Top Five Football Players Returning From Injury

Brett Friedlander

The NC State football team had players miss a combined 113 games to injury in 2019. Of those, 13 or more players were sidelined for at least four games.

That attrition was a major reason why the Wolfpack suffered through a 4-8 season that included six straight losses to finish out the schedule.

Now that most of those players have rehabbed their injuries and are healthy again, coach Dave Doeren is counting on them to become part of the salve that helps bring about their team's quick recovery this fall.

Of those players returning to action in 2020, here's a look at the five most important to a quick turnaround:

  1. Offensive tackle Justin Witt: The most experienced lineman in the program with 1,241 career snaps, Witt started the first five games at right tackle before missing the final seven with a shoulder injury suffered in a loss at Florida State.Witt underwent surgery in October on one shoulder and the other one in January, but is expected to be ready for the start of the season (whenever that turns out to be. His  leadership and ability will help solidify an offensive line that has a chance to be a solid unit with starters Joe Sculthorpe,Ickey Ekwonu, Greg Gibson and Bryson Speas all back. 
  2. Cornerback Chris Ingram: The Wolfpack's secondary was especially hard hit by the injury bug and Ingram's loss for the final six games because of a knee injury suffered in the win against Syracuse was the most damaging of all. The senior cornerback was by far the Wolfpack's best cover corner. He had a team-leading two interceptions in the six games he played, including the clinching pick in the end zone against Ball State. It was State's last interception until the season finale against UNC almost two months later. Ingram was also credited with 42 tackles. His return can't help but improve a pass defense that ranked 11th out of 14 ACC teams against conference competition allowing 266.9 passing yards per game and 21 touchdowns last season. 
  3. Wide receiver C.J. Riley: Riley was looked upon to be the Wolfpack's primary deep threat coming into the season because of his speed and ability to create separation downfield. But his year ended abruptly when he suffered a torn ACL while covering a punt during the opening game against ECU. Without him, State's offense lost the ability to stretch the field and never recovered, averaging fewer than two pass plays of 20 or more yards per game. Some of that had to do with the arm strength of quarterbacks Matthew McKay and Bailey Hockman, who preceded projected 2020 starter Devin Leary under center. But not having Riley and his speed on the field was also a contributing factor.
  4. Tight end Dylan Autenreith: Autenreith's importance to the team can't be measured by his statistics, although he did catch three passes for 125 yards before having his season ended by a knee injury in Week 3 at West Virginia. A team captain highly respected by his teammates, Autenreith's strength is his blocking ability on the edge. His prolonged absence had a negative effect on State's running game. His return should help give Zonovan Knight, Ryan Houston and Ricky Person Jr. much more room to run outside the tackles this season.
  5. Linebacker Louis Acceus: A smart, hard-hitting linebacker, Acceus was on pace to lead the team in tackles before being sidelined for the final four games. He still finished fourth on the team with 50 stops, including seven for losses. He also ranked third on the Wolfpack with 4.5 sacks -- three of which came in a win against Syracuse. He also had 14 tackles in that game to earn ACC Linebacker of the Week honors. Linebacker is by far the deepest and arguably best position group on the team heading into 2020 and while he's not as flashy as colleagues Payton Wilson, Isaiah Moore or Drake Thomas, Acceus' nose for the ball in the middle of the field makes him one of the best of the best.

Here's a look at the other returning players that missed four or more games to injuries last season:

  • OT Tyrone Riley, missed all 12 games after suffering a knee injury in preseason practice.
  • CB Taiyon Palmer, missed the final seven games with a knee injury suffered against Florida State.
  • CB Teshawn Smith, missed the final six games with a shoulder ailment.
  • TE Dylan Parham, missed five games because of an ankle injury.
  • RB Ricky Person Jr., missed four games with an ankle injury suffered in the Florida State game.
  • WR Max Fisher, missed four games with an unspecified ailment

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