Harvey Levine/FOS

Fatherly Advice Was Key For Penn State Signee C.J. Thorpe

Former Nittany Lion Chris Thorpe is still dealing with the ramifications of the injury that ended his football career. That came into play as he helped guide his son through the recruiting process.

The question is not an unusual one for a father to pose to his son amid the recruiting process, but it had particular resonance in the case of Chris Thorpe and his son C.J.

Where would you want to be, Chris asked his son, if you weren’t able to play football?

This led the elder Thorpe to encourage C.J., a four-star offensive guard from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, to be absolutely certain about his verbal commitment to Penn State, made the weekend of the Blue-White Game last April.

To explore.

To branch out.

That led in turn to some anxious moments in Nittany Nation in mid-January, when the younger Thorpe visited UCLA, welcomed two Michigan assistants into the family’s home and contemplated a visit to Ann Arbor. But after making an official visit to Happy Valley with this year’s other commits the weekend of Jan. 20-22, C.J. reaffirmed his pledge to PSU.

He signed his letter of intent last Wednesday – i.e., National Signing Day.

“After my visit (to) UCLA I was really considering them, and Michigan, too,” he said, referring to a trip to Westwood Jan. 13-15 and the UM visit a few days later. “But then (I) went out for a visit to Penn State, and hung around with commits and all that, and that solidified that, wanting to stay on.”

His dad painted a slightly different picture.

“He didn’t really waver,” Chris said. “I think it was more me, making sure that he had an opportunity, basically, to look at the options. He was always solid about Penn State, but I pushed him to make sure that he took a look at some other places, because to make a decision, there has to be something that’s compared against something else.”

So did Penn State coach James Franklin, who was asked on Signing Day about having to fight for Thorpe late in the process.

“I don't know if that necessarily was the case,” Franklin said. “He did look around a little bit, but we didn't feel that from things that were communicated with us.”

The elder Thorpe had himself played at Penn State from 1985-88, first at fullback, then at outside linebacker. He missed his first season while recovering from a shoulder injury, then injured his neck on a hit in practice from safety Ray Isom and missed the Lions’ ’86 national championship run as well. He aggravated the neck injury in the ’88 season opener at Virginia, and was forced to give up football for good.

“It was very, very scary,” Thorpe said.

It also remains a concern. The elder Thorpe, now 49, was scheduled to undergo spinal fusion surgery last week, which involved inserting a plate in his neck. It will leave him, he said, with about 75 percent of the usual range of motion.

“It all stems back to that one injury, back then,” he said. “I asked the doctor, ‘Why now, after 30 years?’ He said that’s just how the body is.”

Small wonder that he encouraged his son to be sure about his decision: Football can be taken away in an instant. So at that point, what’s left?

C.J.’s deliberations brought his dad in contact with some familiar faces. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was Chris’ position coach after he switched to defense at Penn State all those years ago, and one of the Michigan assistants who visited the Thorpe home was secondary coach Michael Zordich, a senior safety when the elder Thorpe arrived in Happy Valley in ’85.

Meaning, of course, they literally bumped heads in practice, since Chris played fullback at that point.

Harvey Levine/FOS

“Very, very tough,” Thorpe said of Zordich, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL.

If there was familiarity there, there was something even deeper with Bradley, given how closely the elder Thorpe (shown above, center) worked with him back in the day.

“We were able to speak very openly in reference to what I thought about C.J., what he thought about him and the future,” Chris said.

Both connections — the one with Zordich, and the one with Bradley — played a big role in C.J.’s 11th-hour machinations.

“With them recruiting my dad, being friends with my dad, that’s actually the only sense they even had a chance with me,” he said. “That just gave them that ‘in.’ “

Publicly, at least, C.J. seemed up in the air after hearing the pitches from the Bruins and Wolverines, telling reporters he was weighing all his options.

Then came his official visit to PSU, and everything went out the window. As Chris and his wife Nikki were driving their son from campus Sunday afternoon — “We didn’t get on Atherton,” Chris said — their son informed them he had made his decision, once and for all.

“His mother and I were shocked,” Chris said. “We were supposed to have (Jim) Harbaugh at the house last Sunday night (i.e., Jan. 22).”

There was no need for that anymore, and no need for a trip to Michigan.

C.J. — the initials stand for Chris Jr. — is the youngest of three children, and part of an athletic family. His brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by Joe Moorhead before he departed the Rams to inject rocket fuel into Penn State’s offense.

C.J.’s cousin Geno played basketball at PSU before transferring to South Florida. Two other cousins, Aja and Summer, run track at Yale and Notre Dame, respectively.

Besides his football exploits, Chris Sr. was once a state-champion hurdler at Fox Chapel High School. Now the head of a private cable television company, he frequently brought his younger son to PSU games as he was growing up.

