07/01/07 — Coming home: Thornton returns to GHS for annual camp

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Coming home: Thornton returns to GHS for annual camp

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 1, 2007 2:03 AM

Neither Damarian Henderson nor David Thornton forgot their promise.

While attending Thornton's inaugural football camp last summer, Henderson asked for an autographed jersey. Thornton vowed, if Henderson made all A's this year, to grant his request.

Once Saturday morning's session of the second annual DT Football Camp ended, Henderson ran to the parking lot. A couple of minutes later, he presented Thornton with a sweat-stained paper detailing Henderson's work in the classroom.

Henderson made all A's.

So, where's the jersey, David?

"From time to time, when I come home, the kids ask for different things. I ask to see their report cards," said a smiling Thornton, who played last season with the Tennessee Titans. "A lot of them will show it to me. If they do extremely well, like Damarian, I try to reward them.

"I always encourage them to do well in the classroom."

Henderson is just one of numerous kids who Thornton remembers and greets with a handshake or hug when he returns to Goldsboro throughout the year. Whether it's a speaking engagement or just visiting family and friends, Thornton constantly serves as a reminder that hard work pays off.

The former Indianapolis Colt uses his football camp to encourage young players to become examples of excellence on and off the field. His main goal is to help develop their skill and character -- build a champion.

"We want to build a person through character (C), humility (H), attitude (A), motivation (M) and perseverance (P)," said Thornton. "Those simple characteristics help exemplify what I want this camp to mean.

"It's not just football; teaching them the fundamentals of the game and showing them how to become better football players. At the same time, we want to teach them traits and characteristics to become better people."

Thornton always tells his story about growing up in Goldsboro. He was raised in a God-fearing home and taught to have reverance in everything. His father tutored him about character, humility, handling and persevering through adversity, and staying motivated toward his goal.

Former teammate and good friend Gary Brackett has a similar story to Thornton, who wasn't heavily recruited out of high school. College coaches told Brackett he wasn't big enough to play, but he eventually walked on at Rutgers and got drafted by the world champion Colts.

Brackett joined Thornton for the day-long camp. Also assisting were Tennessee teammates Calvin Lowery and Quinton Ganther; Tommy Davis (N.Y. Giants) and Greg Warren (Pittsburgh). Davis and Warren starred at Southern Wayne and later played at North Carolina.

"It's always good to have those guys come back; never give me a lot of hassle about it," said Thornton. "It's wonderful to have a few guys locally who can help me with the camp and they always look forward to it.

"It means a lot to me and it's a blessing."

More than 100 kids from area middle and high schools battled sweltering temperatures as they diligently learned skills at different work stations set up on the plush Cougar Stadium field. Upon completion of the session, each camper received an autographed poster and a bag of goodies -- reminders of their day of rubbing elbows with some of the NFL's youngest and brightest players.

"I'm excited to be able to come back and host this camp," said Thornton. "The kids' energy was great today and I feel fortunate for that. I always look forward to coming back to my community to serve, and be a positive influence in these kids' lives."

Henderson is a perfect example.

Notes: Thornton's camp is made possible through a Youth Football Camp grant available from the NFL's Youth Football Fund, which is supported by Thornton and his fellow NFL players and the owners of the 32 NFL teams. ... Thornton also received help from AccuCopy, Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County, Coldstone Creamery, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Genesco Inc., Ham's Restaurant and Screen It.