Thornton overcomes long odds to star with Eagles

While 254 players were selected in the 2011 NFL draft, Cedric

Thornton waited for a phone call that never came.

He makes 31 teams wish they picked him every week.

After being passed up in the draft, Thornton signed a free-agent

deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s gone from undrafted rookie

to one of the best defensive players on a first-place team.

Thornton has thrived in his first year playing defensive end in

a 3-4 system. He’s fifth on the team with 69 tackles and Pro

Football Focus rates as the NFC’s best run-stopping end in a 3-4

defense.

”I look at every opportunity to be better than a person drafted

before me or the person that played my position that’s considered

elite,” Thornton said. ”I have a first-round draft pick (Fletcher

Cox) playing next to me, so he motivates me, too. Only I can

dictate what happens to my career, whether I play at an elite level

on Sunday or I get dominated. It can go either way. The ball is in

my hand and I try to do everything possible to be successful.”

Thornton had to overcome long odds, beginning his journey to the

pros as a standout player at Division II Southern Arkansas. He was

a two-year starter and earned first-team All-America honors as a

junior.

Thornton went to the NFL scouting combine, but didn’t register

high grades. His 40-yard dash time (5.25) was tied for fourth worst

among defensive tackles. His bench press (23) was tied for third

lowest.

”Coming from a Division II school, we didn’t have all the

programs and facilities they have at Division I, so I just had to

work harder,” Thornton said.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had his eyes on Thornton

and targeted him right away after the draft was completed. Roseman

enjoys telling a story about going to the team’s practice facility

to work out on a holiday and seeing Thornton already there.

”I just had my eyes on the prize, knowing that when I got my

opportunity, I wanted to be ready, and I just work hard every

chance possible,” Thornton said.

It’s that work ethic that impresses coaches and has Thornton

playing at a Pro Bowl level.

”He’s a hard worker,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said.

”Cedric’s had to work for everything he’s ever gotten. He just

puts his head down and works every day. He takes a lot of pride in

every rep he has. He’s playing at a very high level for what we’re

asking him to do.”

Coach Chip Kelly often singles out Thornton for his excellent

play. Though he only has one sack – against Peyton Manning in Week

4 – Kelly considered Thornton the team’s best pass rusher, too.

”He always seems to be around the ball no matter if it’s a run

or pass,” Kelly said. ”He’s a real technician and has really

bought into what we’re doing.”

Forty-four defensive linemen were chosen in the 2011 draft,

including 12 in the first round. Five more were picked in Round 2.

One of those guys, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, the 52nd overall

pick by the New York Giants, is out of football. Others drafted in

lower rounds also aren’t in the league.

That’s just added motivation for Thornton.

”I think anybody that played at high level in college thinks

they’re going to get drafted,” he said. ”I definitely thought so,

whether it was third round, mid-round or later. But every day I

look at it as I have to play better than every person drafted at my

position. It’s an opportunity to show teams they should’ve drafted

me and I’m better than the guy they drafted.”

Thornton has a quiet, low-key personality. He grew up in a small

town in Arkansas and spent six summers during his childhood picking

peas by hand for 12 hours a day at a $50 daily wage. His father,

Nathaniel, is a pastor, and his mother, Angela, is a minister.

Thornton sang in his church’s choir and his faith is an important

part of his life. It’s certainly helped him mature as a player,

too.

”Christianity is all about faith and believing in something you

never saw,” Thornton said. ”I didn’t see myself as a Pro Bowl

player but I definitely think I have the talent and the skills to

be one. I believe in myself and I stay consistent.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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