The San Diego Fleet’s defense has impressed tremendously in the few practices the team has actually had. All aspects of the defense seem to be clicking at the moment, as we have seen a lot of players step up and make big plays in practice.
One of those players is Tyler Thornton.
Thornton attended Division-II Azusa Pacific and was absolutely dominant for the majority of his collegiate career. In his career with the Cougars, Thornton recorded 291 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 13 interceptions, 14 pass deflections, and seven forced fumbles.
The 5’8″ Thornton played all four years with the Cougars, where he earned All-Conference honors three times. He was named to the GNAC first team all-defense in both his junior and senior season. Thornton won both the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year and the NCCAA Defensive Player of the Year in his junior season.
Piling onto the accolades, Thornton was named a Division-II All-American by numerous different associations as a junior and was also a nominee for the Cliff Harris award in his senior season, which is given to the top defensive player in the entire country. He was also part of a tremendous program turnaround, as the Cougars won two conference championships while Thornton was there and slowly started to become a Division-II powerhouse.
Just like Gary McKnight Jr., who we also interviewed, Tyler Thornton was widely underappreciated by NFL scouts coming out of college. Primarily known as a safety, Thornton is a versatile player that has experience at cornerback and also excelled as a return man in college. While some may view him as undersized, his athleticism allows him to play a lot bigger than he is, and his talent is undeniable. Regardless of it being the Division-II level, Thornton was absolutely dominant and should have been recognized more by NFL personnel.
I was gifted with the opportunity to interview Thornton and wanted to thank him personally for answering my questions. He is an exciting player that should have a tremendous impact on the defensive side of the football for the Fleet this season.
Q. Why did you choose to attend Azusa Pacific? Did you have any Division-I offers out of high school or just Division-II?
A: I chose Azusa because it was my best option. They had interest in me, had a very good and competitive program, and made God a priority. I was actually a walk-on and was not offered a football scholarship until my sophomore year. My only other options were the University of San Diego and California Lutheran University, but there really were not many Division-I schools.
Q. What are some things you’ve had to overcome throughout your football career? Whether it be lack of opportunities, being overlooked, etc.
A: Being a smaller defensive back and coming from a smaller school makes it easy for someone to overlook me. Thankfully, I’ve been able to overcome that so far with my play. Even though I may have been overlooked a few times, I am still blessed to have the opportunities I’ve had thus far. Not too many people are able to continue to play the sport they love or attempt to, and for that I’m grateful.
Q. Not only did you have an incredible career at Azusa Pacific, your team overall had a fantastic career, winning two conference championships. What was it like being a part of a team that had as much success as you guys did?
A: It was pretty cool to be a part of APU football history. I was with the team when they first made the transition to Division-II, and that first year wasn’t pretty. We struggled that year, but it was crazy how we were able to go from that to champs in the next two years. If anything, being a part of that team and going through the grind and transformation was one of the reasons why I love the game.
Q. You played a lot of different positions in college. Which position do you enjoy playing the most, or do you enjoy being a versatile player that plays multiple positions?
A: Free safety by far is my favorite position, but I definitely like being a versatile player. Knowing all the other positions helps me feel more comfortable on the field and helps the team when injuries happen.
Q. Did you have any NFL interest coming out of college? If so, which teams expressed interest? Did you attend any minicamps or sign with a team?
A: A few teams did talk to me, like the Steelers and the Ravens. However, I didn’t receive any camp invites or sign with anyone.
Q. What are you most excited for about this upcoming, inaugural season with the Fleet?
A: I’m most excited to play football again in the position where I feel I’m at my best. What makes this opportunity better is that I’m in the city that I was born in. I always told myself that I would be with the “San Diego” Chargers when they won their first Super Bowl. What’s cool is that I still have an opportunity to bring a championship to San Diego with this team.