Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back with a vengeance

Defensive back Thornton thrilled to be reunited with team

Kansas safety Justin Thornton (46) explodes with jubilation after Kansas defensive end Russell Brorsen recovered a fumble during the second quarter of KU’s loss at Nebraska last season in Lincoln. Thornton finished with a team-best 11 pass break-ups last season.

Kansas safety Justin Thornton (46) explodes with jubilation after Kansas defensive end Russell Brorsen recovered a fumble during the second quarter of KU’s loss at Nebraska last season in Lincoln. Thornton finished with a team-best 11 pass break-ups last season.


As far as holidays go, last New Year’s Eve was not the most enjoyable for Justin Thornton.

While his Kansas University football teammates spent the evening in Tempe, Ariz., rolling over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl and collecting the school’s second bowl trophy in as many years, the Jayhawks’ then-junior defensive back was at home in St. Joseph, Mo., barely able to stomach watching the game on television.

“I almost couldn’t even watch it,” said Thornton, who was suspended for the game for a violation of unspecified team rules. “It was real tough. But I wanted to support my teammates and everything, so I went home and watched it with my family.”

After spending the past few months making amends with teammates, however, Thornton appears to be back in the good graces of KU coach Mark Mangino and his staff. And entering his final season in a Kansas uniform, the senior-to-be has set his sights on helping the Jayhawks notch a first-ever outright Big 12 North title — a task that figures to be easier to accomplish with the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Thornton in the starting lineup.

“I’ve done everything I can to regain my teammates’ respect and my coaches’ respect,” said Thornton last week, while volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence. “Things are back to normal. I’m just ready to get back out there and show people that I’ve learned (from my mistakes).”

And if his career production is any indication, his return to the lineup should bode well for the Jayhawks’ secondary.

Despite flying under the radar since arriving in Lawrence in 2005 — he has shared the defensive backfield with outspoken All-American cornerback Aqib Talib and fan-favorite Darrell Stuckey — Thornton has proven to be, statistically, one of the secondary’s most important pieces.

In 2007, while starting only the final four games of the season, he matched current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Talib with a team-high five interceptions, including one in the Jayhawks’ 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Last fall, meanwhile, despite switching from free safety to left cornerback as part of the team’s mid-season secondary overhaul, he finished with a team-best 11 pass break-ups.

“Obviously, a guy with that versatility gives you some options,” said KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. “... (Switching positions) is not easy to do, and he did it with about one week’s practice. His size out there at corner, his ability to get his hands on people and be physical, that’s a nice thing to have.”

Thornton is slated to remain at the cornerback position this season, where his experience will be counted on to help improve a unit that finished 10th in the Big 12 in pass defense a season ago.

And entering his final collegiate season, Thornton insists his focus is on putting last year’s disappointing conclusion behind him and making sure the ‘09 season goes the way many preseason prognosticators predict it will.

“It’s my senior year, my last year,” he said. “I’m ready to get out there and do some good things. ... There’s a buzz around the locker room that I don’t feel we had last summer, so we’re ready to get things started.”


Muska 11 years, 3 months ago

Welcome back and go get 'em, Justin. Good to see you have your head straight...we'll need you and your leadership this season.

Dyrk Dugan 11 years, 3 months ago

he's a long and physical corner. We need Justin to play some darn good football this year. He'll be just fine.

Theutus 11 years, 3 months ago

Everybody makes mistakes, it's nice to see him coming out of it on top.

I hope he has a breakout season, and puts himself in a great position for next years draft.

Daniel Rojas 11 years, 3 months ago

Lets hope the secondary can pick up the slack and carry this team to a North Champ.!!! Gonna be tough losing the three muskateers in the middle!!!.......Is it Sept 5th yet? LOL!

jayhawkr34 11 years, 3 months ago

sounds like he was humbled, and learned from it, good for you go out and play hard and make a name for yourself so you can get drafted. Also, we need leadership in the defense.

Rivethead 11 years, 3 months ago

With Stuckey back there being a team captain and all, I wouldn't say we "need" leadership in the defense. But Thornton's experience couldn't hurt either......

Jonathan Briles 11 years, 3 months ago

Ok Maxhawk I will agree with you that Thorton is really good, but Stuckey is probably the best player on the whole defense. He has size speed skill and a good head. He is going to lead by word and example.

I am extremely excited about this team. The defense does not get enough credit the line is going to be improved and so is the secondary and I dont think there is going to be as big a drop in the middle as everyone thinks. Last year MR and JM were both fighting injuries the whole year and were very slow. This year we have got healthy quick LB's who will be able to make plays that would have been impossible for last years LB's besides JH.

hawk316 11 years, 3 months ago

Sounds like Justin has come back with a great attitude. Hope this is a terrific year for you, 46, for the entire team and for the Jayhawk nation. RCJH!

MitchumMan 11 years, 3 months ago

KanFan27, I hope you're right about the D-line and LBs. The D-line will hopefully be improved but we lost our 3 starting LBs. I just hope we can get some guys in there that can step up. Our guys need to create some havoc in the back field or our secondary won't get a chance to show how good they really are. I do have some good feelings about this year but I still think winning the North is going to be tough. Nebraska just might be able to take it away from us if we don't come to play ball every saturday.

kansas22 11 years, 3 months ago

Losing James Holt is a big loss. With the way Rivera and Mortensen were fighting injuries all year, I think that they can be replaced. If our defense can step up and be one of the top 6 defenses in the Big XII, I think we'll be able to claim a North title. We have plenty of room to improve in all facets of our defense because I really don't think we had a strong point to our defense last year. Stuckey and Holt were great. We just need more players to step up. Oh, and our offensive line could be better too. Protect Todd!

Rivethead 11 years, 3 months ago


The same can be said for Nebraska. Their trip to Waco, TX won't be nearly as easy as the Bugeaters believe.

troutsee 11 years, 3 months ago

I have been a Justin Thorton fan ever since he arrived. He has the speed, size, guts, and knowhow to be a really, really good corner.

iowajayhawkfan 11 years, 3 months ago

Does anyone know the scoop on Jaques Crawford? I haven't heard anything lately.


Debbie Mangen 11 years, 3 months ago

HELP PLEASE!! I'm slightly off topic but my son accidentally erased my 2008 KI-MU football game and the Orange Bowl game. Can anyone guide me to a site that might show it or connect me with someone who has it recorded? I'm losing sleep over this! Sorry for the off topic request, but I am still talking about football.

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