North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
T.A. McLendon was one of the most prolific prep running backs in state history, gaining 9,004 yards and scoring 178 touchdowns during his career at Albemarle High School. He made an immediate impression at NC State by rushing for more than 1,000 yards in earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
But for all the yards he gained and touchdowns he scored, the 5-foot-10, 235-pound battering ram is probably best known for the one yard he didn’t gain and the touchdown he didn’t score.
Or did he?
On Oct. 9, 2004, McLendon appeared to get into the end zone for what would have been the go-ahead score with six seconds remaining in an especially hard-fought rivalry game against North Carolina. One official raised his arms to signal touchdown, but after a lengthy discussion, it was ruled that McLendon’s knee hit the ground before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.
The call became even more controversial when McLendon was stopped at the line and fumbled on the next play, dooming the Wolfpack to a 30-24 loss. It’s a sequence of events that continues to be debated by fans of both teams to this day. It has also helped to overshadow the achievements of a career that was both successful and unfulfilled.
McLendon led the nation with those 178 high school touchdowns. Seven of those scores came in his final game at Albemarle, a Class 1A state championship game victory against Wallace-Rose Hill that saw him rush for 289 yards.
After playing in the 2002 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, McLendon made an immediate impact at State. He rushed for 1,101 yards on 245 carries while setting a freshman school record with 18 touchdowns. He also caught 42 passes for 354 yards while helping the Wolfpack to the best season in school history at 11-3.
McLendon led the team in rushing again in each of the next two years, even though he wasn’t able to play a full season in either 2003 or ’04 because of a series of injuries. He then passed up his senior season to enter the NFL Draft a year early, but that turned out to be a career-ending mistake when he went unselected and couldn’t catch on despite tryouts with several teams.