Featured stories Archive


Doeren to speak at Raleigh Sports Club Wednesday

Dave Doeren.

Dave Doeren.

NC State football coach Dave Doeren will be the first luncheon speaker of the Raleigh Sports Club’s new year Wednesday, Aug. 20 at Bradley Hall in Highland United Methodist Church at 1901 Ridge Road.

Buffet lines open at 11:30 a.m. and the meeting is from noon until 1 p.m. Attendance fee for members is $15 while guest fee is $25.

The annual membership fee is $70, which helps to fund the club’s scholarship fund. Each week from late August to early April meetings include a Southern buffet, door prizes, pick sheets and introduction to a deserving Student Athlete as well as hearing from a prominent sports figure as our guest speaker.
Raleigh Sports Club Membership Form


ESPN to feature ACC basketball on Big Monday broadcasts

espnbigmondayESPN will again showcase Atlantic Coast Conference basketball during the 2014-15 season as part of its weekly Big Monday.

Eight ACC games will be shown, beginning on Jan. 5 and on consecutive Mondays between Jan. 19 and March 2. Big Monday will take a one-week hiatus as ESPN debuts the inaugural College Football National Championship Game on January 12.

Each Big Monday game involving an ACC team is set for a 7 p.m. start and will be televised nationally by ESPN or ESPN2.

This marks the second consecutive year that ACC basketball games have been featured as part of ESPN’s Big Monday package. Every game on the Big Monday schedule this season will include at least one team ranked in the ESPN.com preseason Top 25 poll, including No. 2 Duke, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 defending ACC champion Virginia, No. 8 Louisville and No. 21 Syracuse.

The complete 2014-15 ACC basketball schedule, with dates, starting times and television broadcast information, will be released later this month.

The ACC Big Monday lineup reads as follows:

January 5 – Notre Dame at North Carolina (ESPN or ESPN2), 7 p.m.
January 19 – Pitt at Duke (ESPN), 7 p.m.
January 26 – Syracuse at North Carolina (ESPN), 7 p.m.
February 2 – Virginia at North Carolina (ESPN), 7 p.m.
February 9 – Duke at Florida State (ESPN), 7 p.m.
February 16 – Pitt at Virginia (ESPN), 7 p.m.
February 23 – Louisville at Georgia Tech (ESPN), 7 p.m.
March 2 – Virginia at Syracuse (ESPN), 7 p.m.


A potential of three ACC top-25 matchups showcasing No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Virginia and No. 21 Syracuse: Syracuse at North Carolina on January 26; Virginia at North Carolina on February 2 and Virginia at Syracuse on March 2.

Duke – ranked preseason No. 2 – is on the schedule twice: at home vs. Pittsburgh on January 19 and at Florida State on February 9.

The Blue Devils add the ESPN 100 top incoming recruit in center Jahil Okafor, as well as guard Tyus Jones, who is ranked fourth.

North Carolina’s one additional appearance is an opening night tilt vs. Notre Dame on January 5.

North Carolina has two top-10 incoming freshman ranked nationally in the ESPN 100: Small forwards Justin Jackson (No. 8) and Theo Pinson (No. 10).

Virginia is also scheduled against Pittsburgh on February 16, as part of Rivalry Week.

New league member Louisville, ranked No. 8 in the preseason poll, has one appearance – at Georgia Tech on February 23.

In 2013-14, for the 12th consecutive year, Louisville was the highest-rated metered market for ESPN’s regular-season telecasts, averaging a 4.5 rating.


McCraw, Rhodes lead West Raleigh to Ripken Series title

Team Southeast from West Raleigh, representing the USA, defeated Mexico 5-2 Saturday in the World Championship game of the 2014 Cal Ripken World Series. West Raleigh got all the runs it needed in the first inning. With a 1-0 lead, West Raleigh catcher Lane Rhodes slammed an opposite field three-run homer to right center to give the USA a 4-0 advantage. In the third, West Raleigh’s Nolan McClean lifted a […]

Garrett McCraw.

Garrett McCraw.

Team Southeast from West Raleigh, representing the USA, defeated Mexico 5-2 Saturday in the World Championship game of the 2014 Cal Ripken World Series.

