Luke DeCock

As NC State practice begins, freshmen reveal true readiness

Garner’s Nyheim Hines could play key role immediately for N.C. State.
Garner’s Nyheim Hines could play key role immediately for N.C. State.

When Dave Doeren looks at Nyheim Hines, the speedy freshman back from Garner, he sees a punt returner. He sees a kick returner. He sees a receiver. He sees a running back. The N.C. State coach sees all those things, and he hasn’t actually seen anything from Hines yet. Until he actually goes through a practice with the Wolfpack, no one really knows what Hines or any of the other freshmen can do.

“Nyheim’s a guy we’re expecting to play because of his versatility,” Doeren said. “Is he going to be a huge contributor? I don’t know. … He has so many skill sets, I’d be shocked if he’s not out there, but as a starter or a backup, I don’t know yet.”

Football practice begins this week – on Monday at North Carolina, Tuesday at N.C. State and Wednesday at Duke – and with it the annual unveiling of the true capabilities of the true freshmen. Recruiting rankings often have as much to do with potential as polish. Sometimes the players who can contribute early aren’t the same ones who had all the stars next to their names.

It takes real practices to determine that, and for the freshmen who weren’t able to graduate early and attend spring practice, it won’t take many practices to determine who’s going to be able to play and who isn’t, and those categories don’t always break down the way fans or even coaches would expect.

“Sometimes the guy you thought that could play is more immature and couldn’t play, and the guy we thought we were going to redshirt all of a sudden is the guy,” Doeren acknowledged. “That happens almost every year with one of them.”

Nowhere is this winnowing of contributors more crucial to the season than N.C. State, where a highly touted recruiting class is expected to deliver an influx of immediate help at several skill positions. But can it?

Two years ago, record-setting Greensboro running back T.J. Logan was North Carolina’s big recruit, and he started four games, ran for 533 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a freshman. Two lesser-known recruits, three-star receivers Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard, each had as much of an impact – Switzer with his five punt return touchdowns, three receiving TDs and one passing TD, Howard with 22 catches and four touchdowns.

N.C. State is counting on its top two recruits, Hines and Princeton running back Johnny Frasier, to contribute. Frasier will be part of a rotation in the backfield that includes preseason all-ACC pick Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes; Hines is expected to be a big-play threat in the slot.

Until they hit the field this week, there are no guarantees. Either could be surpassed by someone like Greensboro running back Reggie Gallaspy, who enrolled early and ran for 131 yards in the spring game. Or the freshman star could be a wide receiver like Vernon Grier or Brian Sessoms, both three-star prospects, both too fast for Doeren to ignore.

“They’re both unbelievably fast, but are they going to be ready? I don’t know yet,” Doeren said. “When I signed them both, my thought was I wouldn’t need to play them. But when I saw how fast they are, maybe I will, because they can run.”

At this point, it’s all speculation, projection and assumption. By September, the results will make sort themselves out, but recruiting rankings and offseason workouts can only pose questions that only action on the field can answer. For N.C. State, with its plethora of recruits at skill positions, there’s a lot of sorting to be done.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947