When a young Payton Wilson borrowed something as a child, he said his parents taught him to return the item in a better condition. He played his first game with NC State Aug. 31, 2019, and wrapped up his Carter-Finley Stadium residency Saturday night with a rivalry win over North Carolina.
The elite linebacker, who just completed the best regular season of his career, helped elevate this program. After six years of standout, All-ACC play and a pair of 100-tackle seasons, Wilson left his home field in a better condition than when he arrived.
His first season with the program ended with a 4-8 final record. The linebacker spent the following five years building the Pack into a team to be proud of. He is the loudest voice in the 2023 squad’s locker room and helped lead the team to a 9-3 regular season record.
“I gave everything I possibly could have given these last years, and hopefully that shows on the film,” Wilson said.
Wilson shouted out head coach Dave Doeren, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, offensive coordinator Robert Anae and director of strength and conditioning Dantonio Burnette for building the program up to its current state.
“Once again, credit to coach Doeren, coach Gibson, coach Anae and coach Thunder, just the culture that they’ve instilled here after that 2019 year, just getting the cancers out of the locker room and getting some tough people in here to play ball,” Wilson said.
Those hard-nosed, intense football players showed up all over the field during NC State’s 39-20 win over North Carolina. Offensively, Wilson said Brennan Armstrong played with “damn near a broken rib,” but the graduate quarterback still threw for 334 yards and 3 touchdowns.
True freshman wide receiver Kevin Concepcion limped off the field at times but still fought through any pain to help carry the Wolfpack offense. He caught 7 passes for 131 yards, adding 55 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Defensively, Wilson led the Pack, contributing in pretty much any way he could on a football field. The national defensive player of the year finalist recorded a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and 15 total tackles (8 solo, 2 for loss) against the Tar Heels.
NC State held UNC to 130 rushing yards, and Wilson was a huge part of that effort. No North Carolina rusher other than quarterback Drake Maye (106 yards) finished above 3.1 yards per carry.
“You know about us front seven,” Wilson said. “Coach Gibson, he don’t play about the run game. We’re going to shut that down every time.”
Before the linebacker played his first snap against the Tar Heels, Wilson went through NC State’s senior day ceremony. Saturday was his last time playing in front of a Carter-Finley Stadium crowd, and he ran off the field waving his arms to the crowd, full of joy after ending his home career on a high note.
“It was an awesome experience,” Wilson said. “I can’t thank Wolfpack nation enough for my senior day. The applause that I got, it meant the world to me. I love this university, I love this team, I love this fan base. It sucks that it’s my last one, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter and hopefully I left a good mark here.”