The Wolfpacker

November 2012

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 98 of 131

N BY RYAN TICE C State running back Shadrach Thornton is not the typical true freshman. While Thornton was buried on the depth chart and in the midst of what most, includ- ing the coaching staff, figured would be a redshirt season, head coach Tom O'Brien was frustrated with his running backs' perfor- mance at Connecticut. He asked in the team meeting the following Sunday, "Do we have a running back that can make a safety miss?" On his way out of the tunnel for prac- tice, O'Brien heard a voice say, "Coach, I can make a safety miss," and it came from Thornton, who was no better than fourth on the depth chart at that time. O'Brien told the youngster to stay patient and that his time would come eventually. practice trying to better himself with catching the ball, understanding his blitz responsibility in pass protection and continuing to progress as a runner. "I'm not going to say he's been great every play out there, but there's been spots when he's been good. There's still things he has to work on in running the ball, pass protection and route running. He's not there yet, but he's done some good stuff." The performance against The Citadel NOT THE AVERAGE ROOKIE Playing Well Beyond His Years True Freshman Running Back Shadrach Thornton Is Two weeks later, when injuries and a suspension to Mustafa Greene depleted the Pack's stable of backs, the team turned to Thornton, who started and responded with the program's best rushing debut in 31 years. The 6-1, 200-pounder tallied 145 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against The Citadel. He didn't look like a true freshman in his first collegiate action, and he proved himself by doing more than just running the ball — he finished with four catches, second-best on the team, and he sprung teammates on several big gains with downfield blocks. He also impressed the media following the game, speaking like a polished veteran for more than nine minutes. "I think part of it is because he competes," running backs coach Des Kitchings said. "Even if you're not fully skilled in all areas, if you're competing and working every day in practice, at some point, good things are go- ing to happen. I think he has worked hard in Thornton saw his first action of the season in the Pack's fourth game of the campaign, and responded by running for 145 yards and scoring two touchdowns against the Citadel. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN me and promised that he wouldn't fumble again," O'Brien recalled. Thornton finished with 87 yards on 17 carries against the Hurricanes, in addition to a 14-yard reception. After carrying around a weighted football during practice and team meetings the next week — he said he wanted to carry the ball everywhere he went on cam- pus, but Kitchings wouldn't let him — he fin- ished second on the team with 77 all-purpose yards against No. 3 Florida State. He tallied the Pack's first touchdown in the upset win, when he took a short pass from fifth-year quarterback Mike Glennon 24 yards to the end zone. "A couple of plays before when I was run- ning the ball, I missed the hole, so Coach Kitchings was kind of upset," Thornton re- membered. "He brought me out and sent [Tony] Creecy in. Creecy drove all the way down the field with the team and Coach was like, 'Go in and relieve him, you've got one play.'" In typical Thornton fashion, he more than made up for his mistake and successfully re- deemed himself when given the chance. Even more amazing was the fact that after he was told he would be going in for just one play, he earned Thornton a role going forward, and the rookie was not done surprising team- mates and coaches. The next week, he was second on the depth chart against Miami, but fumbled in the first quarter. Once he got back to the sidelines, he did something that most freshmen wouldn't have the guts to do. "As only Shadrach can do, he came up to told his coach that one play was all he needed. The confidence the youngster exhibits on the field stems from a football camp that Thornton attended when he was a high school sophomore and NFL great Deion Sanders was the featured speaker. "There was a chant that he would say, 'I look good, I feel good, I play good, it's all good,'" Thornton remembered. "It's just re- petitive, and he told us to just say that to ourselves. "I think the confidence not only came from talking with him, but just having great coaches throughout my career, teaching me what I need to do — being in the weight room, doing the little things off the field, behind closed doors. When it's time to play, you know that you have prepared harder than the guy across from you. The game is time to see how much your preparation did for you; that's when you just have to go out there and perform." Older teammates took notice of Thornton's play and preparation style early on in pre- season camp. However, it's doubtful anyone saw this coming from the rookie so fast — through seven games (he only played in four of those) Thornton was second on the Wolf- pack in all-purpose yards with an average of 94.5 yards per game, averaged a team-high 76.5 yards rushing per contest and had scored three touchdowns. "He has really stepped up to the occasion," fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glen- non said. "Something I noticed about him in camp is he was always eager to learn; he wanted to be good. He was always in the film room and he was beating me to it during camp. It doesn't come as any surprise that he was ready to go." "We got to see what he could do during fall camp when he was with us," senior center Camden Wentz remembered. "We all said, 'We'd love to block for that kid. He runs really hard.' On the play [receiver] Quintin [Payton] broke against The Citadel, he laid somebody out. He wasn't just trying to run, he was looking to get his nose in there. That's pretty admirable when it comes to a running back." Thornton's focus is on continuing to work hard and prepare each week. He wants to take advantage of every opportunity he is given. "Coach Kitchings tells me all the time that I haven't done anything yet," he said. "I love that because it just keeps me hungry. "I just want to be involved because I love the game so much. If I see a receiver catch the ball and there's a block that I can make, I'm definitely going to get up there and try to make that block to prolong the play. I'll do whatever I have to do to get more yards because the team needs that. Every inch counts." ■ NOVEMBER 2012 ■ 97

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