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Sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas intercepts the ball and runs towards the end zone on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium. Thomas had four tackles and two sacks throughout the night. The Wolfpack won 41-17 against the Orange.

With the college football regular-season having reached its conclusion, it’s that time of year again to argue over all-conference selections. The Wolfpack boasts eight honorees between the three teams, with six other Pack players receiving an honorable mention. Of the eight selected to actual teams, six of them were All-ACC First Teamers. 

The lone member of the first-team offense is sophomore tackle Ikem Ekwonu, who has quickly risen to stardom as one of the best interior linemen available on the 2022 NFL Draft. Ekwonu is a recent recipient of the 2021 ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is awarded to the conference’s best offensive lineman each year. On top of the honors received so far, Ekwonu is also up for the Outland Trophy, and given his resume of being the conference’s best blocker and the second-highest graded lineman in the country according to Pro Football Focus, he has a fighting chance.

Wolfpack members of the All-ACC first-team defense include graduate tackle Cory Durden, sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas and junior safety Tanner Ingle. Each of these individuals contributed in massive ways to the Pack’s success this season, with Durden stepping up in a huge way in the absence of redshirt freshman defensive tackle C.J. Clark and Thomas doing the same in response to the losses of redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore and redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson. 

Ingle has been a key contributor for the Pack all season and is rightfully being awarded for his ability as an elite rushing threat out of the secondary.

Rounding out the first-team selections for the red-and-white are the Pack’s two members of the special teams unit. Redshirt junior punter Trenton Gill has deservedly been recognized as the conference’s best punter according to the All-ACC voting committee. Gill’s 65 punts led the conference, his 45-yard average was second-best in the ACC and his 31 punts within the 20-yard line was also good enough for the conference’s top spot.

Sophomore running back Zonovan Knight was also awarded, as a kick returner, with a conference leading 34.4 yards per kick return and a season’s longest return of 100 yards.

The lone member of the second team is senior wide receiver Emeka Emezie, who has cemented his legacy at NC State forever. Emezie ended the season as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and his 24-yard touchdown reception to seal the victory over the Tar Heels in the Pack’s final game of the season is the stuff of legend. Emezie finished the year with 60 receptions for 802 yards and six touchdowns, averaging a healthy 13.4 yards per reception and being the go-to guy when it was time to move the chains.

The last of the Pack to be honored as an All-ACC player is redshirt junior center Grant Gibson, whose contributions to the offensive line were essential to giving redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary the time he needed to make big plays which earned him third-team honors. 

The combination of Gibson and Ekwonu was one the Pack will certainly miss if Ekonwu decides to move on to pro ball after the season, but the two of them working to keep the Pack’s offense moving was truly special all year. Gibson’s third-team selection is something to be proud of, with plenty of potential for moving up the list if he decides to stick around for another year.

The honorable mentions include Leary, Knight as a running back, graduate defensive lineman Daniel Joseph, Moore, junior nickel Tyler Baker-Williams and redshirt freshman cornerback Shyheim Battle. There are plenty of words to be said about Leary being left off in favor of Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong on the third team, and even the conversation for Leary over Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman on the second team, but those will be left for another day. Moore and Battle are a pair of defenders that will likely find their way into the lists next season barring injury, with both showing plenty of potential to be second-team talents at the very least.

All-in-all it was a great year for the Pack, powered by a selection of uber-talented individuals. If the team can retain even a few of these top talents, it’s in for another big year next season with plenty of potential for some younger guys on this team to make their way up the ranks.