Luke DeCock

NC State’s Thornton not the only one left looking bad

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren talks with running back Shadrach Thornton (10) after N.C. State football's first spring practice at the Dail football practice complex in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren talks with running back Shadrach Thornton (10) after N.C. State football's first spring practice at the Dail football practice complex in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2015. ehyman@newsobserver.com

This is as sad as it was avoidable. Shadrach Thornton was given second, third and fourth chances. There will not be a fifth.

N.C. State’s only preseason all-ACC player is done for his career after his latest arrest, relatively minor in scope but unarguably insufferable in aggregate. Thornton has a unique knack for running the ball and a unique knack for making others look bad. His aptitude for the second finally trumped the first.

Everyone looks bad here: Thornton, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, N.C. State itself.

Thornton probably should have been kicked off the team after his last transgression, the unspecified violation of team rules that caused him to be suspended for the first two games of the season. Walk-ons have been booted for far less. But N.C. State spun the same old litany about “lessons learned,” even as Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren knew Thornton’s suspension was looming but not yet announced.

Doeren twisted and turned to give Thornton every last opportunity to play, only to see Thornton staring back at him from another mug shot.

That cynicism came back to haunt Doeren. When Thornton was arrested Tuesday night for allegedly hitting a pedestrian with his moped, there was no other decision left. He managed to stay eligible for all of two games. Doeren twisted and turned to give Thornton every last opportunity to play, only to see Thornton staring back at him from another mug shot. At this point, if Doeren had kept Thornton around, he would only have been enabling him.

Thornton, the Larry Brown of running backs, just couldn’t stay out of trouble. After his initial arrest on assault charges, he was given any number of chances to fly right.

How’d that work out, anyway?

Second chance: Cited for drug possession.

Third chance: Broke team rules.

Fourth chance: Arrested. Again.

If Thornton had gotten a fifth chance, he wouldn’t have been the one who needed the most help making decisions.

In the two games he played this season, albeit against lesser competition, Thornton showed he still had the speed and power that made him N.C. State’s leading rusher last season. He would have been an asset to a 4-0 team hoping to make an underdog run at the Atlantic Division title. But even before his dismissal was announced, Doeren sounded like he was preparing for life without Thornton.

“It’s no different than when you have an injury on your football team,” Doeren said Wednesday afternoon. “You’ve got to approach it from a next-man-up standpoint.”

Starting Saturday against Louisville, the Wolfpack will get by with Matt Dayes, who was impressive in Thornton’s absence and continued to be after Thornton’s brief return, and freshman Reggie Gallaspy. It would have been a better team with Thornton – which is why he got so many chances in the first place.

Instead, he let his teammates down. Again. He let the coaches who gave him so many chances down. Again. He let himself down. Again.

Thornton is a good enough football player to get a free education, but there are two sides to that deal, and being a good citizen is the least of it. Now, trying to be a good citizen is all he has left.

N.C. State said Thornton will remain on scholarship and is scheduled to complete his degree this spring. That makes this Thornton’s last chance to make amends, with himself if no one else.

This is his first opportunity to make a correct decision in his post-football life, where he’ll find far fewer people willing to give him a second chance, let alone a third or a fourth.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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