NC State walk-on receiver overcomes injury, odds

N.C. State wide receivers coach George McDonald talks with Gavin Locklear (30) during the Wolfpack's first preseason practice Tuesday, August 4, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C.
N.C. State wide receivers coach George McDonald talks with Gavin Locklear (30) during the Wolfpack's first preseason practice Tuesday, August 4, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C.

Jacoby Brissett doesn’t play favorites.

The N.C. State quarterback had six different players catch at least 20 passes last season and none had more than 45.

If you can catch the ball, Brissett likes you – and Brissett likes walk-on receiver Gavin Locklear.

“He’s got my attention,” Brissett said.

The sophomore from Apex has the quarterback’s respect, too.

“To go through what he went through and be able to come back and to have the same attitude – if not better – that speaks to his character and the player he is,” Brissett said. “That’s all you can ask for in a teammate.”

Locklear, undersized at 5-10 and 186 pounds, was in line for a significant role last season before he suffered a compound fracture in his right leg during a summer workout.

The injury happened right before training camp was about to start. During a player-run practice, Locklear went up for a routine pass.

“I just came down and it was a freak accident,” Locklear said. “It was one of those things where you knew something was wrong.”

Scary injury

Brissett compared the break to the gruesome one Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware suffered during an NCAA tournament game against Duke in 2013.

“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Brissett said. “Everybody saw it and just stopped. It was really emotional.”

One thing that Brissett still remembers was that while the rest of his teammates were screaming, Locklear was almost surreally calm. But how?

“I just knew I had my people around me that really care for me,” Locklear said.

Locklear had surgery, with a metal rod and screws, to fix his leg. He missed the entire 2014 season. Locklear tried to find the positives in the setback.

“At first, I was a little down about the whole thing,” Locklear said. “I had really never been injured before in my life. Then it was a real eye-opener. You get to look at your life and you realize one moment you have everything and then it’s all gone.”

Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Locklear’s absence was felt.

“(He’s) a guy that people didn’t know about last year,” Doeren said. “He was one of Jacoby’s favorite targets last year in the spring. We missed him a lot last year. He’s a reliable catcher that gets open.”

Hard work

Locklear is ready to make a difference this season. With Bo Hines, the team’s leading receiver last year, off to Yale, there’s an opportunity at slot receiver.

Locklear has worked hard to rehab his leg. He has some padding and extra tape around his right shin, but otherwise you wouldn’t know about the injury by the way Locklear has been running on the practice field.

Brissett isn’t the only one Locklear has impressed with his work ethic.

“He comes out every day and he works hard to get better,” first-year receivers coach George McDonald said. “He’s one of the hardest working guys on the team.”

Locklear posted modest numbers as a two-way player as a senior at Apex in 2012. He had 21 catches for 424 yards and 108 tackles at safety. A lifelong State fan, Locklear’s family had season tickets.

“We were always here,” Locklear said. “As a kid coming into Carter-Finley, it was like, ‘I want to play here.’”

When Locklear got the chance to walk-on, he took it. Now he’s ready to make the most of it. Other players, less determined than Locklear, might have given up football after such a traumatic experience. That was never an option for Locklear.

“I’ve always been a short guy, overlooked sometimes, but I just wanted to come here and prove people wrong,” Locklear said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio