How sophomore Ricky Person can provide a quick fix to NC State’s running game

Ricky Person had more surgeries than healthy games last season.

The N.C. State running back is hoping to change that this season. After sitting out the spring, while recovering from hip surgery, the sophomore from Wake Forest is healthier than he was at any point during the 2018 season.

“This is the best that I have felt,” said Person, who ran for 471 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite missing four games last season.

Person has changed his number (he’s now No. 8) and his body shape. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, he has added 20 pounds since the end of his freshman season.

Person joked he added weight “but in a good way.”

A wrist injury, which required surgery before the 2018 season, limited Person’s weight-room workouts last year. With time to heal from all of his different injuries, Person has been able to go through a normal workout schedule for the first time since he got to N.C. State in January 2018.

“We were always limiting him in the weight room,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “Now, he’s doing everything that everybody is doing. He looks good.”

N.C. State needs a healthy version of Person and for him to stay that way. His two best games in 2018 were also N.C. State’s two best wins. He had 108 yards on 14 carries against Virginia and 92 yards on 17 carries against Boston College.

But Person said he wasn’t 100 percent in either game. A hip injury in a loss to Clemson on Oct. 20 left Person in “MacGyver” mode, trying to patch himself together with tape and paper clips, for the rest of the season.

“I just had bumps and bruises,” Person said. “It was what it was.”

With Person in and out of the lineup, power back Reggie Gallaspy carried the load. Gallaspy got better as the season went along. He finished with 1,091 yards but more than 30 percent of his production came in two games (349 yards in wins over UNC and ECU).

N.C. State ranked No. 101 in the country in rushing offense (142.9 yards per game). Some of that could be chalked up to a strong passing game. The Wolfpack ranked No. 8 in passing (313.2).

“You have to play to your strengths on offense,” Doeren said.

But N.C. State’s yards per rush was at a five-year low. With playmakers Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels in the NFL, the Wolfpack lacked an extra zip in the running game. The 3.85 yards per carry was the lowest since 2013, Doeren’s first year.

The Wolfpack had averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry (and 5.23 in 2014) in each of the previous four seasons.

Person was the only burner in the backfield. He had 18 explosive runs (10 yards or more) and 10 of those came in two games (Boston College and Virginia). Those were his two healthiest games of the season, and the offense had a different element in those wins.

Person finished the season with 59 carries of 4 yards or more and 53 for 2 yards or fewer. He was banged up and worn down by the end of the regular season.

A healthier Person can reduce the number of those empty carries. It will help that he won’t have to carry the load alone.

Trent Pennix, a redshirt freshman, and three newcomers have the potential to help Person. Freshman Bam Knight was the star of the spring game. Freshmen Jordan Houston (5-10, 185 pounds) and Delbert Mimms (5-11, 222 pounds) each bring a different size and dimension to the backfield.

It has only been two practices without pads, but Doeren has been impressed by Houston, who had originally committed to Maryland.

“He’s impressive in every rep he gets,” Doeren said of Houston. “You can see he’s quick, he has good vision, he’s explosive, he has a chip on his shoulder. I like watching him play.”

Person was selfless in his support of Gallaspy last season. He views the new group of running backs the same way.

“I want everybody to do well,” Person said. [Bam’s] going to get his, I’m going to get mine and everybody will get theirs. It’s part of the game.”

With a new quarterback and new parts in the passing game, it could be a bigger part of the gameplan for the Wolfpack this season.

Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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