NC State's Jaylen Samuels expected to have a strong sophomore season, but his production probably exceeded his own expectations.
Samuels, who lines up at tight end, H-back, and even tailback for the Wolfpack, finished the year with 65 receptions, the most in the country for a tight end, and his 16 total touchdowns ranked third overall in the ACC. His strong play led to first-team All-ACC honors.
"Individually, I had a good year," he stated, smiling.
Given his skillset and the roles he plays, Samuels was interested to see what NC State head coach Dave Doeren would do after hearing the Wolfpack had parted ways with offensive coordinator Matt Canada at the end of the season.
"I knew it would be hard to find another OC that had the same type of philosophy as coach Canada," Samuels said. "But, I trusted coach Doeren. I knew he would find somebody to do things right... the way we did it but just change it up a little bit."
That man was Boise State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz. Samuels admitted he didn't know much about Drinkwitz or Boise State when the hire was announced, but after doing some research he liked what he learned.
"He actually loves tight ends," Samuels said of Drinkwitz, laughing. "That was under his biography, that he loves tight ends. As soon as they hired him I went on YouTube and watched some clips of Boise State, and I liked it. They used a lot of tight ends, different packages, so I felt it was definitely going to be a good fit.
"He came up to me and told me how he's going to use me. I'll take it from there... bring it out on the field."
Samuels seems to have a good feel for the new offensive system after going through spring, summer, and fall practices.
"The offense is kind of the same, just different words," he said. "We have a lot of different plays, but the same concepts, routes. We put some sweeps in... it's all kind of the same though. I feel good about it."
What makes Samuels so special is his blend of speed, power, and elusiveness that makes him a threat to score every time he touches the football. Last year he averaged 9.2 yards per catch and 6.6 yards per carry while scoring 16 touchdowns in 13 games. He enrolled at NC State at over 240 pounds but now he is playing at a weight that allows him to maximize his 4.55 speed.
"I want to stay in the 220-225 range," he said. "I just feel better in that range. That's where coach Thunder wants me so I'm going to stay right below that. Conditioning wise I feel really good. I"m moving around well at this weight.
"I've been trying to stay in shape and not have a drop-off from last year so it's been important for me to learn the offense and get comfortable in it."
Another change for Samuels has been his number. His first two seasons he wore No. 28, but in the offseason he was awarded No. 1 by Doeren.
"I like it," he said. "I love it. I've never worn No. 1 in my life so I love it.
"It's kind of cool... I feel more like a receiver-type, a skill guy. I am a skill-guy, but just to have No. 1 on my back. It's an honor to wear it for NC State."
Samuels is certainly one of the top returning players in the conference, but last month he wasn't selected preseason All-ACC by the media, despite the success he had in 2015. It doesn't seem to bother him too much.
"I didn't really care," he said. "Honestly, it's all good. [This season] I want to be an All-American. All-ACC or All-American... the season will come, and we'll see."