M.J. Salahuddin was one of five true freshmen to play for NC State last season. But he toiled largely unnoticed, as a key member on special teams.
He was a backup linebacker, but did not get many snaps there. And when he went into the spring, he was largely unnoticed as well, as a backup on the outside. That all changed in 15 practices.
Salahuddin quickly emerged as a playmaker on a defense in search of one. So much so, that defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable decided to move Salahuddin to middle linebacker before the team's first spring scrimmage. Salahuddin arrived at NC State as a safety. He had never played middle linebacker in his life.
But he took to the position right away, and ended up with a team-high eight tackles in the team's spring game last month.
"M.J. is consistent, he has a great motor, he's vocal," coach Dave Doeren said. "He can run, and he's got a good skill-set from a movement standpoint. He's a tough kid that loves football. He can play outside linebacker as well. Really, Coach Huxtable was trying to find the combination of three guys that were playing the best and who fit best in the middle out of the three between D.J. Green and Brandon Pittman and M.J. We felt like those three guys made the most plays.
"So there are still some guys competing. I know Zach Gentry had a good spring for us as well. But M.J. is just really productive, a high motor, positive guy that we liked having out on the field."
The Wolfpack had to replace two of their starting linebackers on defense, with Rickey Dowdy and Sterling Lucas gone. Lucas started every game at middle linebacker last season. Salahuddin backed up Rodman Noel on the strongside. But now, Green is ahead of Noel at that spot, and Salahuddin is ahead of Gentry in the middle.
There is plenty more work to be done between now and fall camp, but if spring is any indication, Salahuddin could make a major impact once the season begins.