08/21/08 — Thornton ready for big year with Titans

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Thornton ready for big year with Titans

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 21, 2008 1:35 PM

Focus on where you're headed but don't forget where you came from.

As David Thornton prepares for his seventh NFL season, the former Goldsboro High School star continues to help guide a franchise in search of football's ultimate prize without losing touch with the roots that help keep him grounded.

Thornton led the Tennessee Titans in tackles in 2007. The 29-year-old former walk-on at North Carolina has progressed from a raw talent who relied on speed and energy to a savvy veteran capable of identifying an opponent's tendencies.

"I definitely have grown in many areas," said Thornton. "Early in my career I was adjusting to the speed of the game. I was playing with pride heart and energy. As my career has progressed, I've developed more wisdom and I'm able to recognize things early on and see plays before ball is snapped."

Aside from playing quarterback and safety at Goldsboro, Thornton was also the point guard on the basketball team, the drum major in the marching band, student body president, president of the school's National Honor Society, a North Carolina Scholar and an honors graduate.

Learning to juggle a hectic schedule at an early age prepared Thornton for the demands of college. And ultimately he learned to handle the responsibilities and the distractions that come with playing in the NFL.

"My father and mother encouraged me and my brother to stay busy with as many extracurricular sports and clubs as we could," said Thornton. "It helped me to learn how to manage time and it helped us not have too much idle time to get into trouble. Once I got to Chapel Hill, I didn't struggle with time management or the discipline needed to be somewhere at a certain time.

"As a pro you're in a profession with a ton of distractions and a lot of things can pull you left and right. Just my foundation through my faith and just learning what it takes to keep God first in your life has helped me stay on track with what I'm doing now."

Rather than resting on the laurels of last season (93 solo tackles, 29 assists), Thornton admits he'd like to improve his pass coverage. But he's focused on helping his team attain its highest goals.

Tennessee allowed 18.4 points per game in 2007 and concluded its season with a 17-6, opening-round playoff loss at San Diego. Jevon Kearse returned from Philadelphia to help bolster a Titans defense that ranked fifth in the NFL.

Over the past three years Tennessee has grown from a 4-12 squad in 2005, to 8-8 in 2006 before posting a 10-6 finish in 2007. Head Coach Jeff Fisher has helped the franchise rediscover its identity, solidify its quarterback situation with Vince Young and bring in a core group of veterans to provide a stabilizing leadership presence in the locker room.

"When I first got here in 2006, coach Fisher was changing the identity of our team and we brought in a few key free agents," said Thornton. "I think last year we were seeing the potential of our team by getting into the playoffs. This year I believe the expectations are high.

"We know we have the potential to be a top contender and even though we're under the radar, we take pride in trying to be one of the elite teams in the NFL."

As the AFC South continues develop into one of the NFL's toughest divisions, Tennessee's playoff hopes could once again hinge on how it fares against divisional opponents. Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee all advanced to the postseason from the AFC South in 2007. The Houston Texans just missed punching their ticket to the dance with an 8-8 finish.

"There's no question, I believe the AFC South is the toughest division in football," said Thornton. "The Colts are former Super Bowl champs and they seem to go deep into the playoffs every year. Jacksonville is probably the most physical team in the NFL and the Houston Texans team are a team that is young and just missed the playoffs.

"To have three teams from one division that made the playoffs, I think that speaks volumes to the talent across that division."