USA Today named him an All-American during his senior season at North Carolina State, the first member of the Wolfpack to earn such distinction in more than 30 years.
Last week, the Pro Football Writers Association of America named him to its all-rookie squad.
Sunday he punched a ticket to Houston to play for the Lombardi Trophy.
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Alter coach Ed Domsitz could say he saw it all coming, but that would be a lie.
“I know there are coaches out there who have said they know a player was NFL-caliber since he showed up at their school,” said Domsitz, whose pro protégés also include Nick Mangold, Jeff Graham, Chris Borland and Maurice Douglass (at Trotwood-Madison).
“Well, whether you’re Nick Mangold or Joe Thuney, I felt after watching Joe play his junior year he could be a D-I football player, but if someone said is he going to be an NFL player? No, I could not tell that at that point. There are a lot of things that have to come to pass. He has to be healthy. He has to get stronger. He has to get quicker. And Joe did.”
Thuney signed with N.C. State as a three-star prospect in 2011 after starting for Alter for three seasons, including the 2008 and ’09 state championship teams.
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He was a three-year starter in Raleigh and entered the draft process last winter with some momentum.
The Patriots picked him in the third round, and he started every game this season.
“As soon as we found out it was New England, that’s just a great opportunity,” Domsitz said. “I think everybody was thrilled for him when he got that opportunity.”
Looking back to Thuney’s freshman year, Domsitz might not have seen a future pro, but he did see lots to work with.
“My first impression was that he was a bright kid. He was intellectually pretty sharp. He looked like at that point as he was coming in in the ninth grade he could be either basketball or football because he really hadn’t filled out. He was athletic. He could play either sport and do a nice job.”
Domsitz also liked what he brought from an intangible standpoint.
“He is one of those kids who would be a leader,” the coach recalled. “He wasn’t real loud. He led by example quite a bit, but he liked to have a good time. He fit in real well with that class and a couple of classes right below him.”
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Asked if he saw any similarities between Thuney and Mangold, who was a three-year starter and an All-American at Ohio State, Domsitz said yes.
“I think probably one of the things they had in common was they both had quick feet,” the coach said. “They both could move pretty well. They both played some defense for us as well as offensive line.”
Mangold has logged 11 seasons with the New York Jets, but he is still looking for his first shot to play in the Super Bowl.
Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time — or to be drafted by a team coached by Bill Belichick.
“Somehow he finds a way to motivate his players and get them to play in many cases at a higher level than they have played in their career,” Domsitz said. “I admire that.”
As for Thuney, well, he sounds sort of like the model Patriot — or, for that matter, Knight.
“He was smart enough to understand whatever his shortcomings might be, he could work to improve those,” Domsitz said. “He would be able to overcome those shortcomings as a result of really out-thinking at times the opponent.”