Dean Haynes has played two positions on offense and defense during his short first year at NC State.
Haynes sits atop the depth chart at running back heading into Saturday's game against Western Carolina at Carter-Finley Stadium. The well-kept secret was released Monday, sending shockwaves throughout the NC State fan base.
Haynes has proven versatile, but playing running back is a new experience. He played quarterback on the Wolfpack scout team last year during his redshirt season, and then safety and cornerback during spring practices. Haynes figured he had a good shot at starting at cornerback in light of the knee injuries suffered by sophomore cornerbacks Rashard Smith, Jarvis Byrd and Jesse Riley. Former safety Justin Byers, a redshirt junior, has become the first-string cornerback.
The combination of injuries and inexperience at running back led to Haynes making the switch two weeks ago. True freshman Mustafa Greene is the second-string back.
"I was surprised," said Haynes about being named the first-string running back. "Coach kind of came to me and said if I learned the stuff, I had a chance to start. I've been working my butt off and doing the things that I am supposed to do. I'm kind of surprised but I guess I've earned it."
Picking up the blitz and protecting quarterback Russell Wilson is one of the biggest attributes of the position. Coach Tom O'Brien made it clear that the younger running backs will need to learn the nuances of blocking. Haynes would also qualify as an inexperienced back, but feels good about his ability to block.
"I've done what the coaches have asked," Haynes said. "I've gotten into the playbook every day. I've been in the meetings and have tried to learn the stuff as fast as I could in the two weeks I've had. I'm a smart player. Obviously, the coaches think I can play and excel at the position.
"I like to hit, so blocking was fun. It wasn't really a hassle to block. I like picking up the backers coming in. It's fun."
Haynes played quarterback, running back, cornerback and safety at Northwest Whitfield County High in Tunnel Hill, Ga. He led his area in rushing with 878 yards and 18 touchdowns, and also passed for 782 yards and three scores his senior year.
The former Rivals.com two-star prospect picked NC State over East Carolina, UAB, Middle Tennessee State and Appalachian State. He has gained 24 pounds since high school and checks in at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds, with 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
"I feel that I am pretty fast and that I can read defenses pretty good because I played quarterback," Haynes said. "I can run the ball hard. I looked at the playbook some last year because I played quarterback [on the scout team]. Other than that, I haven't seen some of the plays. I've been really in the playbook a lot, and been making flash cards for the plays."
Haynes proved to be a quality runner in high school at quarterback, but there are some differences between getting the ball at running back.
"You have more reads because of the backers coming in," Haynes said. "Your first job is to protect the quarterback."
Haynes thought he was playing pretty good at cornerback, and was hoping to start at that position. He's taken all the changes in stride and just wants to help the team.
"I'm just going to take this opportunity and run with it," Haynes said. "I'm truly blessed with this opportunity. In high school, I'd of course get the butterflies and stuff, but playing in front of 60,000 people, I have no clue how that will feel."
Redshirt junior Curtis Underwood Jr. and Greene have been helping Haynes with the position change. Sophomore running back James Washington is another candidate for playing time this season, and redshirt sophomore Brandon Barnes is trying to work his way back from a serious ankle injury suffered in the spring.
The Wolfpack knew the running back position would be in transition after relying on Andre Brown, Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, the last several years.
O'Brien hinted in past interviews that it might take a few games for the position to settle down.
"I felt good at cornerback, but then again, the coaches know what they are doing," Haynes said. "I was nervous about the running back spot, but now I felt comfortable here. I trust their decision."