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Tyler Thigpen is an unlikely catch
Tyler Thigpen wasn’t sure his football career would last beyond high school.
Today he has 11 starts as an NFL quarterback on his resume.
Heady stuff for a seventh-round draft pick who was a multi-purpose player his senior season at Fairfield Central High and played quarterback collegiately at Coastal Carolina.
“You think about it as a kid,” Thigpen said. “But with the way things were going, I didn’t think there was any way possible to be a quarterback in the National Football League.”
He wasn’t convinced he had made it even after hearing his name called by the Minnesota Vikings at the 2007 draft.
Or after being given a second chance by his current team, the Kansas City Chiefs, after he was cut by the Vikings.
Not even now, as he prepares to enter the upcoming season as the Chiefs’ incumbent.
JOURNEY TO THE NFL
Thigpen’s unlikely path started at Fairfield Central, where he did it all his senior season in 2001. He threw for 116 yards, rushed for 198 and amassed 359 receiving yards, while making 17 of 23 point-after attempts and four of four field goals.
“Really, I was going to have fun, and whatever happened, happened,” Thigpen said. “Going through high school, we were a team that maybe threw the ball eight to nine times. I thought, I’m just going to enjoy this while I can. I didn’t have any idea I would go to college.”
Yet he did, moving into the starting role at Coastal Carolina, a fledgling Division I-AA program, as a redshirt freshman in 2003.
Thigpen threw for 40 touchdowns against 17 interceptions his final two seasons, winning Big South offensive player-of-the-year and Division I-AA All-America honors as a senior in 2006. Only then did Thigpen begin to think he had a shot to play professionally.
Yet, on draft weekend Thigpen waited … and waited … and waited. Finally, Minnesota selected him with the 217th pick.
Thigpen didn’t make it through training camp before the Vikings waived him. Kansas City claimed him shortly before the start of the 2007 regular season, and he was the Chiefs’ third-string quarterback the first 11 games.
Thigpen finally got his chance on Dec. 2, 2007, when he completed two of six passes for 41 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers.
Three days later, Thigpen injured his left knee in practice and was placed on injured reserve.
He entered last season expecting to compete for a backup job. But the struggling Chiefs turned to Thigpen early in the season; his first start came in Week 3, at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
Three interceptions and a touchdown that day left him lukewarm about his debut as a starter.
“Shaky,” he says now of his performance.
Thigpen started 11 games for the 2-14 Chiefs, throwing 18 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. He completed 54 percent of his passes, for 2,608 yards. His 386 rushing yards were the most by a quarterback.
“My goal for myself was to get better each and every week,” Thigpen said. “As a person, I really feel like I did that. Wins and losses weren’t where I wanted to be. It’s a team game, but personally I felt you have to set individual goals and team goals. I accomplished a lot of things people didn’t think I could do.”
Still, the toughest part of his NFL story might lie ahead. The Chiefs’ woeful season led to coach Herm Edwards’ firing. The new coach is former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
One of the first moves the Chiefs made was to acquire quarterback Matt Cassel in a trade with the New England Patriots.
Last month, Haley said Cassel and Thigpen will compete for the starting job.
“I think Tyler’s an intriguing guy,” Haley told kcchiefs.com. “I think he’s very athletic. He’s got, without spending a lot of time with him and having only a brief phone conversation with him, a little moxie, and you can tell he played with passion. I would say he’s an intriguing guy who presents some problems for the defense when you’ve got a guy that athletic.”
Thigpen said he and Cassel are working well together in the team’s offseason program. Thigpen is keeping an upbeat attitude that the competition will make both better players.
“I think it’s just the attitude that I bring to the table each and every day,” Thigpen said. “Everything happens for a reason. You may not see the reason up front. But in the end it will all work out the way it’s supposed to like the good Lord said.”