Sept. 10, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. - During fall camp, football coaches often evaluate their players and make position changes that are beneficial for their program. Rarely do you see a player volunteering to make a position change, especially in his final year.
Senior Ryan Cheek is that rare exception.
During an August practice, starting fullback Logan Winkles went down during practice with a leg injury. Not five minutes later, Cheek went over to the coaches and volunteered to move from playing linebacker on defense to the offense as a fullback.
“I thought that said a lot about a senior on our football team doing something for the rest of the guys,” head coach Dave Doeren said. “The next man in philosophy will take place there.”
Cheek had come to NC State from Lancaster, Ohio, in 2009. Although he played quarterback in high school in addition to being an all-state linebacker, he was the on the Pack’s defense for his first four years in the program.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” said Cheek of the move. “It was just a split second decision in practice when I ended up moving to the other side of the ball.
“The transition was pretty easy. I had a lot of help from the other (fullbacks) and the coaches. Winkles even helped me the day he tore his ACL, he was helping me out with the playbook. Everybody involved has definitely made it an easier transition.”
With only a couple weeks of practice under his belt, Cheek started the season opener against Louisiana Tech alongside Tyler Purvis when the Pack opened in a two-fullback set. He saw 23 snaps, and hauled in a 15-yard pass as well. In the win over Richmond, Cheek received 10 snaps in the backfield.
“I’m there primarily to block but there are pass plays too,” said Cheek. “That was the first time I got to do that here at NC State. There is also some offensive stuff I had never done before, and hopefully you will get to see as the season goes on. Running routes and catching passes felt like I was out in the backyard playing around.
“I do miss defense but it’s still football. I’m getting more plays. I just want to be on the field anyway I can, I don’t really care what position. Any time I’ll catch a pass in practice, the linebackers go nuts seeing as I was one of them for four years.”
Learning a new position on the fly never seems like an easy job, but Cheek has had the support of his teammates and says he has learned a great amount from tight ends/fullbacks coach Eddie Faulkner.
“Coach Faulkner has been great,” said Cheek. “For the first week and a half if I did something wrong he would just tell me. Finally one day he just got up in my face when I made a mistake.
“It felt good that first day he got up in my face. That felt really good because it felt like I was a part of the offense and not just some temporary guy they were helping out. He’s a great coach. When he needs to yell at you he does, and when he needs to just talk to you he talks to you.”
Cheek had experience with Faulkner even before his move to fullback, as Faulkner serves as the Pack’s special teams coordinator. Since he came to NC State, Cheek saw the Pack’s special teams units as a way to get onto the field, and takes tremendous pride in that aspect of the game.
“I love special teams,” said Cheek. “That was a big transition from being a QB in high school when I never played special teams.”
“Taylor and Zach Gentry helped me out a lot. It was a lot of fun with my first couple of kickoff returns. But it took a lot to get used to. Special teams are such a huge part of the game too and it’s a lot of fun. They’re the longest plays which is kind of cool too.”
The Richmond contest was a special game for all those involved, as it is the Pack’s annual Military Appreciation Day. Pack players always take pride in playing this special game, and Cheek is among those that thinks about what others have done for their country.
“One of my best friends graduated from West Point this year, he’s now at Fort Benning,” said Cheek. “I’ve got a few friends in the Navy and Army. We have a family friend who is going to be at the game, my dad coached him, his brother coached me in Pee-Wee, and he just retired from the Marine Corps as a Scout sniper. He’s going to be up here.
“I think it’s great (that we do Military Appreciation Day). I’ve always been interested in that kind of stuff and having those types of people around. They’re obviously good people and when I’m going through a hard day of practice I just think of those guys doing stuff that’s one hundred times harder where nobody watches them. They don’t have facilities like this where they can just hang out. They do real work.”
Cheek also had the support of a close friend from high school sitting in the stands; Jedediah Strawn was a manager for both Cheek’s football and basketball teams back at Lancaster High School.
Reflecting back on his times at NC State, Cheek enters what could be his final season playing football, and his final year of college.
“It’s pretty exciting that it’s probably my last season of football ever,” said Cheek. “I only have a few more months to play the game I’ve been playing for years. “
As for his time after football, Cheek is unsure what the future holds for him.
“I’m a history major and after this year I’ve always seen myself as a high school teacher coaching football and track,” said Cheek. “That’s what my dad did so that’s what I saw growing up. I like the schedule because I want to be around my family a lot. I’ve thought about coaching college but I still have no idea.”
By Brian Reinhardt