Top 5 Football Players in NC State History

North Carolina State is known more for its basketball success over the years, but there have been some legendary football players for the Wolfpack.

Our list of NC State’s five greatest football players begins and ends with a quarterback. Read on to see who makes the cut between these QB bookends.

North Carolina sports bettors who want to wager on this season’s version of the Wolfpack will have to do so at one of the state’s two retail sportsbooks as mobile sports betting is not yet legal.

Top 5 NC State Football Players of All Time

1. Philip Rivers (2000-2004)

Philip Rivers wasn’t the most gifted athlete to play QB at NC State, but his drive and determination set him apart. Rivers started 51 consecutive games as NC State’s QB. That set an NCAA record.

Strangely enough, the Wolfpack never finished higher than fourth in the ACC under Rivers. But his individual statistics are off-the-chart good. In fact, he owned virtually every passing record in school and conference history.

Rivers amassed 13,484 career passing yards by the end of his career, which ranked second in NCAA history at that time. He also tied for seventh place with 95 career TDs. His No. 17 jersey was retired by the university.

Rivers was the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

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2. WR Torry Holt (1995-1998)

Holt left NC State as the ACC’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,379) and he notched school records for receptions, TD catches, and 100-yard receiving games. He also owned the NC State record for most catches in a game with 15 versus Wake Forest in 1998.

The St. Louis Rams selected Holt  No. 6 overall in the 1999 NFL draft. He wasted no time making his presence felt at the professional level. In his 1999 rookie season, Holt had 52 receptions, 788 total yards, and six touchdowns as the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl.

Holt, whose jersey number was also retired at NC State, was an integral part of the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf.” He played 11 years in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl on seven occasions.

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3. WR Mike Quick (1978-1981)

Quick owns the distinction of having the best name for a WR in NC State history. He also made his mark with 1,934 career receiving yards. Quick earned offensive MVP honors in the Blue-Gray Game before being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the 1982 NFL Draft.

Quick spent his entire nine-year NFL career with the Eagles, and he was a five-time Pro Bowler. From 1983-87, Quick had more touchdown catches (53) than any other NFL player. 

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4. DE Mario Williams (2004-2005)

Mario Williams only spent two seasons at NC State before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. He became the first player in ACC history to be chosen No. 1 in the modern era. His collegiate numbers are eye-popping:

  • Single-season tackles for loss record (27.5)
  • Single-season sacks record (14.5)
  • Career tackles for loss record (55.5)
  • Tied for NC State’s career sacks record (25.5)

Watch this highlight video to see just how dominant Williams was for the Wolfpack.

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5. QB Roman Gabriel (1959-1961)

Roman Gabriel is one of the most heralded athletes in NC State history. He was one of the first big quarterbacks at 6-4, 225 pounds. In his time with the Wolfpack, Gabriel set 22 school and nine conference records. He was also the first ACC quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards in a season.

Gabriel went on to throw for 29,444 yards in 16 NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles

We realize there might be some folks out there clamoring for Gabriel to be at the top of this list as opposed to the bottom. If you compare the passing yardage of Philip Rivers (13,484) to Gabriel’s (2,951), well, it’s far from apples to apples. Gabriel was also a two-way player for NC State. Different eras, for sure, and different strokes for different folks.

Photo: NC State DE Mario Williams (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

About the Author

Kris Johnson

With more than 15 years of experience as a sports journalist, Kris Johnson’s work has appeared in Sports Business Daily, Sports Business Journal, NASCAR Illustrated, and more. Kris also wrote a sports-betting novel entitled The Endgame.