The problem with doing something no one else is doing is that, in a pinch, it can be a little tough to explain.
Take, for example, those moments when a casual fan asks Jaylen Samuels a simple enough question: What position do you play?
Short answer: It’s complicated.
“I get that a lot,” he said. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Samuels spent the latter half of last season working with running backs, but that was largely to fill in while starters were injured. He spent much of his meeting time darting back and forth between the tight ends room and the running backs room.
NC State is happy to split him out wide as a receiver, too. Or he’ll line up in the backfield with a tailback and serve as a blocker. Or he’ll sell hot dogs in the stands and drive the team bus. Sure, those last few haven’t happened yet, but Samuels is open to pretty much anything his team might need. He's like duct tape or WD-40. His uses go well beyond what's recommended on the label.
“It’s a unique position being able to catch the ball, run the ball, block,” Samuels said. “It’s a position that can help the team, and I think it’s a good fit for me.”
For purposes of answering that simple question about his position, Samuels is something of an old-school halfback. But it’s a role that really doesn’t exist much in college football these days, which makes him a unique asset for the Wolfpack. And that originality paid big dividends last season, as Samuels racked up 965 yards from scrimmage (13th in the ACC) and scored 16 touchdowns (third).
Perhaps more interesting, however, is just how Samuels tallied those numbers. Nine of his touchdowns came as a runner, seven as a receiver. He ran for 368 yards, caught another 597. In the last 10 years, only five other Power 5 players have posted a similar line (500 yards receiving, 350 rushing, five touchdowns through the air and on the ground), and it’s a special group: Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray and De'Anthony Thomas are all playing on Sundays, and last year’s Heisman runner-up, Christian McCaffrey, will be soon enough.
And then there’s Samuels, who doesn’t exactly look like any of those others — not that he’s thinking too much about that.
“With the year I had last year, I’m just trying to do even better this year,” Samuels said. “I’m preparing to go even harder, trying to learn the new offense.”
That's the other interesting wrinkle. After finding his niche during last year's breakthrough campaign, a new offensive coordinator is now trying to get a handle on how best to employ Samuels' skill set — a project that is a bit limited this spring after he sprained an MCL in a scrimmage last week.
Eli Drinkwitz was brought in from Boise State this offseason, and while he plans a more up-tempo approach to offense at NC State, he’s just as happy as Samuels to avoid the sticky questions of specifics and focus on the big picture.
“I call plays to get playmakers the ball,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s getting a very specific person the ball in a specific area.”
In other words, if Samuels gets the ball in his hands enough, no one is too worried about the rest of it.
“It’s about players, not plays,” head coach Dave Doeren said, “and he’s a player.”
Doeren puts some emotion into that last word — player. It’s simple enough, but it says everything about what Samuels brings to the table.
Is he a tight end? A receiver? A fullback? Nope, he’s just a player. Use him as needed, he’ll do it all.
And when someone asks what position he plays, that’s actually a pretty good answer.
“I just say, ‘Everything,’” Samuels said. “And it’s fun.”