North Carolina to the NFL Part 2: Jim Thorpe is not a N.C. native but he spent time in the state and later recruited N.C. natives for his NFL team


North Carolina to the NFL

(This is the second in a series on the North Carolina products who went on to play in the NFL. Here are the previous and upcoming stories:)

Part 1: The first NFL player came in 1921 and he came from the state’s winningest high school program. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-1-the-first-nfl-player-came-in-1921-and-he-came-from-the-states-winningest-high-school-program/

Part 3: What do the numbers say about North Carolina high school products in the NFL? How many have there been? And who played the longest in the NFL?

Part 4: What North Carolina high schools and counties have produced the most eventual NFL players?

Part 5: Which colleges have benefitted the most from North Carolina high school products who eventually played in the NFL?

Part 6: How many NFL first round picks have been produced by North Carolina high schools?

Part 7: How did eventual NFL players do when they played for North Carolina high schools?

Part 8: North Carolina has a handful of natives who didn’t attend high school in the state before making it to the NFL. Here’s a look at some of them.



By Richard Walker

The state of North Carolina has certainly been blessed with great athletes in its history.

Jim Thorpe

One of the greatest in Olympic history, Jim Thorpe, spent two summers in Rocky Mount, N.C., that ended up costing him his gold medals due to what many now consider a frivolous controversy.

But Thorpe’s time in North Carolina helped create relationships that helped two natives of the state head north for schooling – and eventually landed them in the NFL.

Still considered one of the greatest athletes of all-time, Thorpe also was a pioneer of professional football.

A Sac and Fox native American from Oklahoma, Thorpe was sent to the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Carlisle, Pa., in 1907 as a track and field, football, baseball, lacrosse and ballroom dancing star; He won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.

During Thorpe’s football career, Carlisle knocked off perennial football powers like Harvard and Army and he scored 198 points while rushing for nearly 2,000 yards in the school’s 1912 national championship season.

Thorpe’s greatest fame came from winning the gold medal in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics at Stockholm, Sweden.

In 1913, the Amateur Athletics Union voted to strip Thorpe of his Olympic medals since he’d been paid to play for the Rocky Mount semipro team in the Eastern Carolina League in the summers of 1909 and 1910; In 1983, the International Olympic Committee reversed the decision.

A two-sport pro athlete, Thorpe played major league baseball from 1913 to 1919 and pro football from 1913 to 1928 and didn’t retire until he was 41.

During his pro football career, Thorpe was the first president of the American Professional Football Association in 1920 – or two years before its changed its name to “National Football League.”

In 1922 and 1923, he was an organizer and player of the Oorange Indians of LaRue, Ohio, which was a team composed of native American players. The “Indians” went 3-6 in 1922 and 1-10 in 1923 for a town of less than 1,000 residents, making it the smallest professional city in team sports history.

Two of Thorpe’s recruited players were N.C. natives Stillwell Saunooke and Stan Powell.

Saunooke, an end from the town of Whittier in Jackson and Swain counties, played for Oorang in 1922 after playing at Carlisle School with Thorpe. Saunooke played in nine games and made eight starts.

Powell, a guard from Cherokee, played for Oorang in 1923 after playing at Carlisle (after Thorpe had played there) and Haskell. Powell played in eight games and made seven starts.

Thorpe remained in pro football after playing in 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928. He was selected as a member of the first All-NFL team in 1923.

Thorpe, who died at 65 in 1953, was one of 17 inaugural inductees to Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and in a 2000 poll of sports fans by ABC Sports was voted the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century out of a group that included Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus and Michael Jordan.