David Thornton Q&A

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Former North Carolina standout linebacker David Thornton discussed his NFL retirement, coming home to UNC and the state of the Tar Heel football program with reporters on Friday afternoon.

What made you come back? When did you decide to come in?
"Well, I didn't officially retire until today. I was waiting for the CBA to ratify. But I made the decision to retire within myself a couple of weeks ago. Coach Everett [Withers] actually gave me a call to see what I was up to and we connected and I let him know that if the opportunity was there for me to come home to my family, then I would love to come back and give in whatever capacity he might deem fit. So I don't know exactly what I'll be doing or how long I'll even be around, but while I'm here, I'm going to give in the same way I did on that field with 110 percent effort. I'm going to serve every guy and help him in any way I can. We'll figure it out as it goes along, but I'm here now, so I'm excited. It's definitely an honor to be back at my alma mater and seeing how my story comes full circle."

Can you talk about the positive vibes during your time here under Mack Brown and then with John Bunting in 2001?
"Well, my first year here, clearly the football program was on a high. It was Mack Brown's last year and I think we finished top-5 in the nation. So it was definitely a great experience for me and a wonderful time to be involved with Carolina football. Even during my time with Torbush and Bunting and when I left, there was still a good chemistry, good vibe. It was a good experience.

"I'm here because I'm committed to what this University stands for. The passion that I have not only for the school, but for the football organization, this is a great opportunity for me to come in and give back and just serve in whatever other capacity I can. I think my story is unique in a lot of ways. I can connect with every guy in that locker room, from coaching changes to the walk-ons to the guy who is fourth on the depth chart to the guy who finally pushes his way up to being MVP and All-ACC. I can connect. And I'm here really just to find a way to give back.

"There are a lot of people that really are passionate about Carolina and passionate about the football program and that really care. So even in this time of transition, I've had a lot of people comment to me, ‘What's going on?' And it's all because we care. There are a lot of people that love what's going on here. Look at this new end of the end zone and the talent that we put into the NFL last year with all the guys that were drafted. And not that that's what you come here for – to get drafted into the NFL, but there's just a lot of positive energy that's involved in the Carolina football experience."

Have you ever doubted that there is a true commitment to the sport here at Carolina?
"Absolutely not. Ever since I've been here, I've seen this program just continuously grow. From the old field house – I remember the march we took to the new end, and seeing this end grow and evolve, and to come back a decade later and see what it's evolved to now, there's clearly a level of commitment that people believe this program is successful. I think what's been happening over the last few years displays that. There's a great deal of talent in these kids and every Saturday they get a chance to put that talent on display. I'm just here to encourage them and serve as a mentor and push them to optimize their opportunities and make the best out of their Carolina experience."

Can you share some of your experiences with Coach Withers, just in terms of what kind of man and coach he is?
"Our relationship dates back to 2006. He got a chance to see me come in as a free agent for the [Tennessee] Titans and saw how I played and how I carried myself. I saw how he coached and how he carried himself. We have a lot of things in common. He's a man of faith. He's definitely a very driven individual. He's determined. He's very passionate about getting guys to play with a great deal of effort and I think he'll be a great motivator for this team. Without question, I think he's qualified and capable of leading this program, so I'm excited to see how he'll do it. I'm here to learn from him and just to fit in where he sees fit. I don't see him making any excuses for this team not doing well. I think the expectations will still be the same to go out and play with all-out effort and try to win football games."

You've played on some teams that have a lot of talent. At first glance, what was your impression of the talent level on this team?
"No question the talent is here. I don't know all of the players by name and who's what – it's just Day 1 – but the energy was there…. It was exciting to be a spectator. I'm still trying to learn the defense so I can be of service to the guys in that capacity, but football is football. It's a violent sport. You only play one way and that's reckless. So the terminology of the game will be different but I'll still be able to let them know what it's really all about in some capacity. It definitely was good to see the guys running around and flying around."

Going back to the commitment issue, Deems May, a former Tar Heel football player and a radio personality for the Tar Heel Sports Network, has been vocal over the past week saying he thought the move to dismiss Butch Davis pointed to a de-emphasis of UNC football. What's your response to that claim?
"When the transition was coming into place, it was definitely a little shocking to everyone. The timing of it was a little unpredictable, but at the same time, adversity is part of life. When something like that happens, you're going to have people who are emotional. And sometimes you can react and say things that you may not really mean. But that's part of it. You have to embrace it as a player and play the cards you've been dealt.

"I'm definitely supportive of the team and in just seeing these guys make the best of their Carolina experience, despite what the outsiders may be saying. It's tough as a player, and especially as a student-athlete when a lot of times the opinions of others and the media might be saying may try to define what the year may be like. But those guys in that locker room will just have to embrace the challenge that we define what this season will be and that we're going to embrace this opportunity and go out and make the best of it."

I'm sure you've talked with a lot of teammates and people associated with the program over the past week. Do you think there's a divide in the fan base because of what's happened or is everyone pretty much on board with the administration and ready to move forward?
"There's some frustration. That's only natural. It's right here before camp and there's a major change in the program. There's a little frustration and maybe a little disappointment, but at the same time, that's part of life. These kids are having to learn it at an early age that sometimes things may not happen the way you want them to. You just have to take the right prospective and try to make the best of the situation.

"No doubt emotions are raging throughout a lot of alumni. I was in Nashville at a restaurant and a former Tar Heel came up to me that I know and he vented on me just how frustrated he was. But the thing is that when there's a change like that, we still need Carolina supporters. You still need fans in the stadium cheering the kids on. The kids need to see the stadium full.

"It's not the kids' fault. They didn't control that. We still need everyone here pulling for these guys. They're going to give max effort. There's still a great deal of talent and there's going to be some great games here, so despite what's happened and what's looming around football, we still need to support our University and what it stands for."

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