West Raleigh got all the runs it needed in the first inning. With a 1-0 lead, West Raleigh catcher Lane Rhodes slammed an opposite field three-run homer to right center to give the USA a 4-0 advantage.

Lane Rhodes.

Lane Rhodes.

In the third, West Raleigh’s Nolan McClean lifted a fastball over the left center field wall to extend the lead to 5-0.

Mexico’s Jesus Castillo popped a two-run homer in the fourth to narrow the USA lead to 5-2. But West Raleigh’s pitcher Garrett McCraw buckled down and went on to toss a complete game while striking out seven Mexico batters. McCraw, who gave up only five hits, retired 10 batters in a row at one point. He also scored the first run of the game when Matthew Willadsen drove him in after he had delivered a bloop double.

With one on and two out in the final inning, Mexico’s Castillo’s ripped what looked like a single to right but outfielder McClean fielded it quickly and cleanly and fired to Penn Sealey at first to throw out Castillo to end the game.

West Raleigh has had a strong program for several years, appearing in the tournament numerous times, but it was the first time the team has won the World Series title. West Raleigh won the USA championship in 2004 and in 2013 but fell in the World Series International Game.

West Raleigh coach Ryan Holjes brushed aside tears as the players and fans celebrated the title. “This is unbelievable man, just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s surreal, it’s more than we could ever dreamed of.”

A U.S.-based team had not won the title since 2009.

The Cal Ripken World Series features teams of 11-year-old and 12-year-old baseball players from throughout the world playing in Aberdeen, Md.

The tournament is named after retired Orioles iron man Cal Ripken Jr. It’s similar to Little League except teams play on a field with 70-foot base paths and a 50-foot pitching distance as compared to Little League’s 60-foot base paths and a 46-foot pitching distance.

McCraw was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament as he sported a 3-0 tournament record along with two home runs. Rhodes was chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the championship game. Outfielder Paul Ryder was the Most Outstanding Player of the U.S. championship game Friday. He slugged a 3-run homer in West Raleigh’s 7-5 victory over Harford (Md.).


College football playoff to be exciting… and expensive

cfpSo it’s not exactly like having 64 (or 65) teams vying for a national championship in a tournament like basketball but those who have been clamoring for a playoff will see one for college football this season.

Four teams will face off in two bowls games with the two winners playing a national championship game Jan. 12 at North Texas.

This year and for the immediate future there will be three bowl games played on New Year’s Eve and three on New Year’s Day. The College Football Playoff Foundation hopes this not only keep bowls relevant but it starts a tradition of football watching on New Year’s Eve as well as New Year’s Day.

The semi-final playoff games this year will be on New Year’s Day while the games shift to New Year’s Eve next season.

The Sugar and Rose bowls will host the top four teams this season while the Orange and Cotton host next season and the Peach and Fiesta the year after that. The same combination of bowls will host the semi-finals for at least three more years after that.

A college bowl selection committee, rather than a computer system or a writer’s or coaches’ poll, will choose the top four teams to play for the national title. In addition to record, the blue ribbon panel will consider strength of schedule, head to head competition, results against common opponents and championships won.

The idea behind this entire plan, said Mike Kelly from the College Football Playoff group, is to keep the bowl tradition, not infringe on the academic calendar and still make the regular season count.

Revenues should double or triple what they were under the old BCS system, Kelly said. College Football Playoff merchandising income will go to the Foundation arm, which will support various related causes such as rewarding good teachers.

The championship game itself, which will be held 7-12 days after the semi-final games (this season on Jan. 12), will bring in substantial revenue as well. Tickets won’t be cheap at $450 each. Kelly notes that’s half of the price of a Super Bowl ticket. There will also be an entire championship game experience similar to the Super Bowl activities.

“Of course the ticket price for the CFP championship game had nothing to do with Super Bowl price,” Kelly said. “Last year’s national championship game was $385 at the Rose Bowl and that was proven to be below market value. With a new event and with a stadium of the highest quality we felt that going up to $450 was reasonable.”

In today’s climate, I suppose it could be considered reasonable but certainly not for the average family of four. ESPN will be the way to go for most families.

Look for the first College Football Playoff rankings from the committee to begin on Oct. 28 with the final rankings coming out after the conference championship games are complete.

