Nyheim Hines has been working hard his whole life.
It started when he realized his speed as a youth on the track and continued when he followed in his father’s footsteps on the football field. Those two sports fostered a competitive nature in Hines that, coupled with his work ethic, now finds him on the precipice of achieving a lifelong dream: a career in the NFL.
His secret: “Working when nobody is working,” admitted Hines.
“I always like working late at night – I would get my work out in and then a lot of times at night, if I’m not doing anything, I’ll come back and catch some passes and do some pushups,” said Hines. “I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. It’s like the Kobe (Bryant) mentality – he worked early in the morning, sometimes I work late at night. I just try to work when other people aren’t.”
It was that work ethic that helped him rush for 6,242 yards and rack up 7,299 total yards and 126 touchdowns as a running back at Garner High School. And it was that work ethic that helped him find a home at NC State, where he played many different roles for the Wolfpack, including but not limited to, wide receiver, kick returner and eventually running back. In fact, he was the only member of the 'Pack to score a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a touchdown on a return as a freshman in 2015.
And it was his continued commitment to hard work that saw him win both All-American and conference honors in track at NC State as well as lead the ACC in all-purpose yards as a junior on the football team; leading hsi team with 1,112 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 197 carries. He also caught 26 passes for 152 yards, returned 11 punts for 135 yards and a score, and brought back 21 kickoffs for 469 yards last season.
Stanford running back Bryce Love, a childhood friend of Hines, put Nyheim’s college career into perspective when asked about Hines as a player.
“I would point to the production,” said Love. “You have to account for the fact that this was his first year in college really playing 100 percent running back, so knowing that and looking at the things he was able to do and all the things that he can do – coming out of the backfield and catching, all that stuff just puts defenses on their heels. It’s not even necessarily about size so to speak – speed is the great equalizer and he has a lot of (it).”
But who Hines is on the field is only half of the picture. Off the field, he is even easier to work with. Just ask his coaches.
“He’s an extremely sharp, bright kid with a high football IQ and does a tremendous job in school with his academics,” said NC State running backs coach Des Kitchings. “A low-maintenance guy – I use that term a lot, trying to find guys that are low-maintenance so you don’t have to chase them around campus. They are going to be where they are supposed to be and do what they are supposed to do…
"He was obviously a very talented kid coming out of high school. The speed element he had was unique, his toughness, his ability to catch the football; all those were appealing to get him in our program. To go along with his work ethic, character and leadership.”
When NC State recruited Hines, they had more running backs than they knew what to do with. So they trained Hines to play slot receiver and gave him the opportunity to score points as a kick returner.
“The spring prior to him enrolling, because he’s local, he would come over at least once a week and meet with me to learn the offense,” Kitchings explained. “He wanted to learn the formation, knowing that he might be utilized the same way Matt Dayes was – in different positions. So from Day 1, he was learning the big picture of our offense.”
This worked out well for two seasons. Then, after the 2016 season and the departure of the aforementioned featured tailback Dayes, Hines became the primary back for the Wolfpack, still retaining his touches as kick and punt returner.
“I think playing slot receiver for the first two years benefited him and his development as an overall football player in that he learned how to recognize coverages as a receiver, how to run routes and beat man coverage and helped him refine his pass-catching skills,” shared Kitchings. “That versatility that he provides is going to make some NFL organization very happy.”
It’s that utility that Hines believes sets him apart from other players.
“I’m very versatile – there are not many running backs that lined up at slot who have the background at receiver, actually running the routes, catching balls in the slot like I did my first two years at NC State,” Hines assured. “There are not many running backs that can go deep and catch balls over their shoulder or down balls inside the 10-yard line.
"I think that’s what really makes me one of the most, if not the most, dynamic and versatile backs in the draft. Everybody wants to talk about versatility, but nobody is out there who actually played receiver, returned kicks, returned punts and ran gunner…so that’s how I would sell myself to every team.”
Being a student of the game and competitive at heart, Hines studied film of running backs across the country during his time at NC State to see where he measured up, including tape of a very familiar face.
“I have a good friend, Bryce Love at Stanford, so I’ve always kept up with him,” said Hines. “I loved watching Christian McCaffrey as well, always tried to watch Love and McCaffrey – I envisioned myself very similar to them. I just always tried to find the nation’s top guys and compare my game to theirs and see if I could learn any bits and pieces off of what they are doing to help my game.”
When Bryce was informed that his old friend had been keeping tabs, he didn’t sound the least bit surprised.
“That sounds like Nyheim, no doubt,” Love said with a laugh. “He’s just a real competitive person, that’s just the kind of people that we were around growing up. We’ve been doing track together since we were kids and he ran track at NC State, he was an All-American so I knew he was going to put up numbers on the football field for sure.”
Hines and Love’s history and friendship has always been a driving force for both players.
“There’s always been that back-and-forth friendly competitiveness between the both of them as well as respect and admiration,” replied Kitchings. “And Nyheim would come in on Sundays and we would talk and he would say ‘Hey coach, did you see what Bryce did Saturday night?’ and even though Stanford played in a later time zone he was always in tune. He would say ‘Bryce rushed for this’ and I would tell him ‘now lets go and get yours’. It was always that good competitiveness between them.”
Their friendly competition inspired Love as well.
“Just being from the same area, running on the same track team and seeing him develop as a player - seeing him be successful is really motivating to me,” said Love.
When asked if he had any advice for his childhood friend, Love responded sincerely.
“Enjoy the moment. I’ve been a part of his journey and seeing all the work that he and his family have put in just to get to this point,” said Love. “So enjoy the moment, but get back to work.”
During Hines’s interview, he mentioned that great people come from North Carolina. When asked about that, Love agreed emphatically.
“Absolutely, specifically Wake Forest,” Love joked. “Nah, I’m just kidding. There’s just so many different people that we trained with and went through the grind with and I feel like that speaks to the area where we grew up – culture, greatness. We were around good people. There’s just a lot of love around there.”
Love and hard work, that seems to be what North Carolinians are made of.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.