• From Sunday's college football notes
After dealing with seemingly every injury and bad break in the book his first two seasons at N.C. State, Wolfpack football coach Tom O'Brien has started Year 3 with a welcomed turn of good fortune.
The return of defensive end Willie Young, who chose a fifth season in Raleigh over a shot at the NFL, is one reason O'Brien thinks 2009 may prove better than the previous two snakebitten seasons.
But he will knock on wood, just in case. The first two seasons, which O'Brien survived with an 11-14 record and one bowl trip, have taught the coach you can never be too careful.
Before the 2007 season, State lost tight end Anthony Hill to a freak knee injury in a conditioning drill. Then in the first game, running back Toney Baker blew out his knee, followed by a season-ending foot injury to running back Andre Brown in the sixth game.
Receiver Donald Bowens was lost to a back injury before the 2008 season. He was promptly followed by a parade of key players — from quarterback Russell Wilson to running back Jamelle Eugene, linebacker Nate Irving and Hill (again) — who spent extended time on the injured list.
Meanwhile, Baker missed his second straight season recovering from knee surgery. It got so bad in 2008 that at one point in October, State was about 40 healthy bodies under the 85-scholarship limit.
It would have been par for the course to lose Young, projected as a second-day draft pick, to the NFL. Young is already old for college football, after spending a year in prep school and redshirting a season. A month-and-a-half older than UNC basketball's Methuselah, Tyler Hansbrough, Young will turn 24 before the Pack plays a game this ACC season.
But Young decided to come back to improve his draft stock, along with N.C. State's chances in the wide-open Atlantic Division.
"Willie Young coming back was the best recruit we had," O'Brien said.
O'Brien told Young, who led the Pack with 6.5 sacks last season, that former Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry faced the same stay-or-go decisions.
Kiwanuka returned to BC in 2005 and was a first-round pick the following spring. Curry returned to Wake for 2008 and was the fourth overall pick in this year's draft.
"He can be like those two guys and play his way into the first round," O'Brien said.
O'Brien got a second bit of good news in the spring. Eugene, who missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury, is "full go," the coach said. And Baker, who hasn't taken a snap in 24 games, is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
After going two seasons without a full complement of parts, O'Brien must feel like he's already 2-0.