Thurston will look to control the middle of the Cobras’ defense

Off the field, Nick Thurston is quick with a smile. On it, he's anything but cordial.

"If you don't know who made the tackle," the linebacker joked following a Seattle-Tacoma Cobras practice last week, "just give it to me."

At 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, Thurston will be in on a lot of them this spring, his first with the Professional Developmental Football League. Originally from Oakland, Calif., Thurston played at the City College of San Francisco and finished his college career at the University of Houston, where he was an outside linebacker.

Thurston, 26, will move to the middle for the Cobras, a position that suits him well.

"I just flow from sideline to sideline, hash to hash," he said.

Thurston's easy-going attitude disappears when he steps on the gridiron, a place where he incorporates the styles of some of the best to ever play the game.

"My mindset is to be a physical presence," he said, listing NFL greats. "Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, (Brian) Urlacher. You have to be feared."

It's quite a change from his high-school days, when he used his big frame as a running back at McClymonds High in Oakland. Thurston didn't start to play football until his sophomore year. Instead, he focused on baseball and basketball, just like his older brother, whom Thurston said was "always around the gym."

Thurston moved to Fresno and attended Edison High for his junior and senior seasons, although he missed all of his first year there because he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in one of his knees.

That proved to be the end of his offensive career. From then on, his focus turned to destroying ballcarriers.

When Thurston got to the City College of San Francisco in 2006, he said he was the school's first freshman captain since 1994. He helped the team finish 11-1 and win the California City College Association championship. And he was named the defensive MVP in a national-championship loss that saw Thurston record 15 tackles, including two for loss.

Thurston spent his sophomore year at Mt. San Antonio College, then transferred to Houston, where he played in 17 games combined in 2008-09, mostly on special teams. He had a career-high seven tackles against the Rice Owls in his final regular-season Conference USA game, and the Cougars also played in the conference championship game and the Armed Forces Bowl that season.

Undrafted, Thurston had opportunities with the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League and the semipro Pacific Islanders. A couple weeks before he drove to Seattle, the Thurston said the SaberCats called him and wanted him to give it another shot.

"I knew it was not for me," he said.

"I'm just looking for my next shot to get back on the field," he added. "An opportunity to showcase myself, play outdoors."

And if it doesn't work out, Thurston has a backup plan already in motion. He's been working as a special teams and defensive line coach at Woodside Primary High School near Stanford University in Woodside, Calif., and he's working toward becoming a personal trainer with a certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

"The thing that keeps me motivated is I have really good family support," he said. "A lot of people aren't as fortunate to have that."

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