“He never wanted to watch the games,” the elder Thorpe said with a laugh. “That was probably the most frustrating part. He just wanted to play — run around and play.”

Chris’ former teammates, like Blair Thomas and Quintus McDonald, would rein C.J. in, get him together with their own kids.

And before too many years passed, the younger Thorpe began paying attention to what was happening on the field. There was one year in particular — he can’t remember which one — when there was a White Out against Ohio State, and he was struck by the uniqueness of the atmosphere.

“Whenever I think of Penn State, that’s what I think of — all that White Out, all those screaming fans, 107K,” he said. “Oh, crazy.”

And what of this past season’s Ohio State White Out, when he was also on hand?

“That was crazy, too,” he said.

Because he was always big for his age, C.J. was unable to play organized ball until the seventh grade. His dad can recall his son going to a football camp in Virginia that summer, however, and being able to jump into drills with some of the older kids. One of them happened to be Trace McSorley.

Harvey Levine/FOS

Now Thorpe, who goes 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, gets to work more closely with McSorley. Now he is part of a positional group that has gone from a trouble spot to a potential strength, given all the Lions have coming back, and all they have coming up through the ranks. (And while others, like Ryan Bates and Michal Menet, have said they would be willing to try to fill the vacancy at center left by Brian Gaia’s departure, note that Thorpe played the position at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 in Orlando.)

“With the line coming up and the entire offense as a whole being on the rise,” he said, “being able to come into that, being able to be part of that as soon as I come in is really a huge factor (in opting for Penn State).”

And even if things don’t work out – always a possibility, as he well knows – he’s at peace with his decision.

His dad made sure of that. 


Fight On State Top Stories

\n

The question is not an unusual one for a father to pose to his son amid the recruiting process, but it had particular resonance in the case of Chris Thorpe and his son C.J.

\n

Where would you want to be, Chris asked his son, if you weren’t able to play football?

\n

This led the elder Thorpe to encourage C.J., a four-star offensive guard from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, to be absolutely certain about his verbal commitment to Penn State, made the weekend of the Blue-White Game last April.

\n

To explore.

\n

To branch out.

\n

That led in turn to some anxious moments in Nittany Nation in mid-January, when the younger Thorpe visited UCLA, welcomed two Michigan assistants into the family’s home and contemplated a visit to Ann Arbor. But after making an official visit to Happy Valley with this year’s other commits the weekend of Jan. 20-22, C.J. reaffirmed his pledge to PSU.

\n

He signed his letter of intent last Wednesday – i.e., National Signing Day.

\n

“After my visit (to) UCLA I was really considering them, and Michigan, too,” he said, referring to a trip to Westwood Jan. 13-15 and the UM visit a few days later. “But then (I) went out for a visit to Penn State, and hung around with commits and all that, and that solidified that, wanting to stay on.”

\n

His dad painted a slightly different picture.

\n

“He didn’t really waver,” Chris said. “I think it was more me, making sure that he had an opportunity, basically, to look at the options. He was always solid about Penn State, but I pushed him to make sure that he took a look at some other places, because to make a decision, there has to be something that’s compared against something else.”

\n

So did Penn State coach James Franklin, who was asked on Signing Day about having to fight for Thorpe late in the process.

\n

“I don't know if that necessarily was the case,” Franklin said. “He did look around a little bit, but we didn't feel that from things that were communicated with us.”

\n

The elder Thorpe had himself played at Penn State from 1985-88, first at fullback, then at outside linebacker. He missed his first season while recovering from a shoulder injury, then injured his neck on a hit in practice from safety Ray Isom and missed the Lions’ ’86 national championship run as well. He aggravated the neck injury in the ’88 season opener at Virginia, and was forced to give up football for good.

\n

“It was very, very scary,” Thorpe said.

\n

It also remains a concern. The elder Thorpe, now 49, was scheduled to undergo spinal fusion surgery last week, which involved inserting a plate in his neck. It will leave him, he said, with about 75 percent of the usual range of motion.

\n

“It all stems back to that one injury, back then,” he said. “I asked the doctor, ‘Why now, after 30 years?’ He said that’s just how the body is.”

\n

Small wonder that he encouraged his son to be sure about his decision: Football can be taken away in an instant. So at that point, what’s left?

\n

C.J.’s deliberations brought his dad in contact with some familiar faces. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was Chris’ position coach after he switched to defense at Penn State all those years ago, and one of the Michigan assistants who visited the Thorpe home was secondary coach Michael Zordich, a senior safety when the elder Thorpe arrived in Happy Valley in ’85.

\n

Meaning, of course, they literally bumped heads in practice, since Chris played fullback at that point.

\n

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS
\n

“Very, very tough,” Thorpe said of Zordich, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL.

