Nyheim Hines was 11 when he first met Bryce Love, a year younger but the same year in school and one of the very rare kids who was faster than Hines at that age. They’re known for football now, but their friendship was built on the track, through rigorous practices, through long days killing time at meets.
The track is where it all began, where Love set national age-group records and Hines won state titles, and where the two elite football players became teammates, competitors, friends and, now, peers in elite company.
As Love, the nation’s leading rusher in yards per game, pursues the Heisman Trophy at Stanford and Hines chases down a 1,000-yard season at N.C. State while also still running track at an All-American level, while both struggle through challenging academic schedules, no one understands as well what each is going through as the other.
“Sometimes we talk about the frustrations, the good, the bad,” Hines said. “And sometimes we just talk about life. I know he’s enjoying Cali. I’ve been getting on him about his haircut, trying to tell him to let it go. He’s doing great with genetics, in the lab and stuff. I know it’s really hard. I have computer coding classes. Both of us have a really tough workload. His is probably a little harder. He’s probably looking at DNA and things. I just look at computer codes. It’s still terrible.”
FRIENDS ON THE RUN
Even before Love was a sought-after running back at Wake Forest High School and Hines was the same at Garner – they met in a state semifinal as seniors – they built a bond on the track running for Carolina Elite, a club where they were coached by Hines’ father Darrin and Love’s father Chris, among others. They were not alone.
Keith Marshall, who went from Millbrook to Georgia to the NFL, was the first, followed by Chris Love Jr., now a cornerback at East Carolina, and Marcus Marshall, who had two 600-yard seasons at Georgia Tech before transferring to James Madison. (Dylan Peebles of Wakefield, son of another Carolina Elite coach, runs track at N.C. State, where he’s Hines’ roommate.)
That track contingent, along with Leesville Road’s Braxton Berrios, now at Miami, helps comprise one of the strongest groups of college skill players Wake County has ever produced.
“Maybe the competition of everyone being there brought everyone to a new level,” Marcus Marshall said. “It wasn’t anything in the water or anything like that. We were just competing.”
Love, long before he became a football star, was already a track star. Darrin Hines remembers watching Love run 400-meter races where his nearest competition was still making the turn when Love crossed the line.
“He was phenomenal,” Darrin Hines said. “He was basically the Usain Bolt of track at that time as a 12- or 13-year-old. There was nothing like it.”
Nyheim Hines had some catching up to do – and not just to Love, but to his twin sister Nyah, now a track athlete at N.C. State, faster than her brother at that age. All of that combined to push Hines, originally a hurdler, into the sprints as well. He’d see Love set a record for a younger age group and try to beat it.
And that’s how it all started: The 8 a.m. workouts at Athletic Performance Center in North Raleigh; the cross-country trips to compete; the long days at meets where Hines and Love would spend hours huddled in the shade and talking between races; the success they would discover winning race after race, setting record after record.
“I always end up saying it’s just a testament to the people who were around us,” Love said. “We were thankfully coached by amazing coaches and around amazing people. We were together to compete together, really just drive each other to do great things. I have so many memories of so many days out there.”
FOLLOWING THE LEADER
Then came high school, and football. Love stopped running track to concentrate on football, while Hines stuck with track. Both became highly recruited Division I prospects whose teams were inevitably set against each other. As they navigated the recruiting process, they followed in the footsteps of another Carolina Elite product.
Keith Marshall, who graduated from Millbrook in 2012, was Wake County’s best running back prospect in decades and chose to attend Georgia along with Tarboro’s Todd Gurley. Behind the scenes, he mentored the younger backs.
“He let us know everything was possible,” Hines said. “He was really the testing board. Everything he did wrong, he told us. Even when I visited Georgia and hung out with him, we were talking a lot, he was telling me like don’t do this, don’t do that. He was my first real friend who I knew who made it to a big stage like that. I had the privilege of playing Keith. He ran right by me on the sideline when I was a freshman playing varsity. He had about 260 (yards) on us. We won though.”
In 2014, Love and Wake Forest eliminated Marcus Marshall and Millbrook in the state 4AA quarterfinals, then faced Hines and Garner in the semifinals. Love ran for 227 yards and a limping Hines was held to 66 as Wake Forest won 27-13.
And then they went their separate ways. Hines stayed home to play for State, in part because he had the chance to run track with his sister. And Love set out for California, to a school with a reputation not only for academics but the kind of offensive line that turns running backs into stars.
The rest is history: Love, after two years behind Christian McCaffrey on the depth chart, has exploded onto the scene, leading the nation in yards despite missing one game because of an ankle injury. Hines, a kick returner and all-purpose player his first two years at N.C. State while Matt Dayes was the main running threat, has been the Wolfpack’s feature back this season.
Both will conclude their regular seasons battling injuries – Love had only 14 carries in a win over California last Saturday, although he finished with 101 yards and a touchdown, while Hines was held to 46 yards after suffering a possible concussion in the second half of N.C. State’s loss at Wake Forest – and against historic rivals on Saturday, Notre Dame for Stanford and North Carolina for N.C. State.
SPRINTERS ON THE FIELD
What’s the common thread, other than their innate breakaway speed? Their track background. Both have an explosive first step, perhaps because of the years spent honing their technique out of the blocks. And Hines said he thinks he has a stamina advantage over defenders on long runs, able to maintain his speed after 30 or 40 yards when others are not.
For someone used to running the 200, the length of a football field is merely a warmup. And open space? Just another lane to outrun the competition.
“If you give Bryce a seam, he’s gone,” Hines said. “He’s a world-class sprinter. Marcus is really fast too. All three of us, we just look for linebackers to miss fits. If not, we’ll just chip away and take what the defense gives us. But if you give somebody like Bryce a big hole, it doesn’t matter who’s chasing him on defense.”
They have found success on the football field, where their speed is what stands them apart. They found friendship on the track, where their speed was what brought them together.
“Having that foundation, knowing that we all shared a common dream and wanting to just go out and compete and train for it, we’re just giving our best for it,” Love said. “That pushes us even more to do amazing things.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
BY THE NUMBERS
Nyheim Hines (Garner) and Bryce Love (Wake Forest) grew up running track together and are now two of the nation’s leading running backs for their college teams. Love leads the nation in rushing yards per game and is likely to be a Heisman Trophy finalist at Stanford, while Hines is closing in on a 1,000-yard season at N.C. State.
GP Carries Yards Avg TD
Bryce Love, Stanford 10 195 1723 8.8 16
Nyheim Hines, NC State 11 159 844 5.3 7