There will be a selection Sunday similar to announcing the basketball tournament. Announcements will be made about the bowl matchups for the six bowls games on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, including the semi-finalists.

While the committee plans to keep lower ranked teams from getting a home-field edge, it could happen. For instance, with the games being at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, consider the far-fetched example that if the top four teams in order are Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA and Southern Cal.

Either Southern Cal or UCLA, both lower ranked teams, would get to play at the Rose Bowl. It will be interesting to see how the next three seasons play out.

Fiesta Bowl – Dec. 31
Orange Bowl – Dec. 31
Peach Bowl – Dec. 31
Cotton Bowl – Jan. 1
Rose Bowl – Jan. 1 (semi-final)
Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1 (semi-final)

Championship game at North Texas Jan. 12

Cotton Bowl – Dec. 31 (semi-final)
Orange Bowl – Dec. 31 (semi-final)
Peach Bowl – Dec. 31
Fiesta Bowl – Jan. 1
Rose Bowl – Jan. 1
Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1

Championship game at Arizona Jan. 11


UNC’s Fedora doesn’t shy away from his Christianity

UNC coach Larry Fedora.

UNC coach Larry Fedora.

The attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation out of Madison, Wisc. could probably put a satellite office in ACC football country, maybe even in the Triangle.

As background, this past April, the lawyer wrote a letter to Clemson University claiming that football coach Dabo Swinney was comingling religion and athletics to the point that you had to “pray to play.” See the five-page bullying complaint here.

“I can’t come to work and not be a Christian. It’s just the reality of it,” said Swinney, who says he doesn’t make football decisions based on players’ participation in religious activities.

“I have great respect for other people’s faiths and beliefs and all that,” he added. “It’s not my job to judge people. I just am who I am.”

Football and religion is not uncommon.

In Durham, Duke prays before each game and at every practice.

Over in Chapel Hill, UNC coach Larry Fedora is very open about his Christianity.

“It’s extremely important in my life. There’s no doubt about it – I don’t try to hide it,” Fedora said. “I don’t try to hide it in the program either. I really believe when these players come to Carolina, my responsibility is to see them grow academically, socially and spiritually.”

He said that he’s not pushing anything on them but instead is providing an atmosphere that if they want to grow spiritually they can.

The team prays together on occasion, and certainly before and after every game. “We don’t ask for a win,” Fedora said with a laugh. “We ask to keep guys healthy and safe.”

The Tar Heels have a year-round team chaplain, Mitch Mason, who is with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “He does a great job being there for our young men as a mentor, as an ear and as just a friend,” Fedora said. He’s at all the workouts and he has a relationship with all the guys. They can go to his office and talk to him about any problems they are having.”

Fedora says that’s a great thing. Like with Swinney at Clemson, you probably won’t see any changes at Carolina as long as Fedora is there, no matter how many letters the Freedom From Religion Foundation writes.


Photos from ACC Football Kickoff event


State football not winning yet but making strides

statehelmetOk, NC State didn’t win a football game in ACC play a year ago but there appears to be excitement around the program heading into the 2014 season.

Wolfpack 2nd year coach Dave Doeren said the fans have been “very encouraging” and supportive.

“They want what we want and we want to give ‘em what they want,” Doeren said at the ACC Football Kickoff event Monday in Greensboro. “They were very appreciative of our recruiting efforts. And they came to the spring game and saw our progress. Now we need to go out and play.”

He tempered the enthusiasm a bit by adding that it’s going to take time. “It just is,” he said. “We inherited a team that didn’t have a lot of depth but we’re making a lot of progress – in a lot of areas.”

While rival North Carolina has been taking a beating over academic issues, Doeren is prideful about his team’s academic success and took plenty of time to take about it.

“We had the highest team GPA (a 2.71 grade point average) in the spring that they’ve had in 15 years,” he said adding that it’s the first time in the history of the football program that it hasn’t had a player ineligible going into the summer.”

I didn’t know such stats were kept but that is impressive. “Academically we’ve made a lot of strides,” Doeren said. “We continue to push guys off the field to make those strides. It puts us in a position where we’re not losing players… For instance, we have eight players in post-graduate programs right now, which is great.”

