When the sixth round of Saturday’s NFL Draft began, former Kansas University defensive back Justin Thornton started to pay more attention.
“I knew the sixth, seventh round and free agency was going to be my time,” Thornton said. “I had my phone in my hand the entire time.”
As the picks came and went and phone updates from his agent piled up, Thornton, 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, began to wonder if he was going to get a chance. Less than an hour later, he was on the phone with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“I was like, ‘No, I’m not talking to him, this isn’t coach Tomlin,’” Thornton said. “The guy that had scouted me … I talked to him for a few minutes, and then he put coach Tomlin on the phone. I thought that was pretty cool. He gave me a few words and stuff and welcomed me on board.”
The call from the Steelers, who announced Thornton’s free-agent signing Monday, came with seven picks remaining in the draft. Thornton’s agent, Jim Naughton, who also represents former KU linebacker and current San Diego Charger James Holt, talked to seven or eight teams about Thornton. Of those, Detroit, Houston and Pittsburgh showed serious interest.
“The Steelers put the offer on the table right away, saying they were going to offer me a three-year, undrafted rookie contract,” Thornton said. “I think Pittsburgh is a good fit for me. My agent was telling me early on that Pittsburgh is known for taking undrafted players and developing them into good players. Just the whole situation … I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Thornton, a four-year starter for the Jayhawks who was fourth on the team in tackles (80) in 2009, will report to Pittsburgh this weekend for rookie minicamp. In order to get the full three-year contract, Thornton must make the team.
“I don’t know if I’ve gotten the full effect of it yet,” he said of the opportunity to play in the NFL. “But I think it’ll sink in after this weekend.”
Sharp headed to Chicago
Former Kansas University running back Jake Sharp, 5-10, 190, has earned a tryout with the Chicago Bears. Sharp, who attended Monday’s Senior and Scholar Athlete Banquet at Allen Fieldhouse, said he would leave for Chicago on Thursday morning.
“That’s my shot,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting up there.”
Despite missing a big chunk of his senior season because of injury, Sharp earned the opportunity with the Bears by testing well at KU’s Pro Day in March. His agent, James Selmer, said Sharp possesses a unique set of skills that should give him a chance to stand out.
“Jake brings some things to the table that other running backs don’t,” Selmer said. “Obviously, he’s got great speed, but he’s also able to catch the ball out of the backfield, and he doesn’t turn the ball over.”
DL Onyegbule catches Saints’ eye
Trainer Joseph Potts said Monday that former KU defensive lineman Maxwell Onyegbule has been invited to attend the New Orleans Saints’ rookie minicamp May 7-9. Onyegbule, 6-5, 252, recorded 37 tackles and six sacks during 2009.