As one of the team photographers for NC State, I have the great fortune of having behind-the-scenes access. I have seen some of my colleagues do some great photography in the locker room as players prep for the game, taping their wrist etc, and post game celebrating. My good friends Jeff Camarati and Joe Bray at UNC have done the like for the Tar Heels and I wanted to do the same for the Wolfpack. A few weeks ago I talked with my boss, NC State media relations director Annabelle Vaughn about doing some post game photos in the locker room. But on this night, we both decided this wasn’t the night as this game seemed lost at 10-15. Post game photos of a team on the losing side aren’t always as exciting obviously. I’m thinking “Well, FSU is coming up and Amato seems to always have their number”. OK, no problem. Less than 2 weeks, we’ll do some locker room and post game stuff. Then the clock strikes 46 seconds and NC State has possession again on their 28th.
Still expecting a defeat, I’m there taking photos for posterity’s sake only. It was Evans’ first start, and you can’t get enough stock photos of a new starting QB. So I’m thinking I’ll just take a few more photos, start editing photos once the game ends and call it an early night. Evans makes his first pass which misses Bowens. On 2nd down, he completes a 18 yard pass to the 46. After that play, I sprint to the other end of the field. No easy task because I have to pass behind the team area that is full of ESPN TV cable, mud and every tripping hazard imaginable. But I make it panting to the other side just as Evans makes his first throw of the new down. No yardage is gained. On second down he makes a 20 yard pass to Dunlap to the BC 34. Now my heart is starting to beat harder. Stupid me is thinking “Hey, we’re getting in field goal range!” Then I realize the obvious; it’s going to take a touchdown to win this one. I fumble around and get my right hand set on the camera. I along with every other photo and TV cameraman is beginning feel the pressure b/c we know this next play is going to be the most important of the game and I just pray I’m in the right position to get it. Evans cocks his hand back and the air is sucked out of the stadium by fans. Evans, who never started at NCSU before, who never played an entire game before, launches a laser-guided missile straight to Dunlap for 34 yards. I see the ball flying in the air and what seemed to be him fumbling. I’m thinking all that and they loose; but he gets a hold of it. Touchdown! The crowd erupts; the score board glows 16-15 and the always-consistent Deraney was to deliver the final blow. Not since UNC beat Miami 2 years can I remember a football stadium so loud and seemingly ready to explode. The fans who left early, heard and felt the explosion of emotion in the distance and looked back at the stadium with the realization that they just missed a great moment. I’m excited too until I realize that the photo I took was partially obstructed by a BC player. But such is sports photography: You have to pray you are positioned right and go from there. Some times it works, sometimes not.
The excitement is tempered only when the official proclaims: “The play is under review”. Fans wait in nervous excitement. The officials then says “There is no incontrovertible evidence…” Well, I’m not sure what the rest was because the fans exploded with cheers. But it didn’t matter. 17-15 stayed on the board and with 8.5 second left, the important part was to come – celebration. To be ready, I looked at my camera to see how many photos I had left on the card to take. Only 23 or so. I’m going to need a lot more than that, I thought. So I put in a fresh memory card, put on a wide-angle lens and got ready to jet out on the field. When 00:00 hit I with the entire team and every camera man ran to center field.
As I run out to center field I desperately try to find Evans but in the end could never find him. But I did pop of some great photos of “Tank” Tyler and other players. While I center field I see Coach Amato interviewed on ESPN and Annabelle with him. She tells me “Come with me,” I think it was. I followed her and Coach Amato back into the Murphy center, up the elevator and into the locker room. The locker room is quite as the players haven’t made it up yet. But that changes in a few minutes and they slowly come in and begin celebrating. I begin taking photos, feeling like a visitor and slightly out of place. I committed a bit of a sin when I walked on the red block “S” logo. One of the players tells me “you can’t stand on the red”. “Sorry!” I apologize – revealing to everyone that I’m obviously new in here. Not that they noticed much – they just beat #20 ranked Boston College. I take some more photos and they turn out great. The euphoria of the moment came out in the photos. It was a wonderful experience being part of this behind-the-scenes celebration. Coach Amato quietens the players to speak, telling them to be proud of themselves but also humble. The team then takes a moment for a prayer and then sings the fight song. All the time while Coach Amato is speaking I’m sitting on the floor with players just inches behind me. I want to get up and move around but am hesitate to draw attention to myself as I’m on their turf.
Once the team meeting is finished I get up and follow Annabelle to do post game interviews. We head to the elevator and as I’m about to get on I drop one of my cameras and its lens. “Doh!,” as Homer Simpson would say. Fortunately, it is okay. On the elevator is Annabelle and her staff, Daniel Evans, Andre Brown, other players and I. As we get off the elevator Evans’ mother is there. They embrace and I take a few photos but I realize my flash isn’t working! I jiggle it around finally get it to work. I have time to take one more photo and nail it just right. There is a God! The whole moment was so touching. When they embraced, it was as if time stood still. Everyone watched the two and we all stood in silence. Senior Assoc AD David Horning on the left was what we all were in that moment: silent observers. It was really one of those moments that could bring tears to one’s eyes seeing how proud Mrs. Evans was of her son. Brian Asbill, GM of Wolfpack Sports Marketing, later pointed out what I didn’t realize; and that is, in the background is Ted Brown’s jersey, from the same era as Johnny Evans, Daniel’s father. The photo’s framing helped bring together the two generations together in one frame. I wish I could say that was planned, but it was just dumb luck.
After this was the press conference. Keep in mind this was a late game and the journalist were on a tight deadline. Under normal circumstances, most members of the press would have foregone the press conference to beat the clock. But this wasn’t a normal game and most came out to interview Evans. Evans was surrounded by so many members of the press that the only way I could get photos of him was to hold the camera over my head as at eye-level I could only hear him, but not see him. This kid, who was just minutes ago under the eyes of fans at Carter-Finely and ESPN cameras to throw one last play to win the game said the press conference was more pressuring than the actual game. Listening to Evans made you have to just feel good for the kid, no matter what side of the field you were cheering for.
“Since I was six years old, I have come to just about every home football game here at Carter-Finley Stadium and dreamed about playing here, starting at quarterback for NC State. To not only start that game, and start a game that was on national television, in the ACC, on a Saturday night, it’s just amazing. I was just trying get into the end zone.” —Daniel Evans postgame
After Evans was Coach Amato, and after Amato I made a quick path to the press box in Vaughn Towers. I was way behind my normal schedule to download and edit photos. Normally, by the time the press conference is finished, I have already edited down my take and am ready to upload photos to gopack.com. By the time I finished downloading, editing and posting an album online, it was 2am. Only Tim Peeler of gopack.com and I remained in this enormous press box. ESPN was long gone and I was worn out.
But in what was a thrilling experience, I would do it again any day
All photos © Peyton Williams/NCSU Athletic Communications