Thornton embracing advisor role at UNC
Posted September 15, 2011
Chapel Hill, N.C. — A college football player is apt to listen to an NFL player who spent a decade in the league. That's what North Carolina is hoping after former Tar Heel David Thornton took an advisory role with the team.
Thornton was at peace with his decision to retire from the NFL after nine seasons, the last of which was spent recovering from hip surgery. But after playing 121 games in the eight seasons prior, he didn't know what to do next.
"A few months ago, I was planning on doing what retired people do, and that's relax and chill," Thornton said.
When interim head football coach Everett Withers called Thornton for a job on the UNC football staff, he felt the timing could not have been better.
“To me, it was divine, very divine in how it worked out,” Thornton said. “I didn't know it would happen so quickly with the opportunity to come back to my alma mater."
Withers and Thornton have known each other since they were a part of the Titans organization in 2006. Thornton missed just one game in his first three years in Tennessee from 2006-09. He had his best year as a Titan in 2007 collecting 93 tackles, two interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while playing in all 16 games.
As a player, the Goldsboro native came to Carolina in the late 90s and was merely a walk-on.
Thornton struggled through academic problems and a coaching change before he turned it around and developed into an All-ACC linebacker and a productive NFL career with the Colts and Titans.
“My story is able to reach a lot of these guys, where they are, so I'm just able to really come in and serve as a mentor and a positive image for the team," Thornton said.
Withers also puts high value on Thornton’s association with the team.
"If our kids will learn from guys like David Thornton, it's worth every bit of having David around," Withers said.
Per NCAA rules, Thornton's role in player development means he can't offer direct coaching to players, only encouragement.
Thornton has not ruled out pursuing a career in coaching down the road, but says right now he is comfortable where he is at.
"Right now, I'm just learning,” Thornton said. “Being out here with these guys and encouraging them to do what they're doing is just as fulfilling for me. To plant a seed and tell a kid to keep pushing, keep working, your labor never goes in vain."