When Mallard Creek starting quarterback Emiere Scaife was lost for the season with an injury Sept. 27, senior fullback/receiver Jaylen Samuels knew his role in the Mavericks offense would have to grow.
“It was a big blow, because (Scaife) was a true soldier,” said Samuels, who has committed to play for N.C. State next season. “He was a leader of the offense and almost the leader of the whole team. I’ve just tried to step up and do what I can to help the team.”
In Scaife’s place, the still-undefeated Mavericks (9-0) have given the quarterbacking duties to sophomore James Smith.
“Smith’s a younger guy,” said Mallard Creek head football coach Michael Palmieri. “He needed some leadership, some older guys behind him, and (Samuels) was the perfect person to have in the huddle with him.”
The loss of Scaife hasn’t slowed Samuels’ production this season. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, ranked the No. 4 fullback in the nation by Scout.com, has a chance to become the first Maverick ever to receive and rush for 1,000 yards each in the same season.
As of Oct. 29, Samuels had 54 rushing attempts for 725 yards and 31 receptions for 544 yards, and a combined total of 27 touchdowns.
“(Samuels is) more than a fullback,” said Palmieri. “He can play every position on the field. He plays running back, receiver, some linebacker, and he will even take a snap under center if we need him to.
“He’s just an all-around great football player. We think he’s the best in the state.”
Samuels’ play has been scrutinized by every other coach in the MeCKa 4A Conference, all of whom share the goal of somehow slowing him down. No one has yet succeeded.
“They’re starting to recognize everything,” said Samuels. “When I’m on the field, I can hear coaches on the sidelines yelling ‘Watch 27!’ (Samuels’ uniform number), you know they’re starting to key on me a little bit.”
“I just keep balling,” he said. “I like when teams are focusing on me. I just keep doing my thing regardless.”
Smith recounted a play from the Mavericks 69-0 win over Hopewell on Oct. 4 in which Samuels broke across the middle, hauled in Smith’s pass, ducked the safety and then broke away from the cornerback for a touchdown.
“He’s a go-to guy,” said Smith. “If you put it in his direction, he’ll catch it. He hasn’t dropped anything I’ve thrown to him.”
Despite his size and power, Samuels also runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
“He’s just been on a tear, to be honest with you,” said Palmieri. “Every game’s been a big game for him so far.”
Because of his huge season, Samuels had plenty of Division 1 offers to play football, but he knew early on that N.C. State was where he wanted to go.
According to the senior, the Wolfpack plan to use him in much the same way the Mavericks have this season, putting him in both the backfield and out in the slot position.
“I just felt like that was a perfect fit for me and my family,” he said. “They’ve got a good plan for me, and they know where they are going to put me in the offense already.”
Before Samuels sets foot in a dorm in Raleigh, however, he knows there’s still some unfinished business back here in Charlotte.
“We have to send all the seniors out with a (state championship) ring, because the past couple of years we’ve been losing in the semifinals,” said Samuels. “I feel like we should win it all this year.”
Asked what part of his game he’s working on improving the most right now, Samuels said, “My blocking. That’s about it. I’m just making sure I’m making a play when I don’t have the ball in my hands instead of just standing around the pile.”
Palmieri, however, gives a different response.
“The only thing I’m working on with him is to keep him healthy for the playoffs,” he said. “There ain’t much more there for me to do. You can’t try to coach a kid like that too much, you know?”