There was one offensive change on the depth chart released Monday for the season finale against Boston College. It was the ascension of true freshman Shadrach Thornton to first-string at running back. The rookie started last week against Clemson, and has recorded two-straight 100-yard rushing games, which gives him three in the eight games he has played this season.
Thornton burst onto the scene with 145 yards and two touchdowns in a surprise start against The Citadel on Sept. 22. The Hinesville, Ga., native followed up with 87 rushing yards and a 14-yard catch in Miami against the Hurricanes, and then finished second on the team with 77 yards from scrimmage in the upset over then-No. 3 Florida State.
He was held under ten touches in each of the next three games before rushing for 110 yards against Wake Forest and then rushing for 114 and a score against Clemson on Saturday. Coach Tom O'Brien said the youngster has grown as the season has progressed, and he sees a bright future for the young back.
"He hit the wall there for a while, and we talked this week about being a freshman - you have those peaks and valleys," the coach said. "Right now, he's healthy, we need him. He's had two really good games. He's a kid that, even as I'm getting after them in the locker room after the game, he's the only guy that has got some fire right now. As I said to him, 'thank God you're here, man.' He's my kind of guy.
"He runs hard, he runs with power, he's got good vision, he's tough to bring down and he's starting to feel much more confident in where he's going and what he's doing, which is normal. He's growing up and learning as we go through this."
State hasn't had a running back eclipse 100 yards in a game more than three times in the same season since T.A. McLendon did it five times in 2002. Thornton credits the game experience he's gained, as well as his teammates for his success, and he'll be looking to become just the ninth different rusher in school history to run for at least four 100-yard games in a single season on Saturday.
"The more I play, the slower the game gets," he said. "The first time I got on the game field against The Citadel, the game was real fast for me. My first college game, I was really iffy on the protections, I didn't really know the schemes, but as the season progressed, I made sure I did what I had to do inside the video room and the playbook to slow the game down to where I could make something happen."
Thornton and the offense were able to total 597 yards of offense against Clemson, despite facing a 13-0 deficit early in the game. They even took a 24-13 lead before having to dig out of a 55-24 hole. Going full speed, regardless of the score, is the only way that Thornton knows how to play.
"In high school, we went 2-8 in my junior and senior years," he remembered. "As far as being down and continuing to fight, that's all I really know. It's all about heart, whoever wants it the most, whoever can put out the most, that's what it's about."
Thornton leads the team with 550 rushing yards, and he averages 4.8 yards per carry. His clip of 91.8 all-purpose yards per game is ranked second on the team, and he has lost yards on just four of his 114 totes this year.
"Shad runs really hard," senior center Camden Wentz said. "I'm sure everybody sees that, we all see it on the field. He plays with a passion that guys want to block for. I think the sky's the limit for him. I'm glad that he's on our side and I get the opportunity to block for him."
Thornton is focused on finishing the season strong by preparing to his fullest and continuing to fight. He wants to be sure the seniors are sent out on a good note in their last appearance at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday against Boston College.
"It's really all about believing, stepping up in the weight room and doing what you need to do off the field, so that when you get on the field, everything just falls into place.
"It's just all about taking care of business throughout the week, going hard in practice. That's when the game is won, in practice. On Saturday, that's really the pay day. We just have to keep righting. We have the finish out the season strong. We have another game at home, it's going to be Senior Night, and we just have to take it to them."