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Russell Wilson, giving Wisconsin commencement speech: Tom O’Brien said ‘you’re never going to play in NFL’

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Seemingly against long odds, Russell Wilson has turned himself into a Pro Bowl-level quarterback in the NFL.  What he still has an issue with, it seems, is his exit from North Carolina State.

Wilson was a two-sport athlete for the Wolfpack, playing football and baseball at NCSU.  With Mike Glennon on the roster, his football coach, Tom O’Brien, wanted a commitment to the sport from his All-ACC quarterback; Wilson, a MLB draft pick as well, couldn’t give that, leaving NCSU for Wisconsin for his final season of eligibility.

That was the spring and summer of 2011; fastforward to May of 2016, and Wilson gave the commencement address at UW.  And Wilson added to his version of the narrative by stretching it to the point of breaking.

The summer before my senior year of college, I’m playing minor-league baseball. I called my football coach at NC State and said, ‘Hey coach, I’d like to come back for my senior year.’ He told me I wasn’t coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You’ve got no shot. Give it up.’ Of course, I’m on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you’re telling me I’m not coming back to NC State? I won’t see the field?’ He said, ‘No son, you won’t see the field.’ Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely gone. If I wanted to follow my dream I had to leave NC State. I had no idea if I would get a second chance somewhere else.

(Wilson’s speech begins at around the 1:04:45 mark)

I’m far from an O’Brien apologist, but by all accounts it was commitment, not talent, that ultimately pushed Wilson to leave Raleigh for Madison.  But, whatever narrative helps Wilson sleep at night or gives him quality fodder for a speech — a narrative, incidentally, that was decidedly positive when Wilson had his jersey number honored by NCSU a couple of years ago.

“This is truly an amazing honor and I am looking forward to being back in Raleigh and Carter-Finley Stadium,” Wilson said in a statement March 25, 2014. “My experience at NC State was an amazing one playing football and baseball but also accomplishing my goal of graduating in three years. My memories of playing as the quarterback for the Wolfpack are never-ending and the roar of the Wolfpack Nation still rings in my ear from memorable wins against FSU and UNC!

“I learned the value of great leadership, ultimate sacrifice, and the relentless belief that hard work pays off. I am grateful for all of my amazing teammates and players past, present, and future. I can still taste and sense the blood, sweat, and tears we all sacrificed to be successful.”

In the end, ironically, Wilson did exactly what O’Brien wanted: he focused solely on football.  That focus, though, only came after Wilson’s less-than-amicable divorce from the Wolfpack — a divorce that Wilson, still, can’t realistically come to terms with.

Pitt FB/TD machine George Aston set to return vs. Georgia Tech

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One of the most efficient touchdown producers in college football in 2016 that you were probably completely unaware of appears ready to make his 2017 debut.

A vague lower-extremity injury knocked George Aston out of most of not only summer camp but also Pittsburgh’s first three regular-season games as well. With Georgia Tech on the horizon in Week 4, the fullback is listed as probable on the team’s official injury report released Thursday.

For a team that has scored just four offensive touchdowns in two games against FBS competition, Aston’s potential return could serve as somewhat of a boon for that side of the ball.

Last season, Aston totaled 75 yards on 22 carries as well as 169 yards on 22 receptions. In those 44 touches, Aston totaled 10 touchdowns — five on the ground, five through the air.

Saturday’s game will serve as the ACC opener for both Pitt and Tech.

NCAA approves waiver to allow UCF to schedule Austin Peay as hurricane replacement game

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Hurricane Irma forced a lot of shuffling and cancellations on the college football schedule but perhaps no team was more uniquely affected than Central Florida.

The Knights had two home games cancelled as a result of the storm, last weekend against Georgia Tech and a contest against Maine that was bought out as a way for the team to play their full AAC conference slate. Dropping the games left UCF with only 10 games for the 2017 season and a not ideal five home games as a result.

That has been cleared up somewhat however, as the school announced on Thursday that the NCAA has approved a waiver and that Austin Peay is now scheduled to go to Orlando for a Oct. 28th contest.

“I can’t thank Oliver Luck and the staff at the NCAA enough for their help and understanding of our situation,” UCF athletic director Danny White said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate Austin Peay being willing to visit Spectrum Stadium. We’re thrilled for our student-athletes, who deserve every opportunity they can get to go out and compete. I know our fans will be excited about the opportunity to have another Saturday at Spectrum Stadium.”

The Knights are currently 1-0 heading into their trip to play Maryland on Saturday. With the addition of an 11th game to their 2017 slate, UCF needs to go at least 6-5 in order to become bowl eligible as a result.

Clemson kicker Greg Huegel injured during practice, out for the season after ACL tear

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If Clemson is to defend their national title this season, they will do so without the services of their reliable kicker.

The school confirmed various reports on Thursday evening that redshirt junior Greg Huegel was injured during the Tigers’ practice on Wednesday night — on the final kick, no less — and tore his ACL. He will have surgery and will not play again in 2017.

While he didn’t get the press of Deshuan Watson or others, Huegel was a key part of the Clemson run the past few seasons after taking over as the starter in 2015. The former walk-on was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last year and had hit two of his four field goals to start off this season, one of which was a career-long 49 yard kick just last week.

Backup kicker Alex Spence is likely to take over for the Tigers in Huegel’s absence. The redshirt junior has never attempted a field goal in a game but has kicked off and made an extra point for Clemson this season.

Reserve tight end Cole Renfrow, the younger brother of title game star Hunter Renfrow, also tore his ACL in practice and is out the rest of the season as well.

Given the thin margins that College Football Playoff teams have nowadays, the loss of Huegel figures to be a big one for Dabo Swinney and company going forward. Clemson hosts Boston College this week but will face a stiff test on the road at Virginia Tech in an ACC title game rematch to end the month.

Notre Dame, Western Michigan agree to 2020 game in South Bend

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More #MACtion is heading to South Bend.

Western Michigan and Notre Dame announced on Thursday that the two schools have agreed to a single game series that will take place on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. It will mark the fourth time the two teams have met in their long histories, but a decade since they last faced off in a 44-20 Irish win back in 2010.

The Broncos will receive a $1.175 million payout from Notre Dame for the game according to a release.

While playing a MAC team is a bit of a regular occurrence for Notre Dame now, their meeting with WMU back in 2010 was actually the first time they ever played a team from the conference. The Irish play at least one opponent from the MAC from now until at least 2021 with Western Michigan added to their slate of future games.

The Irish have been busy filling out the 2020 schedule and have just one opening remaining with this contract being signed. The Broncos join home games against Arkansas and Stanford, a trip to Charlotte to play Wake Forest, Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, the annual USC game in Los Angeles and the opener at MetLife Stadium outside New York City against Navy. Additional games against Clemson, Duke, Louisville (at home) and a road trip to Pittsburgh are also on tap as part of the ACC scheduling agreement.