"Dan Shonka has been one of the top professional football evaluators for the past 15 years in the NFL. He contributed greatly in the drafts that put the Eagles where they are today. Players such as Pro Bowlers Bobby Taylor, Jermaine Mayberry, and Jeremiah Trotter (now with the Redskins), along with John Welbourn, Koy Detmer, Cecil Martin, Duce Staley, Brandon Whiting, N.D. Kulu, Ike Reese, and Barry Gardner were all area players on Dan's watch. Dan also worked with the pro department to claim such players as Rashard Cook and Dameane Douglas. However, Dan's greatest contribution may have been his vision in signing such free agents as Hollis Thomas, Pro Bowler Chad Lewis, Ryan Schau (now with the Texans), Sylvester Wright, Troy Drake, Joe Rudolph, and Kaseen Sincero, among others. The best signing may have been James Thrash who Dan signed for an $8000.00 bonus - he then was cut and went to the Redskins. After three years with Washington, the Eagles then paid a 2.5 million dollar bonus to get him back."

John Wooten
Former Director of Player Personnel
Philadelphia Eagles

"In Dan's one year with the Washington Redskins he signed five free agents that made a team in the league: David Brandt, Antonio Pierce, and Ifeanyi Ohalete (Washington), Tam Hopkins (Giants), and Cornelius Anthony (San Francisco)."

Ron Nay
Director of College Scouting
Washington Redskins

"Dan Shonka is one of the top personnel scouts in the NFL, and in a show-me league, Dan has the pelts on the wall."

Brian DeLucia
Draft Expert, Fox Sport
fox sports

Washington Redskins 2001 Season in Review

Rookie Recap: A pair of undrafted free agents - LB Antonio Pierce and OG David Brandt - contributed and have futures with the Redskins.

Pro Football Weekly

Redskins' Thrash making a splash
By Richard Justice

Washington Redskins rookie wide receiver James Thrash has burst onto the scene so quickly and with such a flair for the dramatic that it's natural to ask a few questions: Who is he? Where did he come from? Why did he get passed over by all 30 NFL teams for all seven rounds of last spring's draft? And what prompted the Philadelphia Eagles to cut him a few days before training camp?

Some answers are easier than others.

What's easiest to see is that Thrash will be playing in the NFL this fall. Having started training camp as the last wide receiver on the Redskins' roster, Thrash has sewn up a spot by returning kickoffs for game-clinching touchdowns in both preseason games.

If he didn't clinch a roster spot with a 91-yarder in the first exhibition game against Tampa Bay, he certainly did with a 96-yarder in Saturday's 18-12 victory over Tennessee. He also caught three passes for 63 yards, including a 35-yarder to set up a field goal.

"You can't have enough good football players," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said. "If a guy can do what James can do, you find a way to keep him."

In the beginning, Thrash will team with Brian Mitchell as a kickoff returner. There might not be much other work for him as a rookie, but considering where he was a few weeks ago, that's a large accomplishment.

He grew up the son of a factory worker in Wewoka, Okla., population 3,500, in the Dust Bowl plains 60 miles east of Oklahoma City. He was a star football player and sprinter in high school, but had no college scholarship offers.

He attended Division II Missouri Southern State College in Joplin because his high school coach, Bill Brown, was a friend of Missouri Southern Coach Jon Lantz.

Brown said he made the call "because I've never been around anyone who worked as hard as James Thrash. He'd stay until the last guy left and then get coaches to throw him passes. This summer, I watched him bench-press 465 pounds three times. He takes it seriously. He proves that all those things coaches say about hard work paying off are true. I never dreamed he'd go this far, but I knew he could play."

Thrash played little as a freshman because Missouri Southern had a star wide receiver in Rod Smith, now with the Denver Broncos. Thrash eventually won track championships and set receiving records.

Until the past two weekends, Thrash's biggest thrill in sports might have been playing in the Division II all-star game - the Snow Bowl, played annually in Fargo, ND.

"Shows what a science recruiting is, doesn't it?" Lantz said with a laugh. "I'd really never heard of James until Bill called and asked me to take him. He told me James had enough other aid to pay most of his tuition, and I agreed to pick up the rest. It turned out to be a great move."

The NFL passed on Thrash on draft day in April.

"With James, we knew someone was going to have to be patient," Lantz said. "He started slowly with us, then all of a sudden - boom. He's got blazing speed and that's something you can't coach. Don't give him daylight. He'll break it - in any league."

The Eagles signed Thrash, then cut him shortly before training camp. Sources close to the team say the roster spot was needed for others, and the Eagles didn't think Thrash was going to be anything special.

However, the Redskins had always considered him a prospect, and signed him quickly.

From the beginning, Turner said Thrash was good enough to make the practice squad, then have a chance to earn a spot on the regular roster next fall. With five receivers, there seemed no other way to fit him in.

When Thrash returned his first kickoff against Tampa Bay, he forced Turner to look again. He was added to the punt return team and given more playing time.

Against the Oilers, in addition to the 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, he returned another kickoff 36 yards and made receptions of 17 and 35 yards to set up a field goal.

Thrash has seemed more overwhelmed by the attention than the football. He has answered questions with one- or two-word answers, saying again and again that he can't believe how things have unfolded for him in the past few weeks.

"I've got to pinch myself," he said. "It's hard to imagine how it has turned out. I just thank God for the opportunity."

Rhodes grooves on Hollis Thomas' play
The DT has gone from undersized, undrafted free agent to future NFL starter.
by Jack Schlottman WITH THE EAGLES

Bethlehem - It is a priceless image, one of those mental pictures that must be seen to be believed: Ray Rhodes dancing around his Veterans Stadium office, rap music blasting in the background, Hollis Thomas blasting people on the TV screen.

