Daniel Lacy, Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After Matt Dayes graduated at the conclusion of last season, a lot is riding on the N.C. State Wolfpack football team to replace the workhorse running back who garnered 1,437 all-purpose yards on 281 total touches.
The best option to fill in some of this production lies with senior H-back Jaylen Samuels.
“Matt Dayes was a heck of a football player,” Samuels said during the 2017 ACC Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte on Thursday.
“That’s a huge role that someone has to fill. With us losing Matt, we have to find someone to do what we need to, close to the way he does it. I feel like we have the pieces for it, we all just gotta execute and take it one game at a time.”
Samuels is arguably the most versatile player on the whole team, combining for 754 yards and 13 touchdowns on 88 touches in 2016, which was actually down from his 2015 season in which he tallied 965 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns on 121 touches.
With Dayes now gone, head coach Dave Doeren can see a lot of Wolfpack players stepping up with Samuels leading the way.
“You’d love to see him having the ball in his hands as many times as you can and not having Matt Dayes there creates that void for him and others to take advantage of,” Doeren said.
Samuels has played all over the formation, seeing time at tight end, H-back, wide receiver, running back and even wildcat quarterback.
Samuels mentioned that his versatility goes back to his high school days at Mallard Creek.
“I’d do the same thing, I’d move around the field,” Samuels said.
“I really can’t say I played a specific position because I played all over the place, especially my senior year… I feel like I already had the college experience because I played so much in high school.”
Senior Bradley Chubb discussed how tough Samuels is to defend in practice.
“It’s ridiculous; he can do anything at practice, you never know what he’s going to do,” Chubb said.
“He can throw the ball, he can catch the ball, he can run the ball. He’s just all over the field. He makes us better because we get to see him every day in practice.”
To add on to his production, Samuels has worked extensively with his teammates, primarily redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley.
“The relationship has built over the last year,” Samuels said.
“We do a lot of extra work together, along with Jalan [McClendon] and the other running backs and receivers.”
However, while most of his yardage comes in the passing game, he mentioned that his game best translates as a running back once he reaches the NFL.
Other players to watch at the running back position are juniors Nyheim Hines and Reggie Gallaspy II and redshirt senior Dakwa Nichols.
“Those guys are all very skilled that deserve chances at the football,” Doeren said.
“I think the positive of the unknown is that there are options in it, so I’m looking forward to seeing that room compete.”
Like Samuels, Hines has showcased his versatility time and time again, spending most of his time at slot receiver and kick returner after being recruited as a running back.
“Yeah, me and Nyheim, we have have a lot of versatility that we can bring to the table,” Samuels said. “Me and his, we have a lot of the same skill sets together, being able to move out of the backfield, catch the pass, go in the backfield, move the ball. It’s going to be kind of scary for defenses to prepare for us next year.”
Additionally, Hines showcases his blistering speed on the Wolfpack’s track and field team.
Gallaspy figures to be the lead back, as he was the No. 2 back behind Dayes last year, tacking on 234 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries last season with his power-running style.
Nichols, meanwhile, is a similar style as Dayes with a combination of speed, strength and versatility, but doesn’t jump off the page in any category like Hines and Gallaspy do.
While Dayes will certainly be missed in N.C. State’s offense, the Pack has standout guys who can fill the void, led by Samuels.