NCSU first-year running backs coach Des Kitchings found himself in a unique situation entering last Saturday's home contest against The Citadel.
Kitchings, who had stints at Furman, Vanderbilt and Air Force before arriving at NCSU last spring, had never been forced to go four deep on his depth chart at running back. But with senior James Washington and redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy nursing injuries and redshirt sophomore Mustafa Greene suspended, that's exactly where NC State stood.
The next option was true freshman Shadrach Thornton. The plan had been for Thornton to redshirt, but the rookie had also shown Kitchings enough for the coach to have confidence in Thornton if he was needed.
"He had a very good camp, and from that standpoint, he proved and showed he had the capability to play for us," Kitchings noted. "His progression of picking up the offense was really on pace."
Thornton of course would have a big first game, rushing 21 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns and catching four passes for 26 yards. Kitchings was quick to point out that The Citadel, with an overmatched defensive line and lack of blitzing schemes, may have been an ideal first game for Thornton.
"The good thing about The Citadel game was they were not a heavy-blitz team," Kitchings noted. "That allowed his adjustment to be a little bit smoother. Going forward in ACC play, this is a blitz league. That's going to be a challenge for him when he's playing to be on point in that regard.
"If there is such a thing, that was probably the best case scenario for him. Again, it wasn't a heavy-blitz team. We were able to run the ball, so that allowed him to get into the flow of the game."
Thornton was not the only running back getting carries against The Citadel. Fifth-year senior Brandon Barnes also got some of the most extensive action of his career. Barnes carried eight times for 47 yards and ran for a touchdown. He also had three catches for 42 yards.
"From one week to the next Brandon has put in big strides in the way he plays, being physical carrying the football," Kitchings stated. "Hopefully that will give him confidence going forward.
"As he has seen, injuries happen, and he's a play away from playing a bunch of plays. That was good to see him play out there on Saturday."