"We can't meet with them during the summer so his first meeting was at camp," said tailbacks coach Des Kitchings. "But, right away, as far as learning the offense, he has picked up on it. There are still some nuances that he doesn't have, but at this point, I'm pleased with where he is at.
"He's actually learning and picking up [the offense] probably faster than maybe expected. That's great for him, being in the playbook and knowing what we're doing offensively."
A 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Hinesville (GA) Liberty County High School, Thornton rushed for 1,738 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. He ranked sixth in the state in rushing while also passing for 248 yards and a pair of scores and also returning kicks.
A versatile prospect, Thornton has impressed with his style of play.
"Shadrach is a very physical downhill runner," said Kitchings. "That stands out, even on the first day in helmets he was running downhill. He doesn't care who is in his way... he's coming at them."
"He's good," said senior tailback James Washington. "His first couple of days here he's been breaking tackles. He has speed and is catching on with the playbook. He's going to be real in the future."
State held its first scrimmage of fall camp last Monday and Thornton was able to show what he could do. How did he perform?
"He ran hard," Kitchings said. "He's a physical kid who just took the ball and ran hard. That stood out in the scrimmage.
"Like I said, I've been impressed with Shadrach. He's physical and has been strong in pass protection. He's an all-around player."
As with all freshmen, Thornton probably hopes he to see the field this year, but that could be tough given the experience State returns in the backfield.
Senior James Washington rushed for a team-high 897 yards and seven touchdowns on 227 carries in 2011 while adding 42 receptions for 315 yards. Sophomore Tony Creecy totaled 401 yards and a score on 103 carries, and he also caught 25 balls for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Factor in sophomore Mustafa Greene, Thornton, and redshirt senior reserve Brandon Barnes, and Kitchings has options in the backfield.
"[Creecy, Washington, and Barnes] have picked off right where they were in the spring and had a good summer workouts," he said. "They all look a step faster and stronger which will help them during the year.
"Creecy has been steady, James has been steady, and Brandon has had a really good camp."
One area that NC State will continue to exploit opposing defenses is through the air to the running backs. Last year's tailbacks and fullbacks combined to catch 85 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked amongst the most in the ACC.
"That's going to remain a major point of emphasis for us," said Kitchings. "They all have really good hands and can beat linebackers with routes. That's a plus for us offensively because we can take advantage of those matchups inside."