When head coach Dave Doeren and company took over at NC State, they switched the practice jersey colors of the offense and defense. Previously, the offense wore white while the defense wore red. Starting this spring, it flip flopped and fifth-year senior Ryan Cheek opened camp in a white jersey while trying to work his way onto the depth chart at linebacker.
After teammate and close friend Logan Winkles, who was in a battle for the starting fullback spot with fellow redshirt junior Tyler Purvis, went down for the season with an ACL tear, Cheek felt the urge to do something to honor one of his best friends, who he calls, "the closest thing to being a brother without the blood."
"Somebody went down, so somebody else needed to step up and I wanted to be that guy," he remembered. "It all happened in about 30 seconds. [Winkles] went down, I looked over and saw they needed help. I walked over and asked Coach Doeren if I could go over there to step in."
Cheek immediately changed positions and a red jersey was found for him to complete the switch. He found himself back in a familiar color, but he was playing a completely new position just weeks before the final year of his eligibility kicks off.
"I thought that said a lot about a senior on our football team doing something for the rest of the guys," Doeren noted. "The next man in philosophy will take place there."
The native of Lancaster, Ohio, was one of three linebackers elected to the Wolfpack's Leadership Council in the spring, so it's no surprise that he was willing to make the unselfish sacrifice. In fact, the six-foot, 235-pounder who has appeared in 34 games during his career and totaled 14 tackles said it was an easy choice.
"Winkles is my dude," Cheek explained. "Ever since he got here, we've been best friends. We hang out every day. He has come back home with me before, our parents text each other. His mom actually texted my mom and she knew about it before I even got out of practice."
It remains to be seen if Cheek, who has some very limited prep experience at fullback, will be able to crack the rotation on offense, a side of the ball where he hasn't played since high school. He quarterbacked a Wing-T system for the first three years of his career and then directed a shotgun attack for the first half of his senior year before his first unexpected position change, which also ironically ended up with him at fullback.
"We ended up switching back to the Wing-T and they wanted to get a young guy in at quarterback, so that he would have some experienced for the next year," he recalled. "At least that's what I told myself when I was moved — I don't know what the real reason was — but the last three or four games, I played fullback."
Despite the fact that he didn't know where he was going on offense in his first practice, Cheek was immediately thrown into the fire. He received a ton of support from the teammates and coaches he had battled in the first half of fall camp and, although it wasn't as good as he wanted it to be, he said it was a good first day on the job.
"They pointed me in the right direction and I just ran that way," he said. "It's not just the fullbacks helping me out, it's the offensive line, running backs, wide receivers. When we're standing on the sidelines, they're all in my ear and helping me out with the signals. Anytime I'm on the field and have a question, they're there to help."
Cheek continues to work at his new position, including with extra time after practice, and also admitted that he's enjoying the chance to butt heads with the teammates he has shared meeting rooms with and lined up next to for the majority of his career.
"It's 100 percent new, so it's fun," he said. "I get to mix it up in camp a little bit, but they're cheering me on, too. If I do something well, they're yelling for me and I do the same thing back to them. I was in the same room as them for a little over four years, you can't just take that away."
He's taking a simplistic approach to the fullback position, while he'll admit that it has been what he calls a fun transition.
"Football is football," Cheek explained. "Especially fullback and linebacker, you're the same distance from the ball.
"I just want to get on the field and help the team anyway I can."