When he was on, T.A. McLendon was one of the nation’s very best running backs. However, injuries would often derail the stocky back just when it seemed he was poised to break out as one of the country’s elite. But when all was said and done, McLendon helped reestablish NC State’s ground game and provided some of the most exciting, highlight-reel runs of the last ten years.
McLendon came to NC State as one of the most accomplished high school running backs in history. He finished a stellar prep career with better than 9,000 yards rushing and 178 total touchdowns. McLendon capped his high school career by rushing for 289 yards and seven touchdowns while leading his Albemarle squad to the class 1A state championship.
Despite the gaudy stats and legitimate division one size and speed, McLendon didn’t receive the volume of offers that one would have expected for a player with so much promise. Much of this was simply due to the fact few felt McLendon would ultimately qualify academically. He would prove the doubters wrong, however, posting a very solid SAT score that easily qualified him for admittance as a freshman.
Once at NC State, one coach proclaimed McLendon as one of the most naturally strong players he had ever seen. With that strength and incredible, natural running backs skills, it didn’t take long for McLendon to shine.
In his fifth game as a true freshman, McLendon had a breakout showing in a 51-48 shootout win over Texas Tech. He would finish with 150 yards on the ground and tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns, including an 8-yard TD run that sealed the win over the Red Raiders in overtime. Incredibly, McLendon broke 24 tackles in the game.
McLendon would finish his freshman season with 1,101 yards rushing- 453 of those coming after initial contact. He would also tie a freshman record 18 touchdowns en route to ACC rookie of the year honors.
Unfortunately, the bowling ball, bruising style that would define McLendon also led him suffer through numerous injuries and those began to crop up even during his first season. There were shoulder separations and broken wrists along with all the other bumps and bruises.
McLendon vowed to run smarter in 2003 but was still hampered and slowed by injuries and appeared in just nine games for the Pack although he still led the team in rushing with 608 yards and nine scores.
2004 wasn’t much better as McLendon was besieged with a seemingly never-ending string of injuries- the worst of which was a hamstring injury that dogged him most of the year. However, he led the Wolfpack in rushing for the third straight year with 770 yards and six touchdowns.
When all was said and done, McLendon’s career seemed to be defined by the big play. There was a scintillating touchdown run against Georgia Tech where McLendon bowled over two defenders simultaneously.
On a Thursday night again Clemson, McLendon vaulted over the line of scrimmage on a fourth and inches and sprinted to the end zone.
Conversely, there was the touchdown that wasn’t against UNC. And while facing Ohio State McLendon came up just inches short of the goal line in an overtime thriller against the Buckeyes.
McLendon would depart NC State after his junior season with many behind the scenes believing academics to be the driving force behind his decision.
Although his career may not have played out the way many hoped, McLendon was still one of the decade’s most impressive performers. He made the Wolfpack’s running back position an item once again and with him on the field, a spectacular highlight always seemed just a play away.
The issue was you always wondered if he would be on the field.