Joe Thuney still remembers the day he met New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady.
Thuney, who played at N.C. State from 2011 to 2015, was visiting the Patriot’s facility for the first time after being drafted in the third round by the team in 2016, when the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback walked up to him.
Brady said, “Hey Joe, how are you doing,” Thuney recalls, adding that he was in awe.
“I didn’t expect him to know my name at all,” he said. “I was just a little taken aback.”
Since that meeting three years ago, Thuney has been one of five men whose primary responsibility is to protect Brady and make sure he has time to find his receivers.
On Sunday, Thuney will start in his third consecutive Super Bowl when the Patriots play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. He will be the first player in NFL history to start in a Super Bowl in his first three years.
“It’s pretty cool,” Thuney said Monday night, during the Super Bowl’s Media Day on Opening Night. “But I’m really just focused on playing Sunday.”
Those who know Thuney, 26, say they are not surprised he’s had the success he’s had — to come in and earn the starting spot for a Hall-of-Fame coach and on a championship-caliber team, from Day One. He’s played in every game since his rookie season.
“Joe went to N.C. State, hard nosed tough kid, played different positions in college,” Brady said when asked of Thuney’s impact. “Played tackle, played a little center. Tried him at center for us. But settled into that left guard spot and has been as dependable, as consistent as well as anybody on our team.”
Brady said Thuney is the same off the field as he is on it.
Thuney can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 90 seconds. During the media day event, Thuney talked to one television reporter in Spanish.
“He’s just got a great spirit, a great energy about him,” Brady said.
Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski agreed. He said he remembers Thuney as a rookie being yelled at in practice. But he said Thuney kept going and grew as a player.
“Without him, we wouldn’t be this far,” Gronkowski said.
Thuney, an Ohio native, was a tight end in high school. By the time he was a senior at N.C. State, he was voted first team All-American by USA Today.
He was the first N.C. State player to earn the honor since Jim Ritcher in 1979.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said there are a number of traits Thuney has that explain his success.
“He’s very athletic for one,” Doeren said. “He’s ultra competitive. He has a high football IQ, and he’s raised by great parents. So he treats people with the respect you’d want to be treated with. I just think Joe has got everything that you would want a person to have.”
Thuney, a 6-5, 308-pound left guard, is 1-1 with the Patriots in two Super Bowl appearances.
In the first one, Thuney was part of the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. The Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter to the Atlanta Falcons, before Brady and the offense scored 31 unanswered points to win in overtime in Super Bowl LI.
In Super Bowl LII last year, the Patriots lost in a thriller to the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia Eagles 41-33.
For Super Bowl LIII, Thuney will be trying to break his .500 record, when the Patriots face the Rams. One of his responsibilities will be keeping All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald away from Brady. That’s something few offensive lineman this season have had success doing. Donald had 20.5 sacks this season.
“He’s a really dynamic player,” Thuney said. “He’s one of the top MVP-leading candidates, so that speaks for itself.”
Thuney said he received a lot of texts from his former coaches and teammates at N.C. State earlier this week wishing him luck in the Super Bowl.
Doeren was in Kansas City when the Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31 in the AFC Championship game.
Sunday’s game will be the 57th consecutive game, including the playoffs, in which he started for the Patriots. Thuney, who is not one to brag, says he was just fortunate to be drafted in a good situation.
“I had great coaching, great teammates throughout the way to help me, and I just kind of not look too far ahead,” Thuney said. “Take it day by day.”
Because for Thuney, he’s “just really glad to be here.”