Thurston turns heads; tripping to WSU this weekend

<b>BY PLANE, TRAIN AND AUTOMOBILE they came. College coaches from around the country descended upon Fresno over the last nine months to check out the bountiful crop of prospects at Edison High. As the prep season unfolded, the people who came to scout future Cougar Arkelon Hall, among others, would inevitably ask, "Who is THAT guy?!" and point to the linebacker who's sculpted like Zeus.

He got no attention last spring, no early offers this summer. But as the 2004 season progressed, Nick Thurston showed he was fully recovered from the knee injury that ruined his entire junior year. And heads started to turn.

He is slated to trip to Washington State this weekend -- the final weekend of visits before letters of intent are signed on Feb. 2. Thurston visited Oregon State this past weekend and enjoyed himself but was stuck in the fog in San Francisco late last night trying to get home. Both schools have offered and, it appears, are his finalists. According to Edison Athletic Director Bill Engle, UNLV, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington are all lurking but with time running short, it sounds like the quartet might be on the outside looking in. The 6-1, 230-pounder says he doesn't have a leader at this point.

"Nick is a diamond in the rough," said Engle. "He's a real player -- built rock solid and hits like a truck. He's also just a really good kid. We've got a number a Division I recruits here and college coaches were looking at Arkelon (Hall), Robert (Peele), Johnny (Sears) and others and then as the season progressed it was, 'Who is that guy (Thurston)?"

THE GAME where Thurston really gave recruiters whiplash was when Edison took on rival Clovis, then rated No. 16 in the nation by USA Today. Several Division IA coaches came to see highly coveted Clovis linebacker Zack Follet, who has since verbally commit to Cal.

Hall put 256 yards and 3 TDs on the board as Edison cruised to a shocking 45-13 victory. And the linebacker who was all over the field wasn't Follet, but Thurston. He led the Edison D, harassing the Clovis quarterback into a 2 of 16 passing performance.

For the season, Thurston racked up more than 100 tackles according to Engle, including 10 sacks. Scary thing is, it could have been more.

"Playing against all that wing-t stuff I was always the guy that: 'Hey, you go in there and take out the linemen,' so I was freeing everyone else up to make tackles," the always-upbeat Thurston told CF.C with a laugh. "I did that about four games this year."

At the end of the year, he grabbed his lunchpail and went off to participate in the Fresno vs. Bakersfield all-star game. He dominated.

"He's strong, he can run (4.6 in the 40) and he can cover receivers," said Tony Perry, Edison assistant coach. "That's rare when you have a kid that big who can cover a receiver -- many times we left him out there by himself. Our defense would have struggled without him. He's one of the nicest kids around, just so well mannered. But when he puts on the gear, he really brings it."

Thurston also brings with him an overwhelming enthusiasm and love for the game.

"I play hard, every play. It was my first year at linebacker and I just loved it. Right now, I'm not playing football and I'm just missing it too much."

Perry said Thurston doesn't have a qualifying score yet, but the assistant coach said he's very confident he'll make it happen.

THIS WAS THURSTON'S first year at linebacker and at Edison -- he previously played for McClymonds, where he plied his wares at running back. He's enjoyed the switch, showing the ability to not only quickly assimilate a new position but to excel at it. He took home Edison's "Most Improved" award after the season.

Besides the thrill of the hit, Thurston enjoys the pressure about playing the linebacker spot. Big moment? Critical play? Put it on his shoulders, he says.

"You can't really rely on anyone else, you basically go out and do your job," said Thurston. "You can't make any mistakes. And (I like) that it's real intense."

ON HIS TRIP, Thurston will be looking to get a feel for the overall atmosphere of the college and surrounding town. Academics, top to bottom, will also be on his mind and on the minds of his parents, although they don't plan on coming along for the visit to Pullman.

"The living conditions, the campus. My peers -- just to see how everybody acts. What is there to do in the area. And my parents will want to know how the academics are -- How the tutoring is, what kinds of tutoring are available."

Coach Ken Greene has handled Thurston's recruitment and the pair has gotten along famously.

"Oh he's a real cool guy. He just knows how to talk to me, he did a little house visit a while back. That was ALL-right," laughed Thurston.

In his position coach, Thurston said he'd like to study under someone he can develop a solid relationship with.

"A coach that is intense -- one that is your friend -- but one who you still respect as a coach. A coach that knows a lot about football and knows how to get you hyped to play your best game."

Thurston isn't sure where he's going to end up on LOI Day but it could be the place where he feels most wanted.

"Hey, I like the ones who like me," Thurston said. And there was that laugh again.

Cougfan Top Stories