RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State's running game will be back to full strength this weekend.
Last year's top rusher Shadrach Thornton is eligible to return Saturday at Old Dominion after a two-game suspension for an offseason violation of athletic department policy. His absence allowed Matt Dayes to put up big numbers while carrying the load, while versatile threat Jaylen Samuels also made an impact both running and catching the ball.
Running backs coach Des Kitchings said the Wolfpack (2-0) will stick with the rotation that worked last season, which will also help Thornton as adjusts to game contact again against the Monarchs (2-0).
''We're just going to run our offense,'' Kitchings said. ''Whatever back's in the game, it doesn't change anything we do.''
Team spokeswoman Annabelle Myers said Thornton wouldn't be available for interviews until after he plays again. The senior ran for 907 yards and nine touchdowns last year to lead an attack that averaged 204.5 yards per game - the program's best rushing total since 1992.
With Thornton out, Dayes ran for 242 yards on 48 carries with five touchdowns against Troy and Championship Subdivision opponent Eastern Kentucky, while Samuels ran for four scores.
''Of course everyone loves having all those carries,'' Dayes said, ''but you've got to look long term and think about injuries, so it'll be a great addition to have him back. I'm not upset about that or anything.''
Besides, North Carolina State has proven it can use both players. The last time they played together, Thornton ran for 96 yards on 17 carries while Dayes ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in the St. Petersburg Bowl win against Central Florida.
This was Thornton's third career suspension. He sat out the 2013 opener during coach Dave Doeren's first season after being charged with misdemeanor assault on female. Thornton's attorney, Lee Turner, said previously that Thornton received counseling through a deferred-prosecution agreement that ultimately led to the dismissal of that charge.
In December 2013, Doeren indefinitely suspended Thornton after authorities cited him for misdemeanor simple possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Turner said charges were later dismissed, leading to his reinstatement during last year's training camp to avoid sitting any games.
During his weekly news conference Monday, Doeren was asked about the number of chances he's given Thornton. He said it comes down to a simple question: ''Do I think there's reason to continue to work with this guy?''
Sometimes the answer is no.
''With him, I didn't feel that way,'' Doeren said. ''He's the best him that he's been since I've been here. I'm excited he gets to play. He's been through a lot, that he's brought on himself, and he's learned from it.
''But if I felt like I couldn't help him any more, he wouldn't be here.''
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