In addition to hiring an additional person to help with academics, the coaches have become very involved on a day-to-day basis, he said. They make sure they are on time for class and generally hold them accountable for academic excellence.

“We get information daily from our academic center and we communicate that information to our athletes and their parents,” Doeren said. “We have a hands-on approach academically with our team. I talk about it a lot – I demand it from them. It’s transparent.”

Doeren said in addition to seeing how much weight they can lift and how many squats they can do, their GPAs are recorded on the wall. “They don’t want to have bad information on the wall. It’s important for them to look good which is part of why we do it,” he said.

Another change this season will be the Wolfpack uniformly, primarily the helmet. “We have a lot of tradition with our uniform and I don’t take that lightly one bit,” Doeren said. “It’s important to respect your tradition. I also know that in today’s world and in recruiting, kids like to have some bling, some flash but I didn’t want it to take away from our tradition.”

The helmet maintains the red, gray and black coloring but not really much white. In addition, a wolf’s eyes peer out the back of the helmet. “It definitely honors the wolf,” Doeren said. “I thought it was a good blend of tradition and flare. Our players loved it.”

New matching uniforms will be coming in soon. Will the wins follow? One thing at a time.


Duke building a winning culture in football, coach says

David Cutcliffe.

David Cutcliffe.

We are in an era of short-attention spans, where history means five years ago. People forget that Duke was a football powerhouse before it was a basketball powerhouse. Duke coach David Cutcliffe doesn’t have to drum up the spirits of Wallace Wade or Ace Parker (look ‘em up kids), all he has to do is point to recent success.

“For the generation we are dealing with, three years is tradition,” Cutcliffe said during the ACC Football Kickoff event today in Greensboro.

That’s good for a Blue Devil team that has been to a pair of bowl games in the last two years and played Florida State for the conference crown.

Duke lost all three of those games but they were high-profile games. “The impact of being the only game on TV – even though they were losses – was that people got to see that we are genuinely a good football team,” Cutcliffe said.

When the Devils were coming off 3-9 seasons, Cutcliffe said he had a hard time convincing the older guys who much fun it was going to be to go to a bowl game. “Once that you taste it, you’re fighting for it,” he said.

He says everything has changed or, at least, is changing at Duke. “When you change a culture, it changes every aspect of your program – from recruiting to the quality of practice,” Cutcliffe said adding that now he wants his squad to become a more physical football team.

“I’ve never believed that more contact is better, quality contact is better,” he said. In practice he wants the hits so solid that he has to ask the players to back off. “That’s a culture,” he said.

At Duke, while he has signed some good players, he hasn’t always been able to sign the best recruits coming out of high school. “Sometimes it’s harder to coach a guy whose been told he’s great by so many people,” Cutcliffe said. “Maybe it’s best to sign a bunch of two-star players for a four-star offense.”

Cutcliffe, whose team has been picked to finish second in the ACC Coastal Division, says he likes his staff and the mix of veteran and young players. He expects Duke to be good this year. Why not? They have the history.


FSU picked to win ACC title; Duke chosen 2nd in Coastal

accfootballDefending national champion Florida State is the consensus choice to repeat as Atlantic Division champion and defeat Miami in the 10th annual Dr Pepper Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game, according to a poll of media members in attendance at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff at Grandover Resort.

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Walter Camp National Player of the Year Jameis Winston, who led the Seminoles to an unbeaten season and their third national title as a redshirt freshman in 2013, was chosen to repeat as ACC Player of the Year.

Florida State was picked as the likely overall ACC winner on 104 of 112 ballots cast. The Seminoles were picked to finish atop the Atlantic Division by 109 voters and amassed 780 total points. Clemson received the remaining three-first-place votes and placed second with 660. ACC newcomer Louisville placed third at 564, followed by Syracuse (368), NC State (326), Boston College (301) and Wake Forest (136).

Miami’s 26 first-place votes placed third among Coastal Division teams, but the Hurricanes’ 614 total points led overall. Defending division champion Duke received 33 first-place votes and finished with 597 points, followed by Virginia Tech with 571 points and 23 first-place votes. North Carolina was just behind in fourth place with 570 points and 27 first-place votes, followed by Georgia Tech (322 with one first place vote), Pitt (319 with two first-place votes) and Virginia (142).

