They were roommates as freshmen at N.C. State, two teenagers from Charlotte soon known on the Wolfpack football team as “Jay Sam” and “Jay Mac.”
Things have gone well for Jaylen Samuels the past three years. Now a senior, his versatility as a runner and receiver – the man of many positions – and penchant for scoring touchdowns have made him an integral part of the Pack’s offense and an NFL prospect.
For Jalan McClendon, a redshirt junior, it has been a slower go. The quarterback has had to watch others play for the most part, first Jacoby Brissett, then Ryan Finley last season. It has tested his will, his patience, even though he said he never considered transferring to another school.
“I just take it as it is and do what I need to do to win,” McClendon said.
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One of Dave Doeren’s signature wins as the Pack’s coach came against Notre Dame last season at Carter-Finley Stadium. In a wild, driving rainstorm caused by Hurricane Matthew, throwing the ball was an adventure and a risky play, and the teams had to adjust.
“At halftime, we changed a couple of things, and they needed me to go in, so I did what I needed to do,” McClendon said.
That is, run the ball. At 6-5 and 221 pounds, McClendon is strong enough to break tackles and elusive enough to make people miss.
In the second half, McClendon rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries, and in one third-quarter drive helped the Pack run nearly eight minutes off the clock. The Pack beat the Irish 10-3, and McClendon soon had one of the game balls handed out by Doeren in the locker room.
“I appreciate Coach Doeren giving me that game ball because it was a special game for everybody,” McClendon said.
McClendon said he has the ball in his room in Raleigh, although not in a special place or perch. Nor is anything inscribed on it. No score or opponent.
“Just a football,” McClendon said, smiling.
And a tangible reminder he can make good things happen with the ball. When Brissett left for the NFL after the 2015 season, McClendon believed it might be his time to be the starter. But in came new offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz from Boise State and he brought along a quarterback, Finley.
Finley, an accurate thrower with a good handle on Drinkwitz’s offense, started the 2016 season opener and never lost the job. For McClendon, it was more about time and place, going in when needed as the backup and playing in 10 games. McClendon finished last season 16-30 passing for 176 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and 145 rushing yards on 35 attempts.
With the Pack leading North Carolina late in the last regular-season game, McClendon ran 14 yards on third down, moving the chains and helping seal a 28-21 win in Chapel Hill that made the Pack bowl eligible.
“He’s got a great arm, got a great frame,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s smart, he’s a good football player who does a lot of good things.”
While Finley and McClendon compete, there is no animosity between the two.
“There’s probably not a guy on this team I have more respect for than Jay Mac,” Finley said. “I think me and Jay Mac have a really good relationship. I think we both see the game very similarly, and we’re really close.”
McClendon said Finley, as a newcomer last year, often was quiet around the guys but has come “out of his shell” as time has passed.
“Ryan’s a funny guy and I support him all the way, man,” McClendon said. “We’re all brothers in the QB room.”
Samuels played high school football at Mallard Creek in Charlotte and McClendon at West Mecklenburg. Samuels said the two schools never faced off in a playoff game – Mallard Creek was undefeated in Samuels’ senior season – even though the two players were well aware of each other and then college roomies.
Samuels believes that given the opportunity, in whatever situation, McClendon will deliver, just as he did against Notre Dame.
“He’s great quarterback and I think a lot of people sleep on him,” Samuels said. “He has the ability to run the ball, throw the ball, and he can read coverages. He’s our backup, but to me he’s a starter at any other college.”
The backup is always told he’s one play away from taking on a much bigger role. Or, you never know, there could be a hurricane.