Luke DeCock

NC State RB Shadrach Thornton’s latest suspension must be his last

How many second chances does N.C. State running back Shadrach Thornton get?
How many second chances does N.C. State running back Shadrach Thornton get? ehyman@newsobserver.com

How many second chances does Shadrach Thornton get? There’s an easy answer: This has to be his last.

The news that Thornton would miss the first two games of N.C. State’s season after he was suspended for an undisclosed violation of university rules shouldn’t have much impact on the Wolfpack’s season – a weak nonconference schedule and a strong stable of running backs should see to that – but it does raise important questions about how many rules Thornton can break and still be a member of N.C. State’s team.

This is the third time Thornton has been suspended, although one suspension was cut short before he missed any games. He also missed the season opener in 2013.

There’s a little bit of P.J. Hairston in Thornton: An unquestionably talented athlete who keeps making impossibly bad decisions. North Carolina went as far as it could with Hairston as his traffic violations and eligibility issues piled up, letting him practice deep into basketball season until it became clear there was no hope of getting him cleared by the NCAA. Hairston was that important to the Tar Heels.

Thornton may not be quite that important to the Wolfpack, but he’s important nonetheless. The Wolfpack’s only preseason all-ACC selection ran for 907 yards last season, but even when he was far and away N.C. State’s most effective runner, he still shared time with Tony Creecy and Matt Dayes. He was never fully able to claim the job for himself in practice until the end of the season – carrying the ball 10 or fewer times in six games before running for 367 yards over N.C. State’s final three games.

Now he may have to earn the job all over again, depending on how Dayes and the freshmen perform in his absence, which could be to N.C. State’s long-term detriment because the more Thornton saw the ball last season, the better the Wolfpack was offensively.

The timing of Thornton’s suspension is convenient – he’ll miss games against Troy and Eastern Kentucky – but unavoidable given N.C. State’s schedule, which opens with what are probably the four weakest nonconference opponents of any power-conference team.

Since the infraction happened six months ago, Thornton has gone through training camp with this suspension hanging over his head. By all accounts, he has handled it well and performed up to expectations. There’s also no question Thornton has been Dave Doeren’s biggest headache since becoming coach at N.C. State.

Thornton has to be on very thin ice with N.C. State now. There’s no other way to approach it. Double-secret probation isn’t going to cut it.

Only a few months after Doeren took the job, Thornton was involved in an alleged altercation with his girlfriend at the library that led to assault charges and a one-game suspension to open the 2013 season. Throw in drug-possession charges and this latest infraction, and Thornton isn’t only N.C. State’s leading returning rusher but its leading rule breaker.

The only major non-Thornton conduct issue in Doeren’s tenure was a BB gun fight last season, which saw seven players suspended for what turned out to be a 30-18 loss to Louisville at a time when Doeren was still seeking his first ACC win.

Thornton has to be on very thin ice with N.C. State now. There’s no other way to approach it. Double-secret probation isn’t going to cut it.

He was given a second chance after accepting deferred prosecution on the assault charges, and a third chance after the drug-possession charges were dropped. Now he has been given a fourth chance, able to return after sitting out two games for this latest violation.

As was the case with Hairston, some of these transgressions aren’t a big deal, taken individually. Taken collectively, they paint a larger picture of an athlete finding it difficult to meet basic expectations for player behavior.

There’s a point where you have to ask: How much more trouble is too much?

For N.C. State and Thornton, this has to be that point. No more second chances.

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

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