\n

If there was familiarity there, there was something even deeper with Bradley, given how closely the elder Thorpe (shown above, center) worked with him back in the day.

\n

“We were able to speak very openly in reference to what I thought about C.J., what he thought about him and the future,” Chris said.

\n

Both connections — the one with Zordich, and the one with Bradley — played a big role in C.J.’s 11th-hour machinations.

\n

“With them recruiting my dad, being friends with my dad, that’s actually the only sense they even had a chance with me,” he said. “That just gave them that ‘in.’ “

\n

Publicly, at least, C.J. seemed up in the air after hearing the pitches from the Bruins and Wolverines, telling reporters he was weighing all his options.

\n

Then came his official visit to PSU, and everything went out the window. As Chris and his wife Nikki were driving their son from campus Sunday afternoon — “We didn’t get on Atherton,” Chris said — their son informed them he had made his decision, once and for all.

\n

“His mother and I were shocked,” Chris said. “We were supposed to have (Jim) Harbaugh at the house last Sunday night (i.e., Jan. 22).”

\n

There was no need for that anymore, and no need for a trip to Michigan.

\n

C.J. — the initials stand for Chris Jr. — is the youngest of three children, and part of an athletic family. His brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by Joe Moorhead before he departed the Rams to inject rocket fuel into Penn State’s offense.

\n

C.J.’s cousin Geno played basketball at PSU before transferring to South Florida. Two other cousins, Aja and Summer, run track at Yale and Notre Dame, respectively.

\n

Besides his football exploits, Chris Sr. was once a state-champion hurdler at Fox Chapel High School. Now the head of a private cable television company, he frequently brought his younger son to PSU games as he was growing up.

\n

“He never wanted to watch the games,” the elder Thorpe said with a laugh. “That was probably the most frustrating part. He just wanted to play — run around and play.”

\n

Chris’ former teammates, like Blair Thomas and Quintus McDonald, would rein C.J. in, get him together with their own kids.

\n

And before too many years passed, the younger Thorpe began paying attention to what was happening on the field. There was one year in particular — he can’t remember which one — when there was a White Out against Ohio State, and he was struck by the uniqueness of the atmosphere.

\n

“Whenever I think of Penn State, that’s what I think of — all that White Out, all those screaming fans, 107K,” he said. “Oh, crazy.”

\n

And what of this past season’s Ohio State White Out, when he was also on hand?

\n

“That was crazy, too,” he said.

\n

Because he was always big for his age, C.J. was unable to play organized ball until the seventh grade. His dad can recall his son going to a football camp in Virginia that summer, however, and being able to jump into drills with some of the older kids. One of them happened to be Trace McSorley.

\n

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS
\n

Now Thorpe, who goes 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, gets to work more closely with McSorley. Now he is part of a positional group that has gone from a trouble spot to a potential strength, given all the Lions have coming back, and all they have coming up through the ranks. (And while others, like Ryan Bates and Michal Menet, have said they would be willing to try to fill the vacancy at center left by Brian Gaia’s departure, note that Thorpe played the position at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 in Orlando.)

\n

“With the line coming up and the entire offense as a whole being on the rise,” he said, “being able to come into that, being able to be part of that as soon as I come in is really a huge factor (in opting for Penn State).”

\n

And even if things don’t work out – always a possibility, as he well knows – he’s at peace with his decision.

\n

His dad made sure of that. 

","mobileBody":"

Follow @gordonwjones

The question is not an unusual one for a father to pose to his son amid the recruiting process, but it had particular resonance in the case of Chris Thorpe and his son C.J.

Where would you want to be, Chris asked his son, if you weren’t able to play football?

This led the elder Thorpe to encourage C.J., a four-star offensive guard from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, to be absolutely certain about his verbal commitment to Penn State, made the weekend of the Blue-White Game last April.

To explore.

To branch out.

That led in turn to some anxious moments in Nittany Nation in mid-January, when the younger Thorpe visited UCLA, welcomed two Michigan assistants into the family’s home and contemplated a visit to Ann Arbor. But after making an official visit to Happy Valley with this year’s other commits the weekend of Jan. 20-22, C.J. reaffirmed his pledge to PSU.

He signed his letter of intent last Wednesday – i.e., National Signing Day.

“After my visit (to) UCLA I was really considering them, and Michigan, too,” he said, referring to a trip to Westwood Jan. 13-15 and the UM visit a few days later. “But then (I) went out for a visit to Penn State, and hung around with commits and all that, and that solidified that, wanting to stay on.”

His dad painted a slightly different picture.

“He didn’t really waver,” Chris said. “I think it was more me, making sure that he had an opportunity, basically, to look at the options. He was always solid about Penn State, but I pushed him to make sure that he took a look at some other places, because to make a decision, there has to be something that’s compared against something else.”

