Bryan Underwood spent the summer getting stronger, improving his conditioning and even flirting with his goal of squatting 500 pounds in the weight room. He is hoping it will help him make some game-turning plays for North Carolina State, too.
The fifth-year receiver has had some good moments in his Wolfpack career, most notably by hauling in the touchdown to upset Florida State two years ago. Coming off a broken collarbone that sidelined him for the final month of last season, Underwood must make those kinds of plays more consistently to give N.C. State's offense the big-play threat it needs.
"I've gotten stronger, faster, bigger," Underwood said Sunday at the team's preseason media day. "I'm more conditioned than I've probably ever been in college. Right now, I'm actually enjoying what my body is able to do. I'm actually able to push my limits more than I ever probably did since I've been here."
The 5-foot-9 Underwood, a native of University Heights, Ohio, said he is up from about 174 pounds last year to 182 pounds now. He has the experience to lead a position group filled with youngsters as well as a track record of success.
"He's playing a lot harder in practice," second-year coach Dave Doeren said. "Last year he was inconsistent — not on game day, but in practice. ... I think he'll be more durable because of the offseason that he put out there."
Underwood had 10 touchdown catches as a sophomore, all coming in a run of eight straight games to open the season. It was the longest streak in school history and one shy of matching the Atlantic Coast Conference record. That included his 2-yard TD catch on fourth down with 16 seconds left to upset No. 3 Florida State 17-16 in October 2012.
Last year, Underwood's role in Doeren's no-huddle offense increased as the season went along. His most memorable moment came when he ran down the sideline for what appeared to be an 83-yard tying touchdown in the third quarter against No. 3 Clemson, though officials ruled Underwood stepped on the sideline near midfield.
Officials blew the play dead to make it unreviewable, then TV replays appeared to show him remaining inbounds. Still, it provided a glimpse of Underwood's speed and big-play ability.
Underwood also had an 80-yard touchdown catch against Central Michigan before suffering the season-ending injury at FSU in late October. Underwood said he learned while watching from the sideline for the final five games, and then committed himself to an offseason of work.
"He's playing a lot faster," receivers coach Frisman Jackson said. "He's running a lot faster, he's more explosive. He's finishing plays that he didn't really finish last year, even in the spring. It's night and day from where he was in the spring."
Jackson said N.C. State needs Underwood to provide a downfield threat to open up things for new quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the rest of the offense. Doeren said Brissett, who sat out last year as a transfer from Florida, has built a relationship with Underwood and "knows where Bryan is" once the ball is snapped.
Underwood said he is ready for the ball to come his way.
"I want to leave something very important that people are going to remember," he said. "That's why I worked harder, lifted better, getting my mind right, studying film differently, taking notes differently — I'm just a whole completely different person. I'm enjoying it."
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