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Oct. 18, 2011
By Rob Daniels, Special to theACC.com
Sure, going 31-for-33 on field goals is great. That accuracy rate may never be touched in ACC football history. But for NC State's Marc Primanti, simply getting on the field had longer odds than a 50-yarder into the November wind.
Long before his kicks became as consistent as the Pittsburgh sandwiches that bear his family name, Primanti had to detour, defer, wonder and wait. ACC Legend? He'd have happily settled for far less.
"I went out there like it was my last opportunity to play," Primanti said from his home in Raleigh, N.C. "And I kept that mentality the whole way through."
Years after their final games, some athletes have tales of relentless recruitment, second chances and borderline entitlement. The specifics of Primanti's tale may never have a sequel.
Generally speaking, he wasn't supposed to be there.
In Western Pennsylvania, the Primanti name is spoken with great reverence. In 1933, Joe Primanti along with siblings Dick and Stanley started a deli that has grown into an institution. Its sandwiches are known as Grinders, a term that would take on appropriate significance with the persistence of Dick Primanti's grandson Marc.
In high school near Philadelphia, to which his part of the family had migrated, Marc Primanti started in four sports, juggling tight schedules in football (normally Fridays) and soccer (generally Saturday mornings.)
"I'd come off a football game on a Friday night when I was trying to kick it high and then play soccer, where you're staying down and over top of the ball, the next morning," he recalled. "I would drive some coaches crazy. They'd say, 'No, the goal here is to put the ball on the goal, not over it.'"
He planned on attending Towson University near Baltimore as a soccer player, but relatively late in his senior year, he had to regroup when he learned that opportunity was no longer available. A high school friend, Larry Austin, was going to State on a football scholarship, and that proved to be Primanti's entrée into a new world.
"If I had gotten the (Towson) OK, I would have never come here," he said. Unlike in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, the kicker's name had no cachet in Raleigh. He'd have to earn everything.
It helped that the NCAA didn't limit squad sizes in football in 1992, so Primanti had a locker and a jersey and a nominal spot on a crowded roster. He was one of 15 punters, kickers and long-snappers in the fold that fall, and with Steve Videtich locking down the kicking job, Primanti wasn't getting on the field. Officially, he was a fifth-stringer.
"I knew it was an uphill battle," Primanti said. "It was about getting knocked down and built back up. But I knew I wasn't ready. Especially at that level. I joked with Steve just recently that I never once beat him in practice."
Literally nothing was certain. Before the 1993 season, the NCAA enacted legislation that capped rosters at 105, including walk-ons. Suddenly, some of Primanti's buddies were gone.
"My number could have been pulled, and I could have been done after my freshman year," he said. "I was very fortunate to stick around."
This didn't mean he was appreciably closer to seeing competition, however. For two more years, Primanti showed up at practice, kept his grades up and waited for the gig to come open. It didn't happen until Thursday, Aug. 24, 1995. Coach Mike O'Cain informed the team that Primanti, a fourth-year junior, would be the starter.
Having learned never to presume, Primanti never relaxed. He made 11-of-13 field goals as a junior. The only real limitation on his production was opportunity.
Even with that production, nobody foresaw 1996. Even the best kickers botch one from time to time. The chances of a random failure are heightened when holders and/or snappers, the preliminary links in the chain, change, and that happened unexpectedly with a holder in '96.
Nothing derailed Primanti, who attempted 20 field goals and made them all. No kicker in NCAA before or since has been perfect with that many tries.
"I would have traded all 31 (career) field goals for some more wins," Primanti said, referencing State's 3-8 finishes in his two seasons of play. "I would have rather gone to a few more bowl games than have the personal success I had."
Primanti's number ultimately did come up a couple of years before O'Cain and a cast that included future All-Pro Torry Holt got the Pack back to postseason play. But who can say things haven't turned out well?
While at State, Primanti met his wife, Julie. A few years later, Jason Biggs, the Pack's punter in the early 1990s, approached the kicker about starting a business that would administer triathlons and other road races.
"We were weekend warriors at that point," Primanti said. "One event went to two and we basically started acquiring equipment. We exceeded our five-year plan in the second year."
For once, Marc Primanti didn't have to wait.