RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The last time North Carolina State saw Cade Fortin, he was playing for rival North Carolina.
Now Fortin is the starting quarterback for South Florida, just in time for the Bulls’ visit to the Wolfpack on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams. The rivalry reunion marks Fortin’s first start since playing for the Tar Heels in an overtime loss to the Wolfpack to close the 2018 season.
And yes, Fortin has heard from former UNC teammates about the matchup.
“They’re just encouraging me and saying ‘Hey go be yourself, go out and play. we’ll be rooting you on,’” Fortin said.
Fortin was 0-4 as a starter in a bumpy 2018 season for the Tar Heels, which led to the firing of coach Larry Fedora and the return of Mack Brown for a second stint. Fortin’s best game came in his final start against the Wolfpack, when he threw for 276 yards and accounted for two touchdowns.
N.C. State won 34-28 in a game that included an end-zone brawl between the teams after Reggie Gallaspy II’s fifth touchdown ended it.
Fortin opted to transfer the following season, then joined USF as the first recruit for new coach Jeff Scott ahead of the 2020 season. He was limited to two games last year due to injuries.
He emerged from spring drills with an edge in a crowded position battle that included Miami transfer Jarren Williams.
“When we played him obviously, it was a long time ago in his career,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “We know that he’s grown a lot since then, and he’s going to be a much better player than he was that day.
“We have a lot of respect for him and know that he won a battle with another ACC quarterback that transferred in there. So it wasn’t like it was handed to him. He earned it.”
Some other things to know about Thursday’s USF-N.C. State game:
The game marks the return of Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary, who had shown growth in his game last season before going down to a season-ending broken leg suffered in October. And beyond Leary’s recovery, N.C. State knows it can lean on the ground game.
Zonovan Knight is back after running for a team-high 788 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Ricky Person Jr. also returns after running for 643 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Doeren is pushing N.C. State to cut down on its mistakes, namely presnap and postsnap penalties.
The Wolfpack ranked among the worst teams in the Bowl Subdivision in 2020 in penalties and penalty yards per game in an eight-win season. So Doeren said he went through those penalties, one by one, with the team in an effort to erase “immature football.”
“Those guys were really diligent about wanting to fix it,” Doeren said. “We had officials at every spring practice, we had officials at every fall-camp practice. And we were throwing the yellows at them.”
N.C. State is 7-1 in openers under Doeren, the loss coming in its only game against a power-conference team with the loss to South Carolina in 2017. The Wolfpack’s last season-opening loss at home came in 2009, also against the Gamecocks.
SCOTT’S YEAR 2
This is the 25th season of football for USF and the second under Scott, who had been Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator for five years. Last year the Bulls went 1-8, beating The Citadel in the opener but losing out from there.
USF has lost its last six road games dating to midway through the 2019 season. The Bulls also haven’t beaten a power-conference opponent since beating Illinois from the Big Ten in September 2018.
Scott noted the additional challenge of returning to playing in front of big crowds again.
“Last year if a guy lined up wrong or whatever, you could yell across the field in the middle of the play or before the play and they could hear you,” Scott said. “That’s not going to be the case when you’re playing on the road this year.”