09/09/05 — Thornton -- Goldsboro High grad keeping his eye on the prize

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Thornton -- Goldsboro High grad keeping his eye on the prize

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on September 9, 2005 2:28 PM

David Thornton has had the kind of start to his professional career most players only dream about.

After being selected in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2002, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker led his team in tackles 2003 -- his first year as a starter. The Goldsboro High and University of North Carolina graduate moved from weakside backer to strongside last season and finished second in tackles with 98 (59 solo) and four quarterback pressures, an interception and two forced fumbles.

In Thornton's three years in Indy, the Colts have won two consecutive AFC South Division titles and have been to the playoffs three-straight years.

Obviously, the Colts have had little trouble taking care of business the first three months of the season -- posting a combined regular-season record of 34-14.

Advancing deep in the playoffs has been another story. That last two years, trips to chilly New England has spelled the end of the postseason road for Peyton Manning and Co. In 2002, they fell in the first round to the New York Jets.

"We want to continue to build on the positive things of the past. We've played well, but not good enough to get to the Super Bowl," said Thornton during a phone interview on Wednesday. "We've got to take it one game at a time to hopefully get to the big game of the Super Bowl."

By all accounts, Indianapolis is favored to be right back in the hunt for that elusive AFC title and a Super Bowl run in 2005. New England lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to the Cleveland Browns -- leaving more question marks on the Patriots than in recent years. Pittsburgh and San Diego, both defending division champs, should also be in contention again in the AFC.

But the Colts are unquestionably in the mix, especially with the recent addition of defensive tackle Corey Simon, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles. Thornton believes the six-year veteran will help a Colt defense that improved, but still finished as the third-worst defense in the NFL in yards per game last season.

"Corey Simon can help us out a lot. He's a veteran to provide leadership and a big man who can plug things up in the middle," Thornton said. "He'll help with the run defense and put pressure on the quarterback."

A modern, en-vogue phrase in major sports seems to be "window of opportunity," meaning can a team keep continuously winning and maintain its current roster. Of the Colts' "Big Three," Manning isn't going anywhere, and it isn't likely Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison will leave, either. But, running back Edgerrin James wants a long-term deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2006.

Thornton obviously understands the importance of the Colts taking advantage of a special opportunity.

"Everyone wants to win. The opportunities seldom come with a roster with talent and potential," he said. "We want to be able to capitalize, but we need 53 guys on the same page to cash in. It's an exciting group of guys. Coach (Tony) Dungy and the guys continue to prepare each day.

"We've got a well-balanced team and hopefully we can go out and take the whole thing."

Thornton signed a one-year contract this offseason and will also be a free agent in 2006. He's hoping to remain a Colt for the rest of his career.

"Clearly I would love to be a Colt my entire career. This is a winning organization," he said. "They drafted me and had faith in my ability. I've come in and done what they've asked me to do. I would love to continue my pro career here. Being a Colt is what I want to be."

One thing is for certain, as long as he is in Indianapolis -- or anywhere for that matter -- he will have the support of his hometown. For the second year in a row, a group of local family members and fans will make a bus trip to the Midwest and will get to meet Thornton and take in a game at the RCA Dome. This year, the group will see the Colts battle the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC South Division match-up.

"I'm excited about them coming out to support me again. Everybody who came had a positive and enlightening experience," Thornton said. "They ride 12 or 13 hours on a bus to support me, and hopefully we can continue to do it each year. It means a lot to me to know Goldsboro is still following me and supporting me in my pro career."

Indy opens the season at Baltimore on Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on ESPN.