If anyone had told Navy's Charlie Thornton three years ago he would be playing football against Notre Dame or even Syracuse, he would have laughed.

The soft-spoken sophomore was hardly the most recruited football player out of Compton High School in California Demand for 134-pound defensive ends is not overwhelming.

"I didn't have many offers and my coach who was also my math teacher (Tom McCutcheon) was a military man and he suggested I try the Naval Academy," said Thornton, now 6-foot, 190. "I didn't know a thing about Navy."

The school didn't know much about Thornton, either, and only after a year at NAPS (Naval Academy Prep School) and a great season on the Plebe team was he even invited out for the varsity.

"That plebe (freshman) life was a bit rough at first. No one asked me to come out for the team and I had to convince plebe coach Jack Cloud to give me a tryout," said Thornton. "They told me they didn't accept too many walk-ons."

Thornton walked on two years ago and he hasn't looked back. He was invited to the varsity spring practice and was so impressive he was switched to linebacker to take advantage to his speed.

"He grasped the position quickly," said "Navy coach George Welsh. "We knew than he could play for us."

Thornton began the season as the fifth linebacker, playing a total of only 12 minutes 58 seconds in the Mid-shipmen's first five games, making only three tackles.

But injuries to defensive ends (Five of them) forced Welsh to switch Thornton back to his original position. He started at weak-side end, the side away from the offensive tight end, against William & Mary and played 14 minutes.

"I knew I didn't have much experience so I had a few doubts," said Thornton, nicknamed Thunder for his aggressiveness. "It was a good feeling playing against them (W & M) and it built my confidence."

When rugged defensive end Yoby Buttle limpted off last week against Notre Dame, Welsh switched Thornton from the weak side to the strong side opposite All-America candidate Ken MacAfee.

"Just playing against them was enought," said Thornton. "Everybody told me how big they were and how good they were and there I was, looking at MacAfee."

MacAfee managed to fight past Thornton into the secondary and caught five passes but Notre Dame ball earners were not as fortunate.

Thornton made 10 tackles, caused and recovered a tumble and in the waning moments of the 43-10 loss recorded the first sack of his college career.

"It wasn't against their first string quarterback (Joe Montana) but it felt great anyway," said Thornton.

Welsh said Thornton did a fine job on the strong side, despite "not ever playing the position before. Now we'll work him there."

That's fine with Thornton, expected to start at one end Saturday against Syracuse at Annapolis at 1:30.