All Systems 'Go' For Payton Wilson

Brett Friedlander

Yes, it's a big game. And yes, Payton Wilson has even more incentive to beat rival North Carolina, since he originally committed to the Tar Heels before flipping to NC State.

But when the star linebacker says that he plans to treat Saturday's game at Kenan Stadium just like any other game, it's not just a cliché.

He really means it, as teammate Joe Sculthorpe explains.

"He has one speed and that’s ‘Go,’" Sculthorpe said of Wilson. "That’s exactly how he practices," adding that "the kid's a freak."

The fire that burns inside of Wilson sometimes becomes too hot, as it did when he was flagged for a personal foul penalty during the second quarter of Saturday's win against Duke.

But the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to the level of aggression with which he plays.

Wilson recorded 19 tackles in the game and intercepted two passes -- becoming the first State defender to pick off more than one pass in a game since Jerod Fernandez against Florida State in 2014 -- to go a long with a half sack.

While the performance earned Wilson recognition as the ACC's Linebacker of the Week, it was really just another day at the office for the 6-foot-4, 240-pound redshirt sophomore.

Not only did he lead the team in tackles last year despite starting only one game, he's atop the list again this season, even though he missed the Virginia Tech because of injury. It's no surprise that the Wolfpack's only loss this season came in the game he didn't play, since the intensity with which he plays carries over to the rest of the team.

It's a desire, he said, that comes from having missed most of his senior season at Orange High School and his true freshman year at State because of a series of knee injuries.

"Before I got injured, football was just football to me," Wilson said. "I never realized how fast something could be taken away from us. So every day, I go out there looking at it as if it could be my last day. 

"I've been happy with what I put on the field. If I didn't put all my effort on the field, I know I just wouldn't be able to accept myself."

As good as Wilson has been, coach Dave Doeren believes that he still has room to get better as adds a better understanding of the game and technique to his already elite-level athleticism and intensity.

"He’s starting to play with his hands better," Doeren said. "He was just running into things when the season started. He’s separating from blocks and staying playable, as we call it. He’s blitzing better. He’s not just running into things, he’s trying to slither through some things then run through some things. 

"I think as he continues to get in game shape, which he’s probably in really good game shape now, he’s going to continue to make more and more plays. One thing about Payton is he plays as hard as he can play. That is visible. I really respect that about him, just the effort that he plays with."

In that respect, Doeren said that Wilson is in good company.

"It's similar to how Bradley Chubb was here," the coach said State's all-time sacks leader and a first round NFL draft choice of the Denver Broncos. "Sometimes his aggression gets the best of him. He’s got to really learn how to channel that and use it the right way every play."

If ever there was a game in which he would be laser-focused on the task as hand, Saturday's showdown in Chapel Hill would be it.

But he insists that won't be the case.

"It is a rivalry game, so maybe people do have that extra edge," said Wilson, who flipped from the Tar Heels to the Wolfpack because, in his words, the culture of State's program was more in line with his own. "But I think we need to look at every Saturday the same, whether it's UNC or not. It' s UNC vs. NC State. It' s just a normal Saturday for me and I'm ready to play ball."

You can follow us for future coverage by clicking "Follow" on the top righthand corner of the page. Also be sure to like us on Facebook & Twitter:

Facebook -- ACC Insider

Twitter -- @WolfpackMaven and Brett Friedlander at @BFriedACC