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August 20, 2013
NC State had not had the same rusher lead the Pack in rushing for two consecutive seasons since T.A. McLendon did it three years in a row from 2002-04. Since then it's been a different rusher every season.
Andre Brown led the Pack in 2005, classmate Toney Baker a year later and then it was the third running back in that 2005 class, Jamelle Eugene, who led State in 2007. Brown and Baker then took turns again being the primary runner before Mustafa Greene led the Pack as a rookie in 2010.
James Washington was the leading rusher in 2011, but last season then-freshman Shadrach Thornton led the Pack by rushing for 694 yards on 154 carries. Can Thornton lead the Pack in rushing again in 2013?
He will have to overcome a one-game suspension because of a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female to start the year to do so, and also some stiff competition. A healthy Tony Creecy, a redshirt junior, is the projected starter and healed from a nagging turf toe injury last season. Creecy rushed for 401 yards in 2011 and then 476 more in 2012.
Freshman Matt Dayes has also earned strong praise in preseason camp, a year after he rushed for nearly 1,800 yards at the 8-A level in the state of Florida.
The Wolfpacker staff tackles the question: Who will lead the Pack in rushing in 2013?
I'm torn on this question. I thought Creecy showed a little extra burst in his step during the spring game, showing what he was capable of when he is in great shape and healthy. He's also the "Mr. Reliable" in the offense, based on coaches' comments.
Having said that, even though Thornton will have to sit out a game, must prove he can put past fumbling issues behind him and also get back in the good graces of the coaches, Thornton's talent leads me to believe he will ultimately lead the team in rushing.
It's hard for me to forget that Thornton rushed for over 100 yards in four of the 10 games he played last year, and added 87 yards on 17 carries at Miami as well. His 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Florida State was one of the plays of that upset.
I am going with the easy answer: redshirt junior running back Tony Creecy due to the uncertainty at the position.
Sophomore Shadrach Thornton is going to miss the season opener. Thornton, who also was battling fumbling issues, has opened the door for freshmen Matt Dayes and Josh Mercer to get opportunities.
NC State coach Dave Doeren has repeatedly said the Wolfpack are committed to running the football. He has had two different quarterbacks amass over 1,000 yards rushing the last two years at Northern Illinois. Even if mobile quarterback Brandon Mitchell emerges throughout the season, it's hard to believe he'd keep that streak alive under Doeren.
Creecy rushed for 476 yards on 127 carries and five touchdowns, while also catching 34 passes for 182 yards and a score. The numbers are skewed due to Creecy battled multiple turf toe injuries last year, which slowed him down literally.
Creecy said he is fully healthy and looks to build off his first two years. He'll need to play well because odds are good that whatever running back has the hot hand will continue to get the ball. Creecy's ability to make plays in the passing game and knowledge in blitz pickup makes him a natural to be in the game on third and long.
While it's easy to write off Thornton because of his self-created adversity, he is also the most natural and talented runner. Thornton missed the first three games last year when it appeared he was slotted to redshirt, and still led NC State in rushing.
If Thornton holds on to the ball and remains free of any issues off the field, he could easily enjoy a comeback during the non-conference slate to get ready for the ACC.
Dayes in particular has earned praise during fall camp for his ability to be physical through the hole and have enough speed to make it hard for players to catch him in the open field. Thornton and Mustafa Greene in 2011 both emerged as true freshmen, so there is precedent for Dayes.
I think it's safe to expect more from Tony Creecy this year following the injuries he battled throughout the 2012 campaign, but I still don't see him leading the team in rushing unless Shadrach Thornton's fumblitis rears its ugly head early on in the season.
I could even see a scenario similar to last season playing out where the two split reps with the elder Creecy starting the majority of the time, while Thornton still finds a way to rack up more ground yardage. Thornton is suspended for the first game, but he didn't play in the first three games last year and found a way to lead the team in rushing as a true rookie.
He is a proven receiver and explosive north-south runner who puts some power behind his shoulder pads. Thornton is also bigger than last year and has college experience, which could help him improve on last year's average of 96.8 all-purpose and 69.4 rushing yards per contest.
Now it's your turn. Go on over to The Wolves' Den message board and participate in the poll asking the same question:
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