Bryan Mooring asks quarterback Brennan Armstrong to autograph his Wolfpack-themed prosthetic leg during N.C. State’s ‘Meet the Pack’ event with players and fans at the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility Saturday, Aug. 16, 2023.
Clint Watts stood back, smiling and taking a photo of his son, Kasen, receiving an autograph at N.C. State’s 2023 Meet the Pack event on Saturday evening. That was what most of the parents and guardians looked like — excited for their little ones to have the opportunity — regardless of age. Watts called himself a lifelong N.C. State fan. He even attended similar events when he was a kid. Accompanying his own child to one can best be described as a full-circle moment. “It’s neat to get to see him feel the same way I did,” Watts said.
The younger of the two was a little bit starstruck, saying he felt cool getting to meet the players and plans to display his newly signed items. “It’s amazing,” Kasen Watts said. “You get to meet the people that you see on TV every Saturday or whatever day they play.” Tight end Trent Pennix experienced a similar full-circle moment. The graduate student recalls attending a few N.C. State events as a child, including a similar community event with Russell Wilson.
Pennix believes the event provides players a chance to be role models for the kids who look up to them. It’s just like his childhood experience.
N.C. State’s Trent Pennix signs autographs during a ‘Meet the Pack’ event with football players and fans at the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility Saturday, Aug. 16, 2023. Travis Long firstname.lastname@example.org
“It was actually pretty cool seeing him and now seeing him with the (Denver) Broncos,” Pennix said. “It’s cool seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces and how I was once in the same spot.”
The event featured food trucks, snow cones, an inflatable, games, photo booths and the mascots. Most of the Wolfpack players — when they weren’t signing autographs — were playing cornhole, throwing a football and taking a lot of pictures.
Shea Spampneto brought her 11-month-old daughter, Ruby, to the event. Ruby previously attended Wolfpack events with her grandmother through Gigi’s Playhouse, an organization that supports people with Down syndrome.
Neither Spampneto nor her husband are alumni, but the Pack made such a positive impression through their community programming that they wanted to attend and do something as a family.
“They’ve made a real effort to have good events and events that are inclusive, but not in a patronizing way,” Spampneto said. “It’s just fun. They’re gonna have access that they wouldn’t normally have. It’s great.”
Annister Gasper, 13, and Sam Ellis, 9, are friends and proud State fans. Like Kasen Watts, they enjoyed getting to know the players from TV. Ellis said she doesn’t know most of the team and doesn’t have a favorite player, but her excitement every time she got an autograph was contagious.
N.C. State’s Josh Crabtree autographs 5-year-old Kensli Ray’s shirt during a ‘Meet the Pack’ event with football players and fans at the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility Saturday, Aug. 16, 2023. Travis Long email@example.com
Meet the Pack has become an NIL event in recent years. Members of the NIL collectives and VIP ticket holders received early access before the general public, merchandise and a professional photo. The student-athletes received a small amount of money from the collectives’ funds.
Receiver Chris Scott said it’s not about the money. He would’ve been in attendance, and so would his teammates, even without the financial compensation. The redshirt sophomore sees events like Meet the Pack as a community service. It’s a way for the university to cultivate an experience for family and friends to create memories. “It’s a job to take these blessings and also hand them out. I know this gives them a lot of inspiration just to see us and be out here with us. I love it,” Scott said. “Growing up, I wanted these opportunities to come out and just get inspired by the people that I wanted to be in their place.” Still, Pack of Wolves NIL General Manager Chris Vurnakes said the money is an extra benefit. The student-athletes get a little cash to help pay rent, buy groceries or support loved ones
N.C. State football payers sign autographs during a ‘Meet the Pack’ event with players and fans at the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility Saturday, Aug. 16, 2023. Travis Long firstname.lastname@example.org
Vurnakes said every player was contracted for the event, meaning even walk-ons will receive money from the collective. It’s just the start, he said, of what can be done in 2023.
“It’s exciting to me because when I was in school, I was in classes with a number of student-athletes, especially from the football program. I know how busy they are. I know how much they give back to our university,” said Vurnakes, a State alumnus. “Now that NIL has been made legal, we’re able to allow them to make a little bit of compensation off events like this that are very fun to them and great for our community.”
Jacoby Pulley holds his daughter Ivy Pulley, 1, as offensive lineman Jacarrius Peak autographs a football during N.C. State’s ‘Meet the Pack’ event with players, fans at the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility Saturday, Aug. 16, 2023. Travis Long email@example.com