2020 NFL Draft: Kevin Thurmon prepares amid pandemic

NFL

Arkansas State defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon opens up about preparing for a lifelong dream—the NFL Draft—in the midst of a pandemic.

Kevin Thurmon isn’t going to be too dismayed at this point—even by a pandemic. He’s too close to fulfilling a dream.

This is the same Kevin Thurmon who dominated as an 8-year-old in Chicago (where he learned to love the New York Jets since they were his youth league team’s namesake). The same man who says he knew the NFL was possible by eighth grade. The same man who won consecutive state titles at Chicago’s Mount Carmel H.S. and put up 16 sacks as a senior.

Thurmon decided to play his college football at Ball State, only to transfer two years later due to a desire to be better prepared for the professional level. He found a new home at Arkansas State, who led all interior linemen in the Sun Belt in tackles and tackles for loss last season.

At this stage, the coronavirus quarantine is just another hurdle to overcome. It’s the loss of a pro day. It’s the lack of the typical pre-draft pageantry. It’s another mental and emotional challenge placed atop an already dramatic stretch of uncertainty.

Thurmon says he’s taking it all in stride—like always.

“I’m not the only one going through it,” Thurmon told FanSided in a recent interview. “Everyone’s going through it. It definitely hurts that we can’t [have a pro day]. There were a lot of kids who needed those pro days. In ways, it is unfair that a lot couldn’t do their pro days, but nobody can control what’s going on right now.

“It’s a situation that no one has been in before, so it’s hard to even know what to do. The only thing I can do right now is to keep working out.”

Thurmon says his primary concern is controlling the things he can and making himself into a better player and man than he was the day before. That’s been his operating mode all along.

“I’ve dreamed of this since I was 8 years old, ever since I was a little kid. Once I got to eighth grade, I can say that’s when I knew football was going to be it for me. I knew at that point I could do something big in football. I knew I was good enough to have an actual future in it.”

Thurmon was a confident young man, to be sure, but he was also cognizant of the work involved. Hence the reason he left Ball State midway through his collegiate career in order to push himself even further. According to Scout, Thurmon’s choices were many—from Big Ten schools like Michigan State and Purdue to N.C. State or Arizona—but Thurmon ended up choosing Arkansas State.

“At Ball State, I learned how to be a man,” says Thurmon. “I learned to be more responsible and what I had to do to grow. I loved my teammates and everyone, but I was just in a situation where we just weren’t getting it done.

“I was trying to find a different competition level, trying to turn it up and see if I could find a D-Line coach who would really challenge me and get me more ready for the league. I still love all the coaches over there, but I needed something different. It just wasn’t the right place for me, so I needed to make a change.”

From there, Thurmon says he quickly grew to appreciate the coaches at Arkansas State, especially his position coach Brian Early. “I was looking for a school that had a d-line coach who could develop me to play in the league. That’s always been my dream, so I was looking for ways to get better before I got there.”

Over the last year, Thurmon says the learning curve for him has been about making a difference on every down—not to settle for the occasional impact play but to channel the expectations to do so every rep.

“This year it’s all about my mindset,” he says. “We were trying to find that dog mentality knowing on every single play, you gotta make the play. You can’t ever be out there getting blocked. Every single play, you should be making the play. You should be around the play at some point. You’ve gotta be in on the play every single play no matter what. So I’ve developed that mindset.”

It’s that tenacity which should help him fight for a job at the next level.

Thurmon, who is projected as a Day 3 pick, has spoken with nine different NFL teams, although he and his agent have decided to keep the list private. As a player with significant experience playing both inside and outside along the defensive front, and with a history of making disruptive plays, Thurmon should have no problem finding a chance to show NFL coaches what he can do.

Until draft weekend, Thurmon will continue to focus on the things he can control. Working on splitting double teams and hand speed are the next two things he says he wants to work on most. “Outside of that, it’s just about raising my power level up. I want to be out here throwing guys around,” says Thurmon.

His chance will come soon enough.

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