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.

July 15, 2009


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.”


1029 8 years, 11 months ago

Clint Bowen is the worst coach I have ever seen in any type of sport. It's too bad that KU football doesn't get very much national attention or "sportscenter" time, because if it did, those guys would tear into Bowen's ridiculously poor decision-making.

It's a real shame that Bowen didn't get more attention last year. Start paying close attention to how KU defenses line up against various offensive formations and it's pretty easy to see why they routinely gave up 300, 400+ passing yards a game. In particular, I think of last year's Texas Tech game where KU had just been burned for two long, quick touchdown drives that were nearly all passing plays, and so on the third drive 1st and 10 Bowen has both safeties creep up to the line of scrimmage several seconds before the snap and whatta ya know, another 70+ yard pass play into a wide open field with no safeties.

It doesn't make sense the way KU occassionally lines up with all their linebackers and safeties shifted to one side, which prompts the offense to blatantly call an audible to the other side of the field (blatant in that the fans in the stands can see what's happening and start yelling), and the defense doesn't adjust. I remember another long touchdown where this was the case--the offense simply audibled a screen to the side of the field with no secondary, got a decent block from their wide receiver on the only defender anywhere near the play and it was practically a casual stroll for a 50+ yard touchdown.

Pay attention to Clint Bowen and the defensive alignments this season, KU football fans. This guy should not be coaching at this level.

Rickyonealku 8 years, 11 months ago

Agree edjayhawk....Bill Miller and the 2009 Kansas Defense should slow teams down.

I just want to play (first time) in the BIG XII Championship at The NEW Dallas Cowboys PALACE..

truman1902 8 years, 11 months ago

I'm looking forward to either the Alamo or Holiday Bowls this season..THIS schedule will be a grind..Expect the Nebraska game to be a dogfight..The real turning point will come against the Sooners..The Oklahoma game, I expect THIS to be the BIG 12 duel of the year...Keep Todd healthy, and the Okies could go home---disappointed..2009-10 Jayhawks ARE bowl bound..Bask in the glow--no matter WHAT bowl!!

Jim Williamson 8 years, 11 months ago

Let's see...listen to 1029, or trust the judgement of a coach who's been to four bowl games in six years while turning a perennial doormat into a conference division title's all about tough choices.

Raider 8 years, 11 months ago

Don't forget, KU has to travel to Lubbock where they are winless. The game is on Halloween night. Mike Leach loves first year D-coordinators. I expect the Tech game this year to be one of the more entertaining games of the season for BOTH teams.

Catbacker 8 years, 11 months ago

1029... Many people (outside of the KU faithful) said that Bowen was going to be way out over his skies as soon as he was named Bill Young's successor. Some, myself included, stated that the promotion seemed to be the result of Bowen taking the blame for the cheating incident that Mangino claimed ignorance on, as he was not/is not qualified to be a stand-alone D-coordinator at the Big XII level.

number1jayhawker 8 years, 11 months ago

Bowen got the job and had no "co-defensive" coordinator to bounce things off of like many before him had. He also had several inexperienced (and lousy) coaches working for him. Joe Bob and Steve Tovar to name two are gone, thank GOD!

Now he has Bill Miller as his co-DC and Sims as a DL coach, so expect this defense to be much better this year.

And to the one supposedly KU fan and the kitty fan, why don't you guys go see if the LHOFC in Manhatten needs his diaper changed.

jhawk7783 8 years, 11 months ago

Bowen did have the title of "co-D coordinator" with BIll Young. How many years does he need to bounce things off of someone? If you want the title and the salary, you have to take responsibility for the results. Last year he was fortunate enough that Mangino took over most of the D coaching after the TT game. Not sure how you can blame Tovar since LBers were best part of D last year. I'd expect improvement in D this year, but Bowen hasn't shown any evidence that he's more than a position coach.

daddax98 8 years, 11 months ago

"The game is on Halloween night. Mike Leach loves first year D-coordinators."

Miller has also served as a defensive coordinator at Nevada, Oklahoma State, Miami, Michigan State, Arizona State and Western Michigan. He was also the associate head coach and linebackers coach at Florida.

not exactly 1st year

Jeff Kilgore 8 years, 11 months ago

Whatever you think of KU's defense, and I think it will be improved, maybe we should have a large picture of Ann Coulter's demonic face on our sidelines when we go to TT. Talk about a Halloween scare. LJW, what are you thinking?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.