NC State head coach Dave Doeren has said all along that he expects at least one, and maybe even two, of the true freshmen running backs to play this fall. The Wolfpack will definitely need a rookie rusher to step up with 2012 leading rusher Shadrach Thornton suspended for the first game and just one scholarship runner returning from last year in Tony Creecy.
Matt Dayes, a freshman from Weston, Fla. who was ranked as the nation's No. 27 running back, is preparing as if he'll be the guy that will step up in Thornton's absence, but he knows he hasn't earned any carries yet.
"I'm trying to play as a true freshman," he said. "I'm working really hard and trying to get after it at practice.
"It's just like if anyone gets hurt - somebody has to step up. Whichever one of the freshmen that works the hardest is probably going to be the one that plays."
"Whether [Thornton] was in or out [for the first game], we're going to play three or four backs based on what we do," Doeren said after the team's first scrimmage on Saturday, where he noted Dayes had a long touchdown run. "Matt has got a chance to play early and he showed today that he can protect the football and break some tackles, that's good.
"I wouldn't consider him a speed guy, but he's not slow by any means, either. He's got really good vision, he puts his foot in the ground and I think his biggest attribute is how fast he accelerates. ...The first 20 yards are pretty excellent for him."
The 5-foot-9, 213-pounder earned all-state laurels as a senior and he was also named the Broward County Player of the Year after he rushed for 1,864 yards and 31 touchdowns. He tallied at least 150 yards on the ground in every contest and helped lead his team to the Florida 8A championship game, where he rushed for five scores but could not lead his team to victory.
The highly recruited Dayes originally pledged to NC State in June, but de-committed after former head coach Tom O'Brien was dismissed following the season. It was a roller coaster recruitment that new head coach Dave Doeren eventually won with a big assist from running backs coach Des Kitchings. Some outlets even reported that Dayes had committed to Vanderbilt, but eventually the back posted to his twitter account that he would run with the Pack once again.
"I liked [Doeren's] energy," Dayes remembered. "I liked what he had to offer me and the knowledge that I can learn from him. He's a great all-around coach."
In addition to his new coaches, the youngster has welcomed the opportunity for the older running backs, Creecy, Thornton and walk-on Milton Hall, to mentor him.
"They have all been teaching me and helping me adjust to the new offense and everything," he said. "Practice has been going good, I've been tired because of the up-tempo offense. I'm not used to it, but I'm trying to get adjusted and get in better shape right now.
"There's a lot to get adjusted to, but I'm getting it down so far."
Dayes estimated that he has added about 10 pounds to his frame, compared to what he played at as a prep senior, and he can notice a difference already.
"I'm bigger, I'm stronger and I'm faster," he noted. "That helps me out a lot in college with bigger guys."
Dayes admitted that he tried to get a head start by getting his hands on a playbook before he made it to campus, but the learning curve was steep with no instruction from coaches. It's gone a lot better since he made it to Raleigh and can now quiz his teammates or coaches on the subject.
"I'm adjusting to it well," he said. "I like it a lot so far."
The toughest adjustment for the youngster has been just being away from his Florida home and support system there. However, he noted there are several other Sunshine State natives on the roster, including classmate Jerod Fernandez, a linebacker who he met on his official visit, and that has helped the transition.
"That helps because they understand where I'm coming from," he said. "We can just talk about a whole bunch of other stuff that people from around here wouldn't know about."