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True freshmen RBs get spotlight in Miami

It took one game for NC State true freshman running back Shadrach Thornton to accomplish something Wolfpack fans haven’t seen in 31 years.

Not since 1981 has NC State had a true freshman rush for more than 100 yards in his first collegiate game. Thornton hadn’t even taken so much as a snap in a game prior to last week’s win over The Citadel. In fact, he wasn’t even on the depth chart heading into this season.

And then boom -- Thornton finished with 145 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns last weekend. He became the school’s first running back to rush for over 100 yards this season, the first freshman to gain at least 100 yards in a game since Andre Brown had 248 against Southern Miss in 2005.

“It was obviously a coming out party,” said Miami coach Al Golden, whose team will host the Wolfpack on Saturday. “He not only got 145 yards on 21 carries, but he showed explosion and burst and did a great job of pressing the line of scrimmage and hitting the powers and zones really good. Obviously he’s running behind an excellent offensive line, too.”

Miami freshman phenom Duke Johnson is going to have some company on Saturday.

Saturday’s game in Sun Life Stadium will feature two of the ACC’s rising stars at running back. Johnson has accomplished enough through the first four games to position himself for the ACC’s Rookie of the Year award, while Thornton appears to be just getting warmed up. His opportunity last weekend came at the expense of injured teammates, as coach Tom O’Brien said none of the other running backs were healthy.

Thornton took the opportunity and literally ran with it.

He had 35 yards on four carries on the Pack’s first series, including a 19-yard touchdown run. He also caught four passes for 26 yards to finish with 171 all-purpose yards.

“I’ve always said about injuries, one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity, and he made the most of his opportunity, so going forward, he’s going to be able to play,” O’Brien said.

Injured NC State running back Tony Creecy didn’t return to the practice field until Thursday last week, but O’Brien said Creecy and Thornton will carry the bulk of the load against Miami. Golden said he will be ready for all three of NC State’s running backs, including James Washington.

NC State, of course, has to be ready for Miami’s top rookie.

Johnson has 838 all-purpose yards through four games and is the national leader in that category. He is on pace for 2,514 yards in 12 games.

“He’s really a talented athlete,” O’Brien said. “He has good vision. He really has good speed. The thing he does is, he reads his blockers very well for a kid that is a freshman, understanding the schemes and putting himself in position. He’s run through some tackles, too. He’s a complete guy and somebody I don’t think one guy can bring down. We’re going to have to get a lot of guys on the football on Saturday if we’re going to stop him.”