NEWBERRY — The Newberry County Touchdown Club featured a keynote address from former NFL quarterback Tyler Thigpen at their meeting Monday.
Thigpen’s speech was preceded by the honoring of the players of the month from the county’s high schools as well as Newberry College.
While Thigpen made sure to congratulate the players on their distinctions, he was quick to emphasize that football is only a small part of a bigger picture.
“What you do on the field is not who you are. It’s something you’re allowed to do. Football’s a privilege,” said Thigpen. “These coaches, they want to see you do well in the classroom first of all.”
A central concept Thigpen harped on was how talent without hard work and dedication can only take a person so far.
“I would hope to see each and every one of you guys play football on Sunday. I was very fortunate. I caught some breaks in my time,” said Thigpen. “But more times than not I made my own breaks. It wasn’t me just getting lucky, it was me out-working that guy that I was beside.”
Thigpen grew up in Winnsboro playing quarterback beginning with little league and continuing into high school.
“It was really all I knew for my life. My parents instilled in me to get my education. I knew that football was going to be over one day,” said Thigpen. “You always have to have something to fall back on, and that’s your education. You guys in college getting your degree, getting your diploma in high school. I cannot stress enough, do good in school.”
After starting his sophomore and junior year at Fairfield Central, Thigpen was injured during a preseason jamboree game which caused him to miss the first two games of his senior year.
As a result of the team’s positive performance in those games, the head coach decided to give Thigpen’s starting spot to the back-up quarterback.
“I didn’t let it get me down. I might have held my head down at home but you know what? I made the most of that opportunity,” said Thigpen. “I’ll tell you right now, it was probably the best year of football of my life.”
Thigpen was recruited as a quarterback by Coastal Carolina University where he enjoyed success under head coach David Bennet.
“I give Coach Bennet a lot of credit at Coastal Carolina. He did a great job of mentoring not only me but each and every one of my teammates in helping us become men, because that’s really what it’s about,” said Thigpen. “I’d like to see you guys play on Sunday, but man I’d like to see you be a great father, a great husband, a great brother, a great sister, and right now a great son. That’s what life’s about.”
Just before the start of his final season at Coastal, Thigpen said the quarterbacks coach told him that he had the tools to go on to the next level. This had a great impact on his work ethic.
“I wish that I would have taken everything as seriously as I did my senior year,” said Thigpen.
That’s when Thigpen said he truly committed to watching film, working out, and grabbing teammates after practice for additional work. In short, that’s when he became a leader.
“Learn from me right now. I’m telling you that that leadership characteristic will continue in every aspect of life. Whether it be in football (or) whatever job you may be in, I’m telling you leadership quality is something hard to come by.”
Thigpen was drafted in April 2007 by the Minnesota Vikings and remained in the NFL for seven seasons. He even started for Kansas City in 2008.
Thigpen said his favorite game that year was against Tampa Bay during which he scored the only receiving touchdown of his pro career.
“The (defensive back) was Ronde Barber for Tampa Bay. I remember him coming up to me after the game and he was like, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been burned by a white boy,’” said Thigpen.
Now retired from professional football, Thigpen is lending his experience to the next generation.
“Hard work and dedication can get you anywhere. Whether it be in football (or) a real job. I’d love to see you guys become doctors and lawyers one day (and) save your bodies,” he said.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.