Joe Thuney’s amateur football career got off to a bit of a late start.
He’s more than making up for lost time in the pros.
A stalwart for the New England Patriots since they drafted him in the third round three years ago, the 6-foot-5, 308-pounder was a first-day starter, and he’s been in the lineup every game day since.
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In fact, Thuney has barely missed a snap, playing in 99.7 percent of those available over the past three years, including all of them this season.
If all goes according to plan, the next one will make history: According to Elias Sports Bureau, no one has ever started three Super Bowls in their first three seasons in the NFL, something Thuney is in line to do when the Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta on Sunday.
“It’s just really almost surreal at this point,” his father, Mike Thuney, told Cox Media Group Ohio this week. “We were saying on the drive back from Kansas City (where the Patriots beat the Chiefs in the AFC championship game last Sunday), how many guys in the NFL who were great players never get to experience this?”
Mike Thuney and his wife, Beth, attend as many of their son’s games as possible, including 14 this year, and they have already run the emotional gamut when it comes to Super Bowls.
While the Patriots stormed back from 25 points down to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl LI two years ago, they were upset 41-33 by the Eagles last season.
“They were kind of similar in that we were sort of dumbstruck in both games,” Mike Thuney recalled. “The Atlanta game was the most remarkable comeback in history of the Super Bowl, so we were sort of looking around like, is this really happening?
“And then last year everything was going in the right direction, we had the ball in the last two minutes, Tom (Brady) has got the ball, and we’re less than one score away and then that unfortunate strip-sack occurs. So again we were kind of dumbfounded in that regard, but either way it’s just an emotional rollercoaster.”
They were able to celebrate on the field with their son after the win and were there to commiserate with him after the loss.
In both cases, Thuney said Patriots owner Robert Kraft made sure the families of the players were taken care of.
“Every time it’s been more phenomenal,” Mike Thuney said of following his son’s exploits. “The first one against Atlanta in Houston was great, obviously a great outcome, and last year in Minneapolis it was a beautiful city. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but they’re great fun.”
Offensive guard is perhaps the most thankless job in pro football, but Joe Thuney has earned a few headlines this season for his durability and success in neutralizing opposing defensive tackles.
"Joe's done a great job for us,” Pats coach Bill Belichick told reporters in New England in November. "One of our best players. One of our most consistent players.”
That he is in the lineup every game does not surprise Alter coach Ed Domsitz, who recalled Thuney never wanting to come out of the game when he was winning a pair of state championships with the Knights almost decade ago.
“You’ve got to be blessed because on any given play an injury can take place that would get you out of the lineup, so he’s been blessed and I think he would be the first one to admit that,” Domsitz said. “He’s always been a good worker in terms of the weight room and the added strength helps protect you, but he’s just dedicated and has a tremendous passion for the game. He wants to play every down.”
Thuney excelled at baseball and soccer as a youngster before deciding in seventh grade to give football a try.
According to his father, Joe first thought he might be a fullback or a halfback but quickly learned his new home would be in the trenches.
That turned out to be a good move.
Recruiting analysts weren’t impressed, but Thuney started a school-record 44 high school games for the Knights and earned a scholarship from North Carolina State.
The 247Sports Composite 2-star recruit ultimately started for three seasons in Raleigh before making his way to Foxborough, where he has already won a Super Bowl ring.
To get another, he will likely have to neutralize Aaron Donald, one of the league’s best players regardless of position.
Mike Thuney expects to get a good look at that battle because he focuses on his son every snap.
“I don’t even know what’s going on half the time until I see the replays later,” the elder Thuney said. “Just make sure he gets up, you know what I mean? He’s playing terrific guys every week. Especially defense tackles now everybody he plays against is a a really, really good athlete. So he’s always going against good guys, so we just want to make sure he’s all right. After that, the rest of it’s kind of gravy.”