It has become a cliché in college sports that a freshman is no longer a freshman as the season winds down. NC State leaned heavily on its newcomers Saturday.
A host of players in their first season had a major impact on NC State’s victory over Syracuse. Reggie Gallaspy II led the Wolfpack in rushing while Riley Nicholson was the team leader in tackles. Darian Roseboro also picked up both his first career interception and touchdown in the win over the Orange.
And then there was Nyheim Hines.
The Garner-native did it all Saturday. Hines had 208 all-purpose yards with an astounding balance of 70 yards rushing, 69 yards receiving and 69 yards on kickoff returns. His 4-yard touchdown run midway in the second quarter handed NC State a, 21-3, lead.
For Hines, what fans saw Saturday is something he conceptualized long before he ever put on the Wolfpack uniform.
“That is what I envisioned when I picked the school,” Hines said. “I know a lot of people didn’t see why I came here but this is the reason why. When I touch the ball I have to make plays.
“It was great. As you can tell, the line was blocking well for me so they are the ones with the hard job. I just run through the holes and cut off what I see, so it is really on the linemen.”
NC State head coach Dave Doeren raved about his true freshman speedster.
"What he's doing right now for our football team as a true freshman that wasn't here early is pretty remarkable," said Doeren. "The guy is Top 5 in the nation in kickoff returns and he's playing two, sometimes three positions, with what we do on offense. He's pretty good."
As the season has progressed Hines is making more plays. In his last outing at Carter-Finley Stadium the freshman returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against then-No. 3 Clemson.
Known for his speed, it is when the pace of the game started to slow down that Hines felt he had truly adapted to college football.
“Each game I feel more comfortable and comfortable,” Hines said after NC State’s win Saturday. “It is not like high school but everything is slowing down for me. When I first got here everybody was flying.”
“It is just great and the coaches have faith in me and they are putting me in places to make people miss in space,” Hines added. “I am really happy with my role and with everybody depending on me.”
While Hines is settling in, he still has not lost the thrill of wearing the NC State uniform--which was the culmination of a goal he had for most of his life.
“It is a dream come true,” Hines said. “I grew up cheering for State. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, so it’s great for it to finally be here to cheer for my teammates and to be in the game.”
For NC State fans, the regular season finale represents the biggest game of them all. With North Carolina making the trip to Raleigh on Saturday, there is always plenty at stake among the supporters despite the result having no influence on the standings.
The Tar Heels have clinched a berth in the ACC Championship Game but are aiming to finish the regular season with 11 straight wins. For Hines, the matchup has huge ramifications for NC State.
“Last year we had seven regular season wins so next week it will be eight if we can win it,” Hines said. “We are playing for a better bowl. We would like to go somewhere warm hopefully. We are just trying to take it one game at a time and also raise the bar.”