RALEIGH — When Russell Wilson returned from his summer of pro baseball to rejoin the N.C. State football program, the player who is now the Wolfpack's leading rusher was a backup cornerback who redshirted last season. The player who is now the team's second-leading rusher was a new recruit fresh out of high school.
The Wolfpack had a pair of returning runners, who had been tagged with joint nicknames by their teammates with James Washington as "Sonic" and Curtis Underwood as "Boom." When the first depth chart came out, Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene had quietly been promoted up the ranks and ahead of them.
Injuries played a role in pushing Underwood and Washington aside - Washington still hasn't played because of a hamstring injury - but the secret switch of Haynes to the other side of the ball and immediate use of Greene has given Wilson a solid running game to complement his all-around skills at quarterback, minus the catchy nickname.
"A lot of people call Mustafa 'Moose,' " Wilson said. "But Dean, I don't think we have a nickname for Dean yet."
Still, "Moose" is better than nothing, particularly as it becomes more popular among the students and fans. The freshman is approaching the point where TV announcers will have to clarify, "they're not booing..."
Which is, of course, fine with him.
"It's exciting to hear them say my name," Greene said. "It's crazy."
Despite the score in the 41-30 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday, there were still a few "Moose" calls at Carter-Finley Stadium, most notably after a 49-yard run in the second quarter. Greene finished with 91 yards on 10 carries and was State's most effective back.
Haynes had his say as well, catching his first career touchdown pass on a play-action route in the first quarter. The Pack used that play again later in the game, but only once as almost all short-passing calls were shelved in favor of deep routes down the middle from the second quarter on.
Still, Greene and Haynes combined for 124 rushing yards and 64 receiving yards without turning the ball over. As a tandem, particularly one that's still learning, that's not bad against Virginia Tech's defense.
There's no question the defense has been the biggest surprise and shown the most improvement for N.C. State in this impressive 4-1 start, but the play of the two inexperienced, out-of nowhere running backs hasn't been far behind, giving the Wolfpack a legitimate ground threat to go with the proven aerial attack led by Wilson and his experienced, talented wide receivers.
Their stats aren't separated by much: Greene has 333 yards and four touchdowns on 63 carries; Haynes has 240 yards and two touchdowns on 58 carries. Greene has 15 catches for 153 yards; Haynes has four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
"We room together every weekend and we practice together every day," Haynes said. "Being No. 1 and No. 2, we're really close and we've developed a pretty tight bond. We know that if one of us has a bad game or the other one has a bad game, we're there for each other. Me and 'Moose' are real close."
For now, "Me and Moose" may be the best nickname Greene and Haynes have. It may not be as clever as "Sonic" and "Boom," but they're making plenty of noise for the Wolfpack so far.