Grandmaster Ray. Ray Doggy Dogg. Notorious R.A.Y.

Ray Rhodes. Rap fan.

Who would've thought?

"What really caught me was, Hollis sent a video tape down with rap music," Rhodes says. "It was a highlight film, his big plays set to rap music. And the song fit the tape, know what I mean?

"The song was all about being a bad dude. And while the rap's going, Hollis was playing. And he was just running people's rear ends out.

"And the rap was playing and I was just bouncing to the music and everything because he was kicking people's a--.  I was getting excited and everything.

"And I said, 'Dan Shonka found one; this kid is a player.'"

Shonka is the Eagles' scout who uncovered Thomas, the massive 6-foot, 306-pound defensive tackle, who was laboring in something close to obscurity two years ago on the campus of Northern Illinois University.

It was clear, because of his height, that Thomas wasn't going to be selected in the1996 NFL draft.

It was equally clear that Thomas had a future in this league.

Shonka found Thomas and proceeded to whet Rhodes' appetite. Then Thomas sent along the videotape that the audio/visual man at NIU had put together for him.

MTV, it wasn't.

But it did the trick.

Thomas had two sacks in last Saturday's preseason opener against the New York Jets. He's still listed as a backup; Andy Harmon and Rhett Hall are the starters. But it will surprise no one if Thomas is in the lineup when the Eagles open the regular season Aug. 31 against the Giants. In fact, the only surprise might be if he isn't a starter by then.

Brought in primarily as the run-stuffer, Thomas, under the tutelage of defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, has fast developed into a pocket-collapsing, pass-rushing force of the kind the Birds haven't had on the inside since the passing of Jerome Brown.

"We were extremely fortunate to luck into somebody like Hollis," Rhodes says. "And the guy who's responsible for it is Dan Shonka, one of our scouts. He came to me and said, 'Ray, I found a guy who's your type of player.'"

"I said, 'What position does he play?'"

"And Dan said, 'Defensive tackle.'"

"Now, when you've got a defensive tackle you don't think is gonna be drafted, the first question you ask is: 'How tall is he?' Height is the first thing that comes up.

"Well, Dan said, 'He's ... uh...6-feet ... or so.'"

"So I said, 'OK, he's 5-11 and what?'"

It is a wondrous story, from undersized, undrafted free agent to future NFL starter in quick fashion. All thanks to a hard-working scout, a rap video and, of course, the talent of a quiet, soft-spoken sneaker collector whose high school didn't even have its own football team.

*Jack Schlottman is sports columnist for The Express-Times.

Dan Shonka: Scouting Talent in the Midwest
By Seth Burton (Redskins Weekly Correspondent)

Dan Shonka, in his first year as a Redskins' scout, scours the Midwest in search of not only hidden gems, but the blue-chip players that lead to Super Bowls.

"It all comes down to personnel," Shonka said. "You've got to have the players."

It is Shonka's job to make sure the Redskins are aware of the best players in his coverage area. Working out of his home in Iowa, Shonka, like all scouts, spends the good portion of his time on the road during the football season.

After getting player information from the BLESTO scouting service and talking with college coaches, Shonka gets an idea of which collegiate players might become NFL prospects. He then hits the road, arriving at a prospect's school early in the morning and watching all the film he can on a certain player in addition to speaking with football coaches, strength coaches and academic support members to get a complete picture of a player.

"Football is a real blue-collar sport in terms of scouting," Shonka said. "You've got to do a lot of work, a lot of watching tape. There are a lot of good football players out there in the NFL who weren't drafted."

It is then on to the next school and the next prospect, and then Saturdays include taking in a game to watch how a certain player performs.

"It is important to watch as much film as you can get on a player," Shonka said. "You could watch (Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis three times at Miami, and if you got the wrong tapes, then you would have to wonder about his ability."

Shonka has been evaluating football talent for 13 years as a scout. He came to the Redskins following the 2000 draft after several years working the Philadelphia Eagles. Before that, Shonka scouted players for National Football Scouting, a service employed by numerous NFL teams. The Redskins use the BLESTO scouting service, a company similar to NFS.

"I wanted the opportunity to work with (Director of Player Personnel) Vinny Cerrato," Shonka said. "There are a lot of different ways to do things in scouting and I like the way we do things here."

Football has been a mainstay in Shonka's life. When his playing career at Wayne State College in Nebraska ended after three knee surgeries, Shonka transferred to Iowa State where he served as a student assistant to the coaching staff. While working at Iowa State and at the tender age of 19, Shonka founded his own minor league football team, the Cedar Rapids Raiders, and led them to a 10-2 record and a minor league title. It was then that Shonka's eye for spotting gridiron talent first started to emerge.

"I had to get all the talent for that team," Shonka said. "I had to get players who were older than me and convince them to play."

Shonka moved on to assist and recruit for Iowa State, Purdue, Kansas, and Rice before becoming the head man at Independence Junior College and Highlands Junior College in Kansas. By the time he was 27, Shonka was the head coach of a football team. His next coaching position came at New Mexico Highlands College, a Division II school.

By then, Shonka had caught the scouting bug and settled in to his lifestyle of criss-crossing the Midwest in search of NFL-quality talent.

"The guy has to have the physical characteristics of that position," Shonka said of what he looks for in a player. "He has to have a strong work ethic, athletic ability, and intelligence. Those are the three attributes."

Of course, there are NFL players who succeed with only one or two of those attributes, and they are the ones Shonka loves discovering.

I really like finding that diamond in the rough," Shonka said.

Shonka has scouted such impact but unheralded players as Kurt Warner, James Thrash, Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, and Bears running back James Allen to name a few.

It really is a skill to evaluate talent," Shonka said. "I love scouting and I don't mind the traveling at all."

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