Former Penn State starter gives up football, calms his 'savage,' becomes ambassador
When C.J. Thorpe put his name in the NCAA portal this past winter, he thought he would most likely leave Penn State's football team and use his final two years of eligibility at another big-time college.
But instead of playing football this fall, Thorpe will be in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, answering to the title of ambassador.
Thorpe has been chosen to be a "youth ambassador," representing the U.S. government at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Better known as the World Expo, this event started in London in 1851 and has been held every five years since 2000. This year's World Expo lasts from Oct. 1-Oct. 31 and it expects to draw tens of millions of visitors and more than 150 countries are represented. World Expos are large-scale platforms for education and progress that serve as a bridge between governments, companies, international organizations and citizens.
Thorpe is one of only 75 youth ambassadors from the U.S. and was chosen among thousands of applicants. He will work in the USA pavilion and the youth ambassadors are often the first Americans that people around the world converse with at the World Expo.
Thorpe is in Washington, D.C., this week, meeting with senators and congressmen to prepare for the World Expo and, as Thorpe said, "pick their brains."
"This is a really big thing, to be chosen to do this," Thorpe said.
The U.S. youth ambassadors will also be involved in everything from greeting people to learning things about hi-tech companies and social aspects from other countries.
"I want to be able to meet a bunch of people who are successful, come back with the knowledge I've learned and hopefully share it to change things for the better here," Thorpe said.
"Here" is Fox Chapel, where Thorpe lives with his family. He was a standout two-way lineman at Central Catholic and was rated a four-star player by Rivals.com. He signed with Penn State, choosing the Nittany Lions over Pitt, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia, among others.
Thorpe played in 32 games while at Penn State and started eight the past two seasons. He said he went through some rough times emotionally and mentally at Penn State and decided to enter the transfer portal in January. He had two years eligibility remaining, including an extra year because of COVID-19.
"I had a lot of success at Penn State, but there were definitely still some issues that I had to deal with and I had to find myself and come to the understanding of the why. Essentially my why," Thorpe said. "There were three schools that if they would reach out to me, I would play football. But either I took the youth ambassador job or I continued to play football. When I got the (youth ambassador) job offer in May, compared to the offers I had at that time in football, this was a better decision."
Thorpe graduated in the spring with two degrees in philosophy and African American studies.
"I still have two years of football eligibility left. I can go back to football if I really want," Thorpe said. "But I chose to take on this because this is something that just really aligned with my goals."
Thorpe believes the World Expo might help start him on what he wants to get into in the future.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," Thorpe said. "This will give me a great taste of the world. I thought of politics, for sure. That's definitely been a thought. Or maybe work in non-profit. Pittsburgh is a great city for both of those things."
Some might be surprised at a young man giving up a couple years of playing major-college football.
"I just maybe really want to help people get to where they want to go, from point A to Z," Thorpe said. "I feel like I found myself more lately. I know that's cliché to say, but from a lot of my experiences at Penn State, I learned how the real world works and how things and people work.
"You have to know yourself if you're going to try and affect anything else. I'm a much more content person now. I feel like I'm a different person now. The savage has calmed down. I feel like a lot of people misunderstood the way I played the game. I played the game using every arsenal I could to win. I expected the other player to do the same. I want to see everybody at their best."
And for now, Thorpe feels he will be at his best without football.