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Sibling rivalry? Nope
- Michael Cade
Imagine spending your whole life playing the position of quarterback - investing all your essence and being into the role of field general.
Then imagine having your younger brother beat you out for the starting job on a winning college team.
That is precisely the dynamic at work in Monmouth, where former Sandy High School quarterback Mark Thorson is atop Western Oregon University's depth chart, above older brother Ryan.
It's been that way since the beginning of the 2005 football season.
Blessing or a curse?
'It's been a huge blessing,' says Mark Thorson. 'Obviously, on the field, we're competitors. But once we step off that field, we're brothers.'
The quarterbacks' father, Greg Thorson, a girls tennis coach at Sandy, tells a story of how the family held a hypothetical discussion prior to the men playing together in Monmouth.
'We said 'Ryan, what if Mark beats you out?',' says Greg Thorson. 'And Ryan said: 'First of all, Dad, he's not going to beat me out. But if anybody is going to beat me out, I'd want it to be my brother.' '
Little Brother delivered on that threat.
And guess what? He has Western Oregon playing at an extremely high level.
The Wolves are 5-2, and that includes a 4-0 start.
And during that 4-0 start, the Wolves beat old foe Linfield, which hadn't lost a regular season game in 41 tries.
'That was a huge burden off our shoulders,' says Mark. 'I had a bunch of alumni - men in their 70s and 80s - come up to me after the game and say 'Thanks for beating those Wildcats.'
'It's a big deal. That rivalry used to be really huge. To get that win restored order a little bit.'
The positive turn-of-events has to be bittersweet for Ryan Thorson, but Big Brother seems to be handling things just fine.
'It was hard on Ryan, but I'm very proud of him,' says Greg Thorson.
And having Big Brother around provides Mark Thorson with his own personal mentor.
'He's extremely knowledgeable in the game, which has helped me out a ton,' says Mark Thorson. 'Just having him around is almost like having an extra coach around.'
'I trust the coaches' decision,' Ryan Thorson recently told Western Oregon's Alumni magazine. 'And I am thrilled that Mark has played so well. As much as I want to play, I understand the situation, that only one quarterback at a time can play.'
And Western Oregon's offensive unit has put up some big numbers in Mark Thorson's command. Such productivity has earned the Wolves some attention from folks in high places.
'We've had NFL scouts at our practices once or twice a week,' says Mark Thorson.
So...is it possible that Mark Thorson could follow the path of Linfield's Brett Elliott? (Elliott went from Linfield to the pros - he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers in 2006.)
'Playing professional football after college is definitely a goal of mine,' says Mark Thorson. 'And it's an attainable one.'
The road to pro ball is fraught with dashed hopes and broken dreams, though.
Elliott, after all, was unceremoniously released from the Chargers' practice squad in September.
But Mark Thorson is shrewd enough to realize that - if the NFL doesn't come calling - there are still other options.
'There's so many different levels (of professional football),' he says. 'There's Arena 1 and 2, Canadian football, there's NFL Europe… I've just got to keep working and keep improving. It's all about opportunity.'
Which shouldn't be a problem for Mark Thorson, who stands 6-feet, 6-inches and 230 pounds.
There's no lack of instincts in Mark Thorson's game, either.
He only played football his senior year at Sandy - the 2002 season - but he earned an honorable mention nod on the All-Conference team that year.
'My dad was big on us being leaders,' says Mark Thorson. 'I was a point guard on the basketball team, and you know, goalie is a big leadership position. So I kind of already had developed those kind of characteristics a quarterback needs.'
Here and now
Mark Thorson has the Wolves sitting pretty at 5-2, but a playoff berth may be too much to ask this season. (Western Oregon may be the odd man out in the NCAA Division II's fairly convoluted rankings system.)
Next year might be a different story though, as the program builds momentum, and - possibly - more scholarship capabilities.
But for the time being, the brothers are content to see how this season plays out.
And Mark Thorson is happy to have Big Brother as his back-up on the depth chart.
'It's pretty remarkable, actually, what he's done,' says Mark Thorson. 'To be able to do that is pretty admirable. I thank him all the time.
'It's pretty special.'