Winston is one of 15 returning starters for Florida State, which seeks its third straight ACC title. The Seminoles own 14 ACC football championships in 23 seasons as a conference member, tying Clemson for most league titles all-time.

This marks the third time in four years that the Seminoles have led the ACC media preseason voting. Florida State was also voted first in 2011 and 2012, and in each of its first 14 seasons after joining the ACC (1992 through 2005).

Winston led the preseason ACC Player of the Year balloting with 99 votes, followed by Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley with six. Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder, Miami running back Duke Johnson and Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley received one vote apiece.

Last season saw Winston, of Bessemer, Alabama, become the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy (19 years, 342 days) and just the second freshman to receive the honor. A dazzling playmaker, he led the Seminoles to a 14-0 record and engineered the game-winning drive in a 34-31 win over Auburn in the 2013 VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

Named the offensive MVP of the national title game, Winston also received the Davey O’Brien Award and the Manning Award as the nation’s best quarterback after setting national freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdown passed (40) in 2013. His pass efficiency rating of 184.8 set an ACC record and led the nation.

ACC Championship Votes

1. Florida State – 104

2. Clemson – 2

3. Virginia Tech – 2

(4 voters made no selection)

Atlantic Division

(First place votes in parenthesis)

1. Florida State (109) – 780

2. Clemson (3) – 660

3. Louisville – 564

4. Syracuse – 368

5. NC State – 326

6. Boston College – 301

7. Wake Forest – 136

Coastal Division

(First place votes in parenthesis)

1. Miami (26) – 614

2. Duke (33) – 597

3. Virginia Tech (23) – 571

4. North Carolina (27) – 570

5. Georgia Tech (1) – 322

6. Pitt (2) -319

7. Virginia -142

ACC Player of the Year

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – 99

2. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson – 6

3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami – 1

4. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke – 1

5. Brenden Motley, QB, Virginia Tech -1

(4 voters made no selection)


ACC official says replay, rule changes working well

Doug Rhoads.

Doug Rhoads.

Speaking at the ACC Football Kickoff media event in Greensboro, ACC Coordinator of Officials Doug Rhoads gave statistical backup that goes against conventional wisdom of the average fan.

For one, he says, replays don’t take very long, and two, officials are ultimately getting it right.

Only a little more than one in five replays resulted in an overturned call last season. The game was stopped 210 times in ACC games with the average wait time just a minute and four seconds. “That’s less than any commercial break,” he said.

Rule changes are always a big topic but in even years only changes are made that are considered safety measures. This year there will be an emphasis on hitting with force on or below the knee. There will be a 15-yard penalty but there won’t be any ejections as there were last year for launching head first into a player or hitting above the shoulders.

Last season, nationally, 92 players were initially ejected but 32 of those were reversed on replay. So, 60 players in more than 800 games isn’t excessive. Rhoads credits that to the players being taught differently by coaches and players adjusting.

Four years ago the league put an emphasis on excessive celebrations and as a result, Rhoads says that has almost totally been “coached out of the game.” There were only six players called with excessive celebration nationally last season.

But hitting above the shoulders is a lot harder to coach out of the game. As reported above, it turned out that a lot of those calls weren’t offenses after all – the players did not hit above the shoulders. In a game that moves as fast as football with bang-bang plays, I’m not sure how you coach that call out of football.

Certainly coaches can advise against launching into players, especially head first, and hitting players with a forceful upward thrust. But those hits are inches one way or another. One’s an exciting pop and the other is a 15 yard penalty and an ejection.

Last season, if one of those plays was overruled on replay, the player was re-admitted to the game but the 15-yard penalty stood. After an outcry from coaches, this season if the play is overruled, not only is the player re-admitted but the 15-yard penalty goes away. Makes sense.

One thing you’ll see different this year is another official in the offensive backfield. The ACC will add an 8th official called the center judge. Among other duties, he will spot the ball and be another set of eyes for the referee looking at the offensive line. This gives the ref more time to make sure the QB remains safe, for instance, rather than focusing on a holding on the other side of the line.

Not sure how much this will help and how much it will just make the field more crowded. There are already concerns about the officials getting in the way.