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Amato: 'We're Not Going To Flinch'

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The barrel-chested bravado of coach Chuck Amato has come to symbolize North Carolina State's attempts to join the Atlantic Coast Conference elite.

So it's no surprise that the sixth-year coach is turning again to that image as many fans appear to be growing increasingly impatient with the Wolfpack's up-and-down ways.

Amato remained defiant Friday when asked about the Wolfpack's slow start to a season in which many expected the team to challenge for the league's Atlantic Division title. He insisted his players were winners despite a 1-2 start. He talked of the team being "so close" to breaking through for big wins.

And if the man had any doubts, he wasn't letting on.

"We're not going to flinch," Amato said. "You're not going to see a frown out of me. When adversity strikes, you can do one of two things with your jaws. You can sag them and frown or you can smile and stick your chest out and walk around like you know you're a winner."

The Wolfpack (0-2 ACC) is coming off a 31-24 home loss to North Carolina _ the second straight loss to its in-state rival _ and heads into Thursday's game at No. 25 Georgia Tech with a four-game losing streak in that series. N.C. State lost its opener to No. 3 Virginia Tech 20-16 in a penalty- and mistake-filled effort, while its only win came against Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky.

This is hardly what Wolfpack fans had expected from a team that had returning players such as quarterback Jay Davis and receiver Tramain Hall to go with a defense that ranked as one of nation's toughest in 2004.

And the slow start comes after the program spent millions of dollars to improve Carter-Finley Stadium, including building the Murphy Center _ the Wolfpack's 103,254 square-foot headquarters which added 5,864 permanent end-zone seats _ and opening a new press box and luxury suites.

Despite those changes, this year's team is looking a lot like the 2004 model, which lost several close games and was one of the league's most-penalized squads. Yet Amato talks as confidently as ever, and goes out of his way to appear unfazed and untouched by criticism.

On Friday, that included wearing a crisp suit instead of the usual coach garb of team-logo polo shirts and sneakers for a meeting with reporters. He began cracking jokes as soon as he sat down.

"I dressed up for you people," Amato said with a smile. "I just wanted you people to smile for a change."

The 59-year-old coach also said he even performed a series of "up-downs" _ a football drill that that requires players to run in place, hit the ground and jump back up _ after practice Tuesday.

"I said, 'Hey, I made mistakes,'" said Amato, a three-year letter-winner in football and wrestling at N.C. State in the 1960s. "So I did them _ the right way."

Amato has also continued reminding players that they belong to a good team, despite their record.

"I don't think we need that," linebacker Oliver Hoyte said, "but that's what he's been doing."

Wide receiver Sterling Hicks said Amato has told the players to put the poor start behind them.

"It's tough for him," Hicks said. "I know he goes home at night thinking about the games we've lost. He just tells us to keep looking forward and keep working hard."

Still, while Amato said he doesn't pay attention to fan reaction, he knows the pressure will continue to build _ both from inside and outside the program _ if the wins don't come soon.

And all the confidence in the world won't change that.

"They know we're so close," Amato said of his players. "But we're not playing horseshoes. They also know we've got to win a football game."

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