02/24/08 — Goldsboro retires David Thornton's number 11

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Goldsboro retires David Thornton's number 11

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 24, 2008 2:56 AM

David Thornton's life stretched out before him in a quilt of faces that marked every fabric of his existence.

The former Goldsboro High football standout smiled and kept a tight arm around his mother's waist. Not too far away were his brothers -- his role models who served as his heroes.

Two coaches close to Thornton joined him on the other side.

And while all were there to salute Thornton and participate in retiring his No. 11 jersey, he -- in turn -- heaped praise on them. After all, each individual represented a single thread that helped sew the tapestry of Thornton's life.

"It all started at home and my parents did a great job raising me," said Thornton, who plays for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. "They taught me, first and foremost, to love God and serve the Lord. My brothers ... my heroes ... they always looked out for me and took care of me.

"I appreciate them for that."

Thornton never expected to play in the NFL.

But his faith -- from God, his family and friends -- stoked a bright flame that constantly burned within his soul. He knew through hard work and dedication that he'd achieve his goal.

Thornton did.

A former all-conference safety for the Cougars, he walked onto the North Carolina football team and eventually signed an NFL contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Thornton was sent to Tennessee the summer before the Colts won their first Super Bowl.

During that time, a modest Thornton hasn't forgotten his roots.

He grew up in the Boys & Girls Club and learned through examples enacted by his coaches and teachers. Once he graduated from Goldsboro, Thornton knew -- someday -- he'd become an influential member of a community which always embraced him with open arms.

And he has.

Thornton always sticks his head in the door at Goldsboro High when he's home. He checks on the athletic program, and ventures over to the elementary and middle schools to spend time with those children.

A gentle and caring individual, Thornton tells them about his childhood, explains his faith and encourages them to believe in themselves.

"He has served as a role model for the students at Goldsboro and the children of our community," said Burden. "Not only does he check on our needs, but he has provided scholarships and done things for the community outside the walls of Goldsboro High School."

Burden shares Thornton's story whenever she can.

"David's success sends a message to students that no matter who you are, here at Goldsboro High School, there are positive things going on," said Burden. "People are leaving here well-educated, going out into the community and making a very good successful life for themselves."

Burden said the jersey retirement was a proper act to recognize Thornton for his achievement. While Thornton stood among family and his peers, current head football coach Eric Reid read a written statement by former Cougar coach Elvin James.

"As his former high school football coach, I commend him and salute him on his outstanding performance," said James, who missed the ceremony due to a car accident. "The real worth of Goldsboro High School is measured by the accomplishments of its graduates. Through David, the school motto lives on -- 'Excellent Without Excuse.'"

Once Reid unveiled the bright blue and maize jersey encased in glass, a gracious Thornton hugged and silently thanked everyone. He received a well-deserved and thunderous ovation from the fans in attendance.

Burden presented Thornton with a smaller replica of the jersey, which will hang in the hallway leading to the school's office.

"When you see this jersey, don't just think about David Thornton, but think about God, who worked through David while he wore it," said Thornton.

And provided the most-significant thread in Thornton's life.