Drake Thomas was considered to be the third best linebacker on the team when the season started.
Cory Durden wasn’t even a starter and many wondered if Tanner Ingle could stay on the field enough to make an impact.
And of course, there’s Big Ickey. Those four N.C. State players, plus running back Zonovan Knight and punter Trenton Gill, were named First-Team All-ACC on Tuesday. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie (second team) and center Grant Gibson (third team) also made the list.
Overall the Wolfpack had 13 players honored, including five players who were named honorable mentions. UNC had 11, while Duke had seven.
The N.C. State defense ended the season without seven starters, but Thomas, Ingle and Durden picked up their play. Thomas, the former Heritage High School standout, started the season at outside linebacker, but when both Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore suffered season-ending injuries, Thomas moved to middle linebacker and the defense never missed a beat.
Thomas led the team in tackles (100) and interceptions (three). Twice during the season Thomas was named the ACC linebacker of the week. In the first game without both Moore and Wilson, Thomas responded with a career-high 15 tackles and two sacks against Louisville. Thomas had the second highest number of votes on the All-ACC defense.
Filling in for injured C.J. Clark, who was also lost for the season, Durden finished with 31 tackles. With Durden at the nose guard position, N.C. State’s run defense finished third in the ACC. Ingle, who was disqualified three different times for targeting in 2020, played in every game in 2020 and was second on the team with 82 tackles. He also added one interception. The Wolfpack pass defense was also third in the league.
Defensive end Daniel Joseph, linebacker Isaiah Moore, cornerback Shyhiem Battle and nickel back Tyler Baker-Williams were all honorable mention selections for the No. 3 overall defense in the league.
Left tackle Ikem Ekwonu was the only first-team selection for N.C. State’s offense. Ekwonu, who is projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick should he declare, won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy on Monday and is a finalist for the Outland Trophy. He allowed only two snaps in 819 during the 2021 regular season.
On special teams, Gill led the ACC in punting average and led the league in punts inside the 20-yard line with 31. Knight, the starting running back for the Wolfpack, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season in consecutive weeks against Wake Forest (100 yards) and Syracuse (97 yards). He averaged 34 yards per return. No player from a Power Five team averaged more.
Emezie set the all-time receptions record at N.C. State this season and led the team with 60 catches for 802 yards. His six touchdown receptions were second on the team.
Duke’s Mataeo Durant broke the Blue Devils’ single-season rushing record with 1,241 yards and added nine touchdowns in a down year for the team. He was the only first-team member for Duke.
North Carolina placed one player on the first-team as well. Sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs caught a school record 98 passes for 1,273 yards, which is also a school record. Ty Chandler, who replaced a pair of NFL running backs, finished with 1,063 yards for the Tar Heels after transferring from Tennessee. Defensive tackle Myles Murphy, was also a second team pick. Murphy, a sophomore, started all 12 games and was second on the team with four sacks.
Pittsburgh, the Coastal Division champs, led the way with 12 selections on the first, second and third all-conference teams.