Story and photos reposted with permission from NC State Athletics
When Joe Thuney was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, he had one goal at the forefront of his mind: to make the 53-man roster.
It’s safe to say he surpassed his goal.
On Sunday, the former Wolfpack guard/tackle/center will be the starting left guard for the four-time world champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Just a few months after being drafted, Thuney will enter what is perhaps the biggest sporting event on earth having played more snaps than any other player on the AFC Champion squad.
“I knew when I got drafted what an excellent organization the Patriots were,” said Thuney this week before the team headed to Houston for the big game. “I knew it would be a tough organization to come into and play right away, but my main focus was just to make the team first. I just wanted to make the 53-man roster and do well in camp and show the team that I had something to offer. I wasn’t thinking down the road like that.”
Thuney says that the reality that he is actually going to play in the Super Bowl took a while to sink in. “After the AFC championship game against the Steelers, there was so much excitement from winning that it took a while. Then when we got back to the locker room it kinda hit me: ‘There is only one game left and it’s the Super Bowl. It’s for all the marbles.'”
The transition from college ball to the NFL is never easy, but anyone who followed Thuney’s career at NC State, where he went from two-star recruit to first-team All-ACC performer, knows that he has never shied away from hard work or a challenge. During his Wolfpack career, he played every position on the offensive line, starting at four different spots. For the two-time Academic All-ACC performer and Campbell Trophy finalist who graduated cum laude in just three years, learning a new offense wasn’t a problem.
“The biggest difference was the size and speed of the people you’re practicing against every day,” says Thuney, who was recently named to the PFWA All-Rookie team. “Everyone is so elite at this level; everyone’s the best from college. That was something to adjust to. And just the time for preparation and the details that go into preparing for a game. We watch a lot more film.”
Just a year ago, Thuney was the experienced vet for the Wolfpack. This year, he’s been the rookie (as evidenced by the hair cut he was sporting a few weeks ago). But the help he gave his younger teammates at NC State was definitely paid forward.
“There were some veteran guys on the o-line – Marcus [Cannon] and Nate [Solder] – who have been around. They know the system and know the team and they’ve been nothing but helpful with the process. When I first got here, they really helped me acclimate. They didn’t think they were too good to help out some rookie. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys on the offensive line.
“They’ve been in my shoes. They’ve been young playing in the Super Bowl. They’ve been through the ropes and know what they’re doing. Everybody’s here is just working for the same goal. Everybody wants to win. It’s all about winning and trying to get better.”
Although Thuney is now in elite company, protecting two-time league MVP Tom Brady, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He watched the Wolfpack every chance he got and has kept up with his former teammates.
“I watched as many games as I could,” he says. “The Notre Dame game was fun to watch and I watched the Clemson game, the Carolina game and the bowl game. And I still keep in touch with those guys as much as I can. I’ll text Tyler [Jones] or Garrett [Bradbury] or Tony [Adams] and ask them how the game went, how they’re doing, what they’re thinking and I’ve talked with Matthew Dayes and some of the other guys about the NFL process.”
And there is one Wolfpack teammate that has been a little easier to keep up with. In fact, he’s in the same locker room. “I was on the phone with the media after I got drafted and one of them told me that the Patriots had just drafted Jacoby [Brissett],” he laughs. “It’s been really good to have him here, especially at the beginning so I could see a familiar face and have someone to talk to.”
Thuney hasn’t forgotten that much of his success on the professional level is due to what he learned at NC State. “I learned to work hard,” he says. “I was fortunate to play different positions and learn to be adaptable and do what the coaches needed. That’s a great characteristic. We worked hard at NC State and had tough offseason programs. We learned how to push through things, to be mentally strong and able to overcome fatigue. I think all of those things helped a lot.”
Thuney says he can’t wait to get back to Raleigh after the season is over. But first, there’s a little game on the schedule.
“It’s the Super Bowl. The SUPER Bowl. People all across the world know the Super Bowl, so it’s really exciting to actually be playing in it. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be 11-on-11, it’s going to be 60 minutes, it’s going 100-yards long. At the end of day, we’re playing football out there.”
And we know he knows how to do that.