Before he played a snap in college, N.C. State’s Jaylen Samuels was scoring from every corner of Carter-Finley Stadium.
Samuels, a Mallard Creek star, scored five touchdowns – two rushing, three receiving – on 12 plays from scrimmage in the 2013 N.C. 4AA championship game, a symbolic home game for the Wolfpack commit. Mallard Creek’s 59-21 win against Wake Forest capped a 16-0 season, and Samuels’ five scores brought his season total to 59.
“The one thing I remember is just scoring all those touchdowns,” he said.
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren remembers, too. He and his staff could hardly contain their excitement as they watched their future weapon score from everywhere on the field. Even now, Doeren shakes his head and laughs when trying to describe Samuels in that championship game.
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“Freak show …” he says. “We knew we had something special.”
It was only a precursor to Samuel’s explosive play-making ability at N.C. State, where the 5-foot-11 senior has scored 31 touchdowns on 230 plays from scrimmage. It was also a precursor to his positional fluidity.
Samuels said he played all over the field in his youth football days, and he was a versatile weapon at Mallard Creek. He’s listed as an H-back on N.C. State’s roster, but it’s no more than a placeholder.
Before Thursday’s ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, the league created a position on the preseason all-conference ballots just for him: “all-purpose back.” What position is he?
“I really still don’t know,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Samuels said he sees himself as a versatile running back in the NFL, one who can run between the tackles or split out wide and run routes. Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver from Stanford, comes to mind. He’ll likely need to play fullback if he wants a spot in the Senior Bowl, and most NFL draft sites consider him a tight end.
The do-it-all back is a decoy in N.C. State’s offense about 40 percent of the time, he figures, lining up all over the field and going in motion to distract the defense. But Samuels was the fulcrum of Mallard Creek’s offense. He said he played the “Y” position in high school, similar to a traditional tight end.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Brand, now the head coach at Vance, threw him into whatever spot the team needed. Need a first down? Throw him in the backfield. Going deep? Split him out wide. Quarterback goes down? Plug him in. Samuels could do it all.
“I was really playing every position,” he said, “especially my senior year.”
That season, Samuels put up video-game numbers for Mallard Creek. He turned 109 carries into 1,404 yards and 39 touchdowns, and he caught 49 passes for 932 yards and 16 touchdowns. Every 2.8 times he touched the ball, he scored. He says he could have scored even more if he hadn’t gotten complacent at times – 59 touchdowns can have that effect.
This season, Samuels admits he’ll need to brush up on running back responsibilities to help ease the loss of Wolfpack starter Matt Dayes, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in April. Samuels says he hasn’t worried about learning N.C. State’s playbook since offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz joined the team in 2016. With as many positions as he plays, he doesn’t need to.
“I don’t study the playbook,” Samuels said. “I just know it.”
Doeren said his staff recruited Samuels as an H-back, but he’s been everything for the offense. Samuels ranks sixth in school history in career touchdowns, and he’s been the team’s leading receiver and third-leading rusher the past two seasons. He even threw a touchdown on a trick play in N.C. State’s season-ending win against North Carolina in 2016.
It was a throwback to his Mallard Creek days, when playing as a “Wildcat” quarterback was routine. He even played safety as an underclassman, and he was listed as a fullback in his recruiting profile. Is there any position he can’t play?
“Y’all haven’t seen me kick,” he said.
For now, Samuels doesn’t need a position to make an impact. He’ll return to his hometown on Sept. 2, when the Wolfpack will open its season against South Carolina in Charlotte. With an audience of friends and former coaches, he’ll likely be scoring from every corner of Bank of America Stadium.
In a year, maybe the NFL will have a new position ready for him, too.
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart