North Carolina State
Despite a 1978 knee injury to RB and track star Brown, he still finished with 1350 yards on the ground as FB Billy Ray Vickers continued to improve. Brown, a first team All ACC pick for every one of his four seasons and an All American in ’78, totaled 4602 rushing yards in his Wolfpack career and added fifty-one TD’s. With the Minnesota Vikings, his career spanned 1979 through ’86 and there too he topped the 4000 yard mark, rushing for 4546 as a pro. Running was easier with All American and All Conference lineman Jim Ritcher and All ACC Chris Dieterich up front. Dieterich, a Long Island product, transferred in from Suffolk CC. Nathan Ritter was a fine auxiliary weapon as the All ACC kicker and Coach Rein’s brother Curtis returned the punt to win the Virginia game that vaulted the Pack into the Tangerine Bowl. The win there over a tough Pitt team completed a 9-3 season that saw All ACC DB Woodrow Wilson, safety Mike Nall and LB’s Bill Cowher and Wescoe gain recognition. DT Bubba Green was the tough guy up front on the defense with Wescoe and Cowher again the effective linebacking tandem. Cowher plied his trade with Cleveland and Philadelphia before turning to coaching and of course becoming the Super Bowl winning mentor for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sharp-eyed State fans noted that the team had altered their block letter “S” on each side of the scarlet helmet, to a four-inch serif type of letter. With a 7-4 record, the Wolfpack wasn’t an attractive bowl pick for the ’79 season and they remained home but still had the satisfaction of winning the ACC title. With Brown gone, Vickers and Dwight Sullivan, who gained 665 yards, became the rushing attack behind All American and Outland Trophy winning center Jim Ritcher. TE Lin Dawson was tough too, and tackle Dieterich, who repeated as an All Conference choice went on to play for the Lions from 1980-’86. Richter, still considered one of NC State’s greatest, was outstanding with the Bills. QB Scott Smith had the option of throwing to soph WR Mike Quick who caught thirty passes. Again, DB Nall was one of the defensive standouts. Two weeks after the end of the season, Rein was hired by LSU as their head coach to replace the retiring Charlie McClendon. Unfortunately, the new era of LSU football under Rein never truly began. Returning from a recruiting trip on a private jet traveling from Shreveport to Baton Rouge, in a somewhat bizarre series of events, Rein’s plane passed the intended point of termination and continued towards the Atlantic Ocean. Flying over the Carolinas and far out to sea, Air Force jets observed no occupants in the plane as it eventually ran out of fuel and crashed at sea, approximately 1000 miles off course. It was surmised that slow depressurization of the cabin had forced the pilot and Rein to succumb to a lack of oxygen and they had passed out, leaving the craft to fly on automatic pilot until the fuel supply was exhausted. Rein, a popular as well as successful coach, had annual awards named in his honor at both North Carolina State and Ohio State.
SPOTLIGHT ON JIM RITCHER:
Recruited out of Highland High School in Medina, Ohio, Jim Ritcher was immediately an excellent addition to the NC State offensive line and eventually became its leader. Winning All American recognition in both 1978 and ’79 and being a two-time recipient of the prestigious Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the ACC would have been enough to grant Ritcher “all-time” status in a program like the Wolfpack’s where individual national honors are not an every season occurrence. Ritcher topped that by becoming the first center to ever win the Outland Trophy. His performance as North Carolina State’s Outstanding Senior Athlete for all sports brought the additional honor of having his number 51 permanently retired. As the first round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills, this dedicated weight trainee found himself on the bench as he tried to establish himself as the Bills’ center but once moved to guard, he became a mainstay on the Bills’ offensive line that went to the Super Bowl, playing as an eleven-year starter and two-time Pro Bowl performer. Completing his final two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Ritcher moved on to life after football, eschewing the opportunity to use his degree in sociology and instead becoming a commercial pilot and flight instructor.
With the success and popularity that former coach Bo Rein
enjoyed, compounded by the tragedy of his mysterious death twenty-eight days
after leaving NC State for the LSU head coaching job, the pressure would be
enormous on the Wolfpack’s next head man. On December 5, 1979, former Holtz
assistant Monte Kiffin was that head man. Kiffin had been a fine two-way
tackle at Nebraska who squeezed in a two-year pro career at Winnipeg in the
CFL before returning to his alma mater to coach.
Rising to the post of defensive coordinator at Nebraska,
it was immediately obvious that Kiffin was a very special coach with
innovative defensive ideas. From Nebraska, he served as Holtz’s defensive
coordinator at Arkansas and then took the head job at State. His enthusiasm
and confidence was contagious and it appeared that he would do almost
anything to inspire his troops. “Almost anything” once at NC State included
jumping from a helicopter and fighting a mock boxing match with Joe Frazier.
His team was enthusiastic but very young and suffered from the loss of
almost all of its “name” players from ’79. Returnee Mike Quick increased his
reception total to forty-three while his QB Toi Avery passed for 1114 yards.
TE Lin Dawson who was always reliable became a reliable player for the
Patriots lasting ten seasons in New England. The defense was steady most of
the season behind big DT Bubba Green who managed a season with the Bills. At
6-5, hindsight may have shown that Kiffin did quite well with the
inexperienced team he inherited.
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