So did Penn State coach James Franklin, who was asked on Signing Day about having to fight for Thorpe late in the process.

“I don't know if that necessarily was the case,” Franklin said. “He did look around a little bit, but we didn't feel that from things that were communicated with us.”

The elder Thorpe had himself played at Penn State from 1985-88, first at fullback, then at outside linebacker. He missed his first season while recovering from a shoulder injury, then injured his neck on a hit in practice from safety Ray Isom and missed the Lions’ ’86 national championship run as well. He aggravated the neck injury in the ’88 season opener at Virginia, and was forced to give up football for good.

“It was very, very scary,” Thorpe said.

It also remains a concern. The elder Thorpe, now 49, was scheduled to undergo spinal fusion surgery last week, which involved inserting a plate in his neck. It will leave him, he said, with about 75 percent of the usual range of motion.

“It all stems back to that one injury, back then,” he said. “I asked the doctor, ‘Why now, after 30 years?’ He said that’s just how the body is.”

Small wonder that he encouraged his son to be sure about his decision: Football can be taken away in an instant. So at that point, what’s left?

C.J.’s deliberations brought his dad in contact with some familiar faces. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was Chris’ position coach after he switched to defense at Penn State all those years ago, and one of the Michigan assistants who visited the Thorpe home was secondary coach Michael Zordich, a senior safety when the elder Thorpe arrived in Happy Valley in ’85.

Meaning, of course, they literally bumped heads in practice, since Chris played fullback at that point.

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS

“Very, very tough,” Thorpe said of Zordich, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL.

If there was familiarity there, there was something even deeper with Bradley, given how closely the elder Thorpe (shown above, center) worked with him back in the day.

“We were able to speak very openly in reference to what I thought about C.J., what he thought about him and the future,” Chris said.

Both connections — the one with Zordich, and the one with Bradley — played a big role in C.J.’s 11th-hour machinations.

“With them recruiting my dad, being friends with my dad, that’s actually the only sense they even had a chance with me,” he said. “That just gave them that ‘in.’ “

Publicly, at least, C.J. seemed up in the air after hearing the pitches from the Bruins and Wolverines, telling reporters he was weighing all his options.

Then came his official visit to PSU, and everything went out the window. As Chris and his wife Nikki were driving their son from campus Sunday afternoon — “We didn’t get on Atherton,” Chris said — their son informed them he had made his decision, once and for all.

“His mother and I were shocked,” Chris said. “We were supposed to have (Jim) Harbaugh at the house last Sunday night (i.e., Jan. 22).”

There was no need for that anymore, and no need for a trip to Michigan.

C.J. — the initials stand for Chris Jr. — is the youngest of three children, and part of an athletic family. His brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by Joe Moorhead before he departed the Rams to inject rocket fuel into Penn State’s offense.

C.J.’s cousin Geno played basketball at PSU before transferring to South Florida. Two other cousins, Aja and Summer, run track at Yale and Notre Dame, respectively.

Besides his football exploits, Chris Sr. was once a state-champion hurdler at Fox Chapel High School. Now the head of a private cable television company, he frequently brought his younger son to PSU games as he was growing up.

“He never wanted to watch the games,” the elder Thorpe said with a laugh. “That was probably the most frustrating part. He just wanted to play — run around and play.”

Chris’ former teammates, like Blair Thomas and Quintus McDonald, would rein C.J. in, get him together with their own kids.

And before too many years passed, the younger Thorpe began paying attention to what was happening on the field. There was one year in particular — he can’t remember which one — when there was a White Out against Ohio State, and he was struck by the uniqueness of the atmosphere.

“Whenever I think of Penn State, that’s what I think of — all that White Out, all those screaming fans, 107K,” he said. “Oh, crazy.”

And what of this past season’s Ohio State White Out, when he was also on hand?

“That was crazy, too,” he said.

Because he was always big for his age, C.J. was unable to play organized ball until the seventh grade. His dad can recall his son going to a football camp in Virginia that summer, however, and being able to jump into drills with some of the older kids. One of them happened to be Trace McSorley.

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS

Now Thorpe, who goes 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, gets to work more closely with McSorley. Now he is part of a positional group that has gone from a trouble spot to a potential strength, given all the Lions have coming back, and all they have coming up through the ranks. (And while others, like Ryan Bates and Michal Menet, have said they would be willing to try to fill the vacancy at center left by Brian Gaia’s departure, note that Thorpe played the position at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2 in Orlando.)

“With the line coming up and the entire offense as a whole being on the rise,” he said, “being able to come into that, being able to be part of that as soon as I come in is really a huge factor (in opting for Penn State).”

And even if things don’t work out – always a possibility, as he well knows – he’s at peace with his decision.

His dad made sure of that.

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