April 11, 2012

Future excites Thornton

Frustration is something a lot of young college football players never quite come to grips with.

Used to being the "big fish" in the proverbial small pond, some never get used to or deal with the idea, that on this level, many players are as good as, if not better than they.

Some stick it out while some give in and seek out somewhere else to play.

Redshirt sophomore Mike Thornton qualifies as the latter.

As a backup nose guard in the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme, Thornton's freshman year under then first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was anything but smooth. Doubt crept in and for a time, Thornton questioned if he truly belonged.

But instead of looking elsewhere, the former Stephenson standout - as his position would suggest - Thornton held his ground, and as the Bulldogs get ready to wrap up spring practice with Saturday's G-Day game, appears to have finally put himself in position to have the sort of impact he always hoped he would.

"It's been tough, but a lot of it was me, because I needed to get in my playbook and become more accountable to the team. It's really maturing, really," Thornton said. "That was on me."

But the transition wasn't easy.

"For me being so dominant in high school then working against Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, guys like that, who had been doing it for a long time, starting in the SEC as freshmen - it was an eye-opener for me and I was really kind of shell-shocked," Thornton admitted. "But again it just goes back to sticking with the whole process and maturing."

The results are starting to show.

During a recent scrimmage, Thornton was able to show some tangible results, recording two sacks, proving that he's got the ability to make some big plays.

"He just has the unfortunate situation of playing behind (John) Jenkins and (Kwame) Geathers, two of the biggest men in college football and two of the biggest, athletic men in college football," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "But Mike is getting better, I think he's improving, he definitely has a role here on this team. I think he has a future here."

Although Thornton has seen some time at end, Garner said his 6-foot, 301-pound frame is best suited for nose.

"Length- wise, you really would like those guys at end to have a little more length, but Mike, he's a compact, quick, powerful guy who has natural leverage," Garner said. "Obviously, he's not the nose that Coach Grantham would desire but that changeup guy, that guy who can play powerful, play disruptive and play quick, I think it will be a good role for him."

His teammate Jenkins has been impressed.

"Mikey, he's just coming along, man," Jenkins said. "He just wants to ball. With the spring he's having, he's showed that he's capable of doing this. Georgia recruited him for a reason and now I think he's going to get his shot."

Although Thornton appreciates the kind words, he's not about to take his own play for granted.

In his mind, he's got to continue proving to Garner and Grantham, that despite his stature, he can bring an element to the Bulldogs' defensive line that perhaps neither Jenkins nor Geathers can.

"I'm not John or Kwame's size that I have advantages at the nose, but I can use my quickness, my power and my explosion to get off blocks," he said. "That's my whole thing, just playing the way I can play and when I do, play as well as I can."

Being that changeup is something Thornton hopes will work to the Bulldogs' advantage.

"I think that would be great, because a lot of people will see those guys playing heavy, or playing certain gaps a certain way," Thornton said. "I might use my quickness to get off the ball, get into the backfield and hopefully disrupt some passes. That would be a great changeup for us."