University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Panama City, Florida
Bay High School
Playing nose guard is usually a role reserved for those with thick skin, not concerned about their own personal success, but that of their team. That is what made it so frustrating for Thornton, who had perhaps two of the finest seasons ever by a Golden Eagles interior line defender the last two seasons, only to see USM win just one of 24 contests during that span.
Battling for a starting job during his first two seasons in the program, Thornton played a big part in that success, as the Eagles went 8-5 during his freshman campaign and 12-2 during his sophomore season. That would see Southern Mississippi's fortunes change drastically in 2012, as the lost all 12 contests, followed by just one victory during a 12-game 2013 schedule.
Through all the defeats, Thornton trudged on, but not even the team captain could escape the rash of injuries that beset the team. In USM's 11th game, vs. Middle Tennessee, he suffered a deep bone bruise to his right leg that caused some internal bleeding and was not able to play the following week in the 2013 season finale vs. Alabama-Birmingham, thus ending his career observing the team's only win for the year from the sideline.
Of the 14 other seniors that did play in that game, all of whom have experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in their time at Southern Miss, they all agree that the one that made the most positive contributions to the program was Thornton, who solidified himself as one of the school's best defensive tackles in recent memory.
"It's unfortunate because he's a really good football player and has brought it every week for his teammates and for his future," coach Todd Monken said. "I've been proud of him. He's a great kid. He's come a long way. I have not been here the whole time but I can see it even in the 11 months I've been here."
In his time at Southern Miss, Thornton experienced a 12-win season and 22 consecutive losses - a feat that will no doubt go unmatched for a long time.
Thornton was a three-star prospect at defensive tackle for Bay High School before joining the Southern Mississippi program. He was rated the 20th- best defensive tackle in the nation by ESPN.
Thornton also competed as a fullback, as he recorded 678 yards rushing with 10 touch-downs as a senior, adding two catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. On defense, he made 49 tackles including 46 solo stops, two sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery during his senior campaign. He was named to the Orlando Sentinel Top 100 team and played in the North-South Football All-Star Classic.
Thornton spent the 2009 season performing with the Southern Mississippi scout team. In 2010, he earned Freshman All-Conference USA honors, as the reserve nose tackle made 17 tackles with 2.5 sacks and five stops-for-loss. He split nose tackle duties the following season, coming up with 24 tackles while finishing third on the squad with nine stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Thornton shifted to weak-side defensive tackle as a junior, starting 10 of the twelve games he appeared in. He posted 36 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He finished second on the team with 9.5 stops-for-loss and returned an interception 12 yards. He was recognized by the league's coaches as a second-team All-Conference USA choice as a senior, delivering a career-high 39 tackles with 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Invited to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Thornton was the game and practice standout. Scouts said he was the most dominant player on the field. He frequently took on double-teams, showing the strength to anchor as well as the burst and quick hands to swim over the top when the American Team elected to dedicate just one blocker towards stopping him. This resulted in an impressive sack of Hawaii's Sean Schroeder in the second quarter of the contest.
Thornton had another impressive performance in front of team decision makers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, followed by another fine showing for those that arrived for Southern Mississippi's March 7 pro day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.09 and 5.04 seconds, then kept the rest of his numbers registered at the Combine.
Thornton also had a very good position workout, which was led by a Philadelphia Eagles coach. He appeared to be in great shape and after the workout, the consensus opinion was that he secured a spot at the top of the third day of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Thornton started 28-of-50 games at Southern Mississippi – eighteen at nose guard and ten at weak-side defensive tackle…Finished with 116 tackles (58 solos), as he posted 5.5 sacks for minus-37 yards, 30 stops for losses of 108 yards and nine quarterback pressures…Advanced a fumble nine yards and caused two others…Gained 12 yards via an interception return and deflected two passes.