Prior to sustaining a season-ending injury, NC State's Matt Dayes was one of the top tailbacks, not only in the ACC, but in the country last season.
Dayes ranked third in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.1), and he finished tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns, despite playing just 7.5 games.
He sustained a toe injury prior to halftime against Clemson, an injury that forced him to the sidelines as he was on track to become the Wolfpack's first 1,000-yard rusher since T.A. McLendon accomplished the feat in 2002.
"I was having a pretty good year," said Dayes, an obvious understatement.
Now Pack fans want to know, is Dayes healthy?
Well, he is, but the Wolfpack coaching staff is taking a cautious approach this spring with the team's most valuable player.
"I feel 100% right now," said Dayes. "They've been limiting me on some stuff, but I'm upset about that. I want to get out there and compete with the guys, but the main thing is I want to stay healthy. That's the best thing for me."
"Matt, if we're playing in a game we could play Matt right now, but putting him in a contact situation isn't something we need to do," said Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren at the start of spring practice. "We know what Matt is. We're trying to work on non-contact things with him... Reggie Gallaspy the same way.
"They had foot injuries and for running backs that's a pretty important body part... they'll be out here doing all our fundamentals and non-contact work in the spring."
While Dayes isn't participating in full-contact drills he has been able to work out with his position group and is fully invested in learning the offense being implemented by first-year offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz. On the surface, it looks like an ideal fit for Dayes' skillset. Last season at Boise State the Broncos had a feature back, Jeremy McNichols, who exploded on the scene in Drinkwitz's system. He rushed for 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns, fifth-most nationally.
Like Dayes, McNichols is also a terrific pass-catcher, as he totaled 51 receptions for 460 yards and another six scores.
Here is a look at how Dayes compared to McNichols in 2015:
|Matt Dayes (NC State)||Jeremy McNichols (Boise State)|
Dayes noticed just how much the running back was involved offensively at Boise State under Drinkwitz.
"At Boise State the running backs were really productive," he said. "I like that. This spring is huge for not just me, but everyone. We have a new offense coming in, and we have to learn that. I'm excited about it."Given the production McNichols had with Drinkwitz, it's easy to see why Dayes is excited about the possibilities of playing in the new system.
The toe injury sidelined Dayes for a number of weeks, but since returning he's been working really hard with the strength and conditioning staff, and he believes he is in the best shape of his career. That is how he wants it to be heading into his senior season.
"Yes, that's definitely the case," he stated. "I feel great. I've changed my body, and it's helped me in a lot of ways. I'm lighter on my feet, and I don't get tired. I just feel great right now."
"When I came in I was a bit out of shape. I still had the talent, but you can only go so far with that. I had to work at it and work on my discipline. I had to get right."
How does Dayes feel about being back out on the field?
"I'm happy to be back," he said. "This is a big spring for us... it's a big season too."