Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek athlete Jaylen Samuels could not imagine a more perfect ending to his senior campaign. The running back/receiver, who committed to NC State in June after he earned an offer following a standout summer camp performance, and his team played Wake Forest High at his future home — the Wolfpack's Carter-Finley Stadium — in the state title game last Saturday.
Samuels didn't take long to get find the end zone in his new home, either. He broke the 0-0 tie with just over five minutes left in the first quarter with a 19-yard touchdown scamper. He would find pay dirt four more times in the game and total 213 yards from scrimmage, despite just 12 touches.
"He's been doing that all year," Mallard Creek head coach Mike Palmieri said after his team's 59-21 victory. "I've said it all season long — he's a leader. We felt coming into the season that he was under-the-radar, and we liked it like that. He's the best football player in the state and when you have the best football player in the state, you give him the ball or you're not doing your job as a coach, it's real simple.
"He can do it all, and he could play defense. It's different to have a superstar with a great attitude. We've had some great superstars here, but Jaylen is a kid that will do whatever it takes — [playing] defense, offense, kick return. We're definitely going to miss him. He's the type of kid that you build a program around."
Samuels was named the MVP of the 4AA state title game after he finished with seven rushes for 99 yards and three touchdowns (14.1 yards per carry) and five receptions for 114 yards and two more scores (22.8 yards per catch). He also returned two kickoffs for 45 yards.
"It just felt great," he said. "I knew the whole week coming in that I was going to play my first home game before I even get [to college]. I was preparing myself to have a big game because last game I didn't do too well. I just knew that I had to work really hard to come out here and win a state championship like we did.
"It felt just like home, I had my fans screaming and my parents out there. It just felt good making plays. I knew I was going to be on tonight after that first [touchdown], I just knew it."
The do-it-all senior finished his final campaign with 109 carries for 1,404 yards and 39 touchdowns (12.9 yards per rush), to go along with 49 receptions, which gained 932 yards and 16 scores (19.0 yards per catch).
The 55 total touchdowns is a staggering number, and according to the Charlotte Observer, his final tally stands as the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in Mecklenburg County history, while his number of receiving touchdowns is ranked as the 10th-best in country annals. Records have not been kept for total touchdowns, but it has to rank among the finest campaigns ever.
"That's just a big accomplishment," Samuels admitted before he added that he focused on scoring more in 2013. "Last year I only had 12 touchdowns with big-time players around me. For me to come out my senior season and break a record for touchdowns in a season, it just felt good. I'm blessed to have my teammates around me and my coaching staff.
"I just wanted to have a big season, a break-out season. I ran track my junior season to get in shape for this year, and it really helped me out."
At 6-feet tall and 225 pounds, Samuels is a little bit of a tweener position-wise, but he expects to continue moving around the field and utilizing his versatility at the next level in Raleigh.
"They told me they're going to play me the same way, that's why I thought that was the perfect fit for me," he said. "I knew I would be able to do the same things that I do right now — play receiver, slot and even running back."
Samuels, who noted that the entire 2014 recruiting class has become close, will be taking his official visit in Jan. and always looks forward to seeing his future teammates.
"I'm close with a lot of them — [quarterback] Jalan McClendon, [receiver] Bo Hines, [defensive tackle] B.J. Hill; a lot of those guys, we're all close. We keep in touch almost every day almost — we're always on twitter; if we tweet something, they'll retweet me or favorite it. We're all staying connected so that when we all get to State, we'll already be close."
The three-star recruit, who was recently upgraded to the nation's No. 2 fullback and the No. 20 prospect in his home state by Rivals.com, noted that he will probably sit out this prep basketball season even though he has played that sport all of his life. He admitted that the hardwood was actually his first love, but things have changed. He added that he does still plan to run track in the spring to try to continue to improve his speed.
Although some programs, like North Carolina and Wake Forest, have continued to recruit Samuels, he noted that he is solid to the Pack and his focus is on becoming the best player possible before he arrives in Raleigh next summer.
"I'm just going to focus on getting better," he noted. "I'm not going to stop now, I'm just going to keep getting better in the offseason by working out, staying in shape and getting a little bit faster and stronger so I can be prepared for the next level."