship. Now O'Brien can sit back and watch players he recruited to NC State on the grandest stage of all, knowing he will have coached a Super Bowl winner for the eighth time in the last 11 years.
But he is not the only one showing his pride this week. The current NC State coaching staff has made sure to tell recruits all about how well NC State will be represented on Super Bowl Sunday.