Kyle Thornton has a passion for football. It’s in his blood. His father, Bruce, played four years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and the St. Louis Cardnials. His brothers all played the game as well.

But Thornton, a 6-foot-4, 345-pound NCAA Division II All-American offensive guard at North Alabama has another passion that has nothing to do with opening up holes for a running back and making sure the quarterback doesn’t get sacked during a play.

Thornton loves to cook. Don’t even bother trying to rub the sleep out of your eyes and re-read that sentence either. Thornton, is indeed, a football player who loves to cook.

“I always loved cooking at family get-togethers, especially during the holidays,” Thornton said. “It’s a lot of fun being in a kitchen and preparing a big meal. I even cook for my friends and I’ll cook for the offensive line sometimes as well when we get together every week.”

Having the ability to cook sure beats ordering a pizza, popping something into a microwave or firing up a hotplate.

“It is nice that I can cook something up and have a good meal if I want one,” Thornton said. “I don’t have to worry about eating out or eating what is in the cafeteria all of the time.”

Thornton has taken an interesting road to where he is today, which is a key member of a UNA team that entered the second week of October as the No. 1 team in the nation.

His college football career actually began in Texas in 2003. He was a redshirt for the Longhorns in his first season and saw action in 12 games for Texas in 2004, including a trip to the Rose Bowl against Michigan.

“It was a definitely a huge step up from high school,” Thornton said. “I went to a private school and the size and speed of the players at Texas was amazing. I had a great time there. Getting to go to the Rose Bowl was a lot of fun. But I decided after my second year that I needed to make a change.”

His next move made a lot of sense. Thornton enrolled at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin in 2005 and earned his associates degree in Culinary Arts.

The Thornton File
• Graduate of Texas Culinary Academy
• Father and brother played in the NFL
• Wants to study Culinary Arts overseas
• 2010 Division II All-American
• 2010 UNA Offensive Player of the Year

It took Thornton about 15 months to finish his degree and it didn’t take him long to find work. He took a job in the kitchen at the UT Golf Club.

“I had the degree under my belt and I wanted to use it,” Thornton said. “It was a great experience for me. I had a chance to cook for a lot of catered events and cooked for some weddings. I even still saw the Texas coaches when they would come in to eat. They were all supportive of my decision.”

The idea of Thornton ever playing football again seemed unlikely. But when his brother, Kenton, said he was going to transfer from North Carolina to North Alabama in 2009, he persuaded Kyle to join him.

Kyle decided it was a good idea. As much as he loved cooking, he still loved football. And with UNA being one of the top DII programs in the country, it seemed like a great idea.

Getting back into shape to endure the grind of a football season, though, was not easy.

“It took some time,” Thornton said. “I had to work hard to get strong enough to play football again, and that first season back was tough on me. It took me awhile to get going again.”

UNA finished 11-2 in 2009 and reached the national quarterfinal of the playoffs. A year later, Thornton helped the Lions go 9-4 and earn another trip to the postseason. UNA was knocked out in the second round. Thornton’s performance on the field grabbed attention as he earned All-Gulf South Conference and All-American honors.

Thornton and the Lions are off to a sensational start this season. UNA is 6-1 after an overtime loss on Thursday to No. 2 Delta State.

One of Thornton's favorite memories of the year so far was a chance to play in Cowboys Stadium earlier this season. UNA defeated Abilene Christian 23-17, and for Thornton, it was a lot of fun coming back home.

“It was a very cool experience,” Thornton said. “Playing that game meant a lot to me because of the fact that my dad played for the Cowboys and I was playing a big game in my hometown.”

Thornton hasn’t ruled out playing professional football. Of course, he also hasn’t ruled out going overseas to further his knowledge of cooking.

“I’ve looked into some study abroad programs,” Thornton said. “Going to France is one of my options. It would be cool to learn about cooking in a different country. I think I could gain so much from that experience and it would be a big help to me in the future.”

Don’t expect Thornton to open up a French restaurant, though. He plans on keeping it simple if he runs his own place one day.

“I’d like to have my own restaurant, but if I do, it’s going to be more of a family-style restaurant,” Thornton said. “That is my favorite kind of food.”