STAR CITY, Arkansas -- Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Bennie Logan and linebacker Brandon Graham coached drills and fetched water at ex-Eagle Cedric Thornton's annual football camp, his first as a Dallas Cowboy.
"He's like my brother," said Logan, who was Thornton's teammate from 2013-15. "Anytime he wants me to come help him. Just the fact that he thinks of me to ask him to come to his city and help out with his camp."
Graham, who was taken by the Eagles in the first round in 2010, the year before Thornton's arrival to the club as an undrafted free agent, has seen the sixth-year pro grow significantly, and Graham wasn't just referring to Thornton's dreadlocks.
Said Graham: "After he came in clean cut, his hair grew. And just, man, I've seen him grow a lot just as far as his character, just his work ethic every day has gotten better. And, you know, he's been there what, six years going on now in the NFL. Nobody gave him a chance in the beginning and he went out there and took it. So, I got nothing but respect for him."
Thornton, a graduate of Southern Arkansas, a NCAA Div. II school, fell through the NFL draft entirely but was signed by Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2011. By Opening Day, Thornton had made the club's 53-man roster. However, he toggled between on and off that roster for the duration of the season. In 2012, Thornton played all 16 games, recording a sack. In 2013, when Chip Kelly took over for a dismissed Andy Reid, new defensive coordinator Billy Davis elevated Thornton to a starting role. From 2013-15, Thornton started 45 games, sacked the quarterback three times, forced a fumble, scored a safety, and recovered three fumbles, including one for a touchdown. On March 10, Thornton signed a four-year, $17 million deal with Dallas to make the defensive line more versatile under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
Going from Star City to The Star, the Cowboys' new training facility beginning in 2016, is a journey even Thornton finds unfathomable.
"I'm still just trying to wrap my finger around what is actually happening," said Thornton. "I play football and go to work every day as it is a profession and I have to be a perfectionist. But just to step away from the game and get away from OTAs, mini-camp, training camp, situational season's situations and come out here and just grasp the concept that you are in the NFL, you play for the Dallas Cowboys, and this is where you came from, it is surreal and abnormal situation and very few have traveled this road."
Though it is a road less journeyed, Thornton and his former teammates do what they can to encourage new travelers.
"I just try to help them to know that no matter what or where you come from or how small the school is or anything, the town, you can go where you want to go if you put your mind to work to it," Logan said.
"The choices you make every day are pretty much going to reflect on how your life is going to go," Graham said. "For me I try to make sure that if you love football, you got to love the grades that are just as important. You can have the ability but if you're not making the choice to get good grades, that's going to hold you back."
Over a hundred campers showed up at the home of the Bulldogs at 7:00 a.m. for Thornton's camp, which he runs for free. Not a cent was demanded for the T-shirts and Gatorade given to the kids and their families.
"Everything is for the right reason," Thornton explained. "We're out here. We're just trying to tell the kids that there's more to football they can learn, teach them life lessons, just get them out here and get around different people that they don't go to school with. The majority of the kids only socialize around kids they only go to school with."
The 28-year-old also wanted to get the campers around kids that would be their rivals in junior high and high school, which is an interesting concept considering players from the Eagles, now Thornton's new rivals, were there to aid in the facilitation of the camp. But as we have seen in modern times, the only pro football rivalry these days is NFL versus NFLPA. Thornton, Graham, and Logan were a band of brothers teaching new recruits that they too could join their ranks with hard work.
Said Thornton: "We're just out here trying to let them know that we're here in the NFL, a couple of my guys in the NFL are here, and the only difference between us and them besides age difference and situation differences is if they continue to do the things that we did, then they too can be on this level. So, we're out here giving motivation. This is very motivational."
Thornton said the reason there were no Cowboys teammates out in Star City was due to his focus and devotion on learning the playbook, joining a new club, and adjusting to his new life and routine in Dallas.
"I'm very excited for training camp. I'm excited to come back and just kill Marinelli drills. Conquer that and then come to training camp and just try to conquer the season."
REMEMBERING BUDDY RYAN
On Tuesday, the NFL lost one of its defensive innovators in Buddy Ryan, most remembered for being the '85 Bears defensive coordinator and head coach of the Eagles from 1986-90. On Nov. 17, 1985, Ryan's defense shut the Cowboys out 44-0 and knocked quarterback Danny White out of the game. As Eagles head coach, Ryan's 8-2 record against Dallas is still the second-best winning percentage in Eagles history. Ryan's 4-0 record against Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys was a big bur under the Dallas coach's saddle, not to mention all the antics in both Bounty Bowls.
Of course, when any member of the football community passes off this mortal coil into the great gridiron in the sky, it softens even former rivals.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his sons, Rex and Rob, the head coach and defensive coordinator respectively for the Buffalo Bills. When was the last time these twins worked together? 1995 with the Arizona Cardinals coached by their dad. ... as the legacy lives on.