Thornton Ready For Missouri Game

Nov. 25, 2009

Reflecting on his five years in the Kansas football program, senior safety Justin Thornton described his time at KU as a fun, but rough ride.

Thornton came to Kansas in 2005, redshirted, and realized the harsh reality that finding playing time at a Division-I football program was a bit harder than with a high school football program.

“It was different coming from high school being the star player and coming in realizing that you’re not nearly as good yet as you thought you were,” Thornton said. “It was tough for me because when I first got here, I didn’t know if I was good enough to play.”

Through a few position changes, Thornton said he had found his spot and figured defense was what he liked. It hasn’t been the steadiest ride for the 6-foot-1 safety out of St. Joseph, Mo. As a large contributor in the secondary the past four years, Thornton has yet to finish an entire season starting at the same position. The versatile defensive back has played every position in the secondary, including the nickel back position compiling 225 career tackles, eight interceptions, 30 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries heading into his last regular season game as a Jayhawk.

With the four years of experience in the secondary, and playing aside former-cornerback Aqib Talib, Thornton said that he felt he was among the leaders in stats, as well as leadership, for the past couple years and felt like he had accomplished some good things for this program.

“I feel like I’ve been a good leader to all of the guys,” Thornton said. “I didn’t always do things the right way around here and that’s one thing I try to do is take some of the younger guys that I see could be doing things a little different and let them know how I turned things around.”

Thornton has been part of a Kansas team that has already left a legacy in the eyes of Jayhawk football fans. Before last year’s Insight Bowl victory, Kansas had never gone to a bowl game two years in a row. With a win against Missouri in the Border Showdown, the Jayhawks and current seniors would become bowl eligible and increase the chances of furthering the legacy by going three consecutive years.

“They want to win this game,” Head Coach Mark Mangino said of his team this week. “It is important to them, not just because it is our border rival, but it is an opportunity to go to a bowl game three years in a row.”

With the tough stretch of losses, Thornton and the Jayhawks haven’t thrown in the towel just yet. Thornton said he has confidence that if the team wins and wins convincingly the team would have a real good shot of going to a bowl game.

“We’re working hard and we’re really focused and putting everything we have into this last week and picking up this win,” he said.

Mangino and the players showed the level of excitement for Saturday’s Border Showdown at Tuesday’s press conference. Mangino also mentioned that it was an exciting week for both schools because the rivalry generated a lot of interest in the region and some national attention in the past few years.

“They get a big kick out of going over and playing at Arrowhead. They get pumped for that,” Mangino said. “They understand that all that hard work that started in the weight room in the wintertime and spring football and summer training camps can still pay off by winning on Saturday.”

Thornton said that this game held a bit more power than any other game on the Jayhawks’ schedule each year. With bowl eligibility on the line, Thornton said there might be a little bit of added pressure.

“This is our Super Bowl right now,” he said. “I think you’ll see a good game and we’re going to put everything out on the line and play with everything we have.”

With the recent distractions surrounding the football program, Thornton said that nothing has been distracting him except for the upcoming game against Missouri.

“I know that is all I’ve got on my mind is Mizzou week, enough said,” Thornton said. “You don’t have to pump me up or give me any kind of speech because it’s Mizzou week and I’m ready to go.”

The 5-6 Jayhawks will travel to Kansas City, Mo., to face Missouri, in the 118th meeting of the annual Border Showdown on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 2:30 p.m.