Staying out of the spotlight would be a lot easier for Matt Dayes if he wasn’t so good.
The N.C. State (5-5, 2-4) running back, who will play his final home game on Saturday (12:30 p.m., WRAL) against Miami (6-4, 3-3) is almost allergic to the spotlight and adulation – even when it comes from his own coaches and teammates.
Every Sunday, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren shows his football team video clips of the best plays from the previous game.
Dayes’ 13-yard touchdown run to put Syracuse away last week was the highlight that drew the biggest reaction from his teammates.
“Man, that was some move,” Wolfpack center Joe Scelfo said. “We watched it and everyone was all like, ‘Ooohhh.’ ”
Well, almost everyone. Dayes, who is on the verge of ending N.C. State’s long drought of 1,000-yard rushers, was embarrassed by the attention. If there was any way the 5-9, 205-pound senior could juke the attention, like he did Syracuse safety Daivon Ellison on that touchdown run, he would.
“When coach showed (the clip) in the team meeting room, everyone got all hype about it,” Dayes said. “I mean, I smiled but I didn’t really want everyone looking at me.”
This is Dayes at his essence. His aversion to attention is not a coy game with the media, it’s who he is.
“He doesn’t like people talking about him,” Doeren said.
And he doesn’t like to do a lot of talking. He let his siblings – Peter, Shanae and Chad – handle the talking growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They take after his mom, Rema, who is a nurse.
“I’m totally different from all my siblings,” said Dayes, who was born in Jamaica and moved to south Florida when he was 5. “They’re like my mom, all loud, and stuff.”
Dayes isn’t so much shy as he is reserved and observant. He likes to take everything in.
“Once I get comfortable, I chill out and be myself,” Dayes said. “I’m mostly calm and laid back.”
The problem for Dayes is his play draws too much attention to be ignored. He ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-20 win over the Orange. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season. He has 939 yards, third-best in the ACC, on the season.
1,000 yards in reach
Everyone knows how close Dayes is to a milestone and what 61 more yards would mean.
“We haven’t had a 1,000-yard runner in a long time so that would be a good deal for the O-line and Matt,” senior receiver Bra’Lon Cherry said.
Long time? T.A. McLendon was the last N.C. State running back to go for 1,000 yards (1,101 yards in 2002). That’s the longest drought among all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
“It would be great for Matt, it would be great for our program, it would be great for everybody involved to have that milestone,” Doeren said.
Thirty-two of the 65 Power 5 schools (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 plus Notre Dame) had 1,000-yard rushers last season alone.
Dayes was on pace to break 1,000 yards last season before suffering ligament damage in his left foot in the first half of the eighth game of the season.
He had 865 yards before the injury sidelined him for the last five games. Joe Thuney became N.C. State’s first All-ACC offensive lineman since 2003 last year. He would have preferred that Dayes reached 1,000 yards rather than receive the individual honor.
Now a rookie with the New England Patriots, and their starting left guard, Thuney couldn’t be happier for Dayes as he nears 1,000 yards.
“I can’t think of anyone better to end the streak,” Thuney said this week.
Winning top priority
Dayes went into the season with the goal of reaching 1,000 yards but not so much for himself as his offensive line.
He had hoped to get the milestone out of the way last week at Syracuse. He came up short, which left him in the unenviable position of having to talk about it this week.
If I don’t get 1,000 yards this year and we win the next two games, I’ll be fine. I swear I’ll be happy.
N.C. State running back Matt Dayes
Dayes has not surprisingly downplayed the goal this week.
“If I don’t get 1,000 yards this year and we win the next two games, I’ll be fine,” Dayes said. “I swear I’ll be happy.”
That is par for the course when it comes to Dayes.
“He’s more interested in winning and being a team player than he is in himself,” Scelfo said. “That’s what separates him in my opinion. He’s so unselfish.”
There might be some early carries for Dayes, who expanded his role to include some snaps as a “wildcat” quarterback last week. First-year offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, never one to tip his hand, said it’s impossible not be impressed with Dayes’ leadership.
“It’s never been about Matt, it’s about the football team and that’s what you love about him,” Drinkwitz said.
Dayes, who will graduate in December with a degree in Sociology, is looking forward to Saturday’s game because his mom and brother, Chad, will be there.
There is a lot to process, between the emotion of Senior Day and the chance to qualify for a bowl. And there’s the matter of getting to 1,000 yards.
After some needling, Dayes will finally relent on the topics.
“It would be nice to win and get 1,000 yards,” Dayes said.
“Nice” that’s pure Dayes, understated right until the very end.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Miami at N.C. State
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Watch online: ACC Network Extra
Ending the drought
N.C. State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2002, the longest drought in the ACC and the FBS. Senior running back Matt Dayes needs 61 yards to end that streak. The most recent 1,000-yard rusher (heading into the 2016 season) for each ACC school:
*-Clemson had two 1,000-yard rushers last season.