Wolfpack tailback may change running style

Updated: August 10, 2003, 4:24 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Not much went wrong for T.A. McLendon during his freshman season at North Carolina State.

The tailback rushed for more than 1,000 yards, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year and became a guy defenders didn't want to meet head on.

"It says he weighs 215, but he runs like he's 300 pounds," Wake Forest defensive back Quintin Williams said of McLendon's hard running style.

But there were drawbacks to McLendon's bruising style. He played major parts of the season with injuries to both shoulders and a broken wrist, and was basically worn out by the time the Wolfpack beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.

McLendon vowed Sunday that he'll be a changed runner when N.C. State opens the season Aug. 30 against Western Carolina.

"Last year, I went out and hit everybody like a bowling ball," McLendon said. "I've got to change my style if I'm going to stay healthy. If I want a future here at N.C. State or anywhere else I've got to run smart.

"Having a cast on, having two hurt shoulders, I had to figure it out for myself. But I had to find out the hard way, the stupid way."

Don't expect McLendon to abandon his old style when he's battling for a first down or some extra yardage inside. However, he's watched tapes of last season and said he can avoid some unnecessary hits over the course of a 12- or 13-game season.

"I'm still going to be aggressive, I'm just not going to try to run everybody over," he said. "I'm not going to try to put my shoulder into everybody. I'm going to protect myself a little more."

McLendon broke a whopping 24 tackles in a 150-yard rushing day against Texas Tech last season and gained 453 of his 1,101 yards after contact.

He also scored a freshman record 18 touchdowns just one season removed from prep ball.

"He kind of makes us look better than we really are," said offensive lineman Chris Colmer. "Sometimes we find ourselves standing around because we think he's going to get tackled but then he's running downfield. We've got to stay on blocks longer with him around."

McLendon's health is key to the balance of the Wolfpack offense, which also has 3,000-yard passer and Heisman Trophy candidate Philip Rivers, and a host of talented receivers.

With defenses concentrating on N.C. State's passing attack, McLendon also may find himself in the running for college football's top honor.

"If I start thinking about that, that's individual stuff," McLendon said when asked about the Heisman. "Right now, I don't think anybody on the team is thinking of anything on an individual level. If we win anything, we want to win the ACC title and the national championship."

McLendon's maturity hasn't been lost on Rivers, who has had to shoulder most of the offensive leadership role the last three seasons.

"He's been big-time in the weight room, with his work ethic, and out there on the practice field," Rivers said. "He's so much sharper with the plays, he's understanding the concepts better. We'll put in a new wrinkle and he's already thinking what he's going to run."

That wasn't always the case last season as Rivers often spent time telling McLendon where to line up in the backfield.

"He's become a leader out there as a running back, which is big," Rivers added. "Those linemen can see that running back loving on them and caring about them."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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