Obstacles, adversity drive Thornton

Posted Mar 27, 2013

Former University of Illinois offensive lineman Hugh Thornton has overcome the murder of his mother and sister, and moving across the country to become an NFL hopeful.

The divorce of his parents.

The murder of his mother and eight-year-old sister.

Relocations to Jamaica and Idaho before settling in Oberlin, Ohio, for his senior year of high school.

Former University of Illinois offensive lineman Hugh Thornton experienced all of those challenges before getting to college. But rather than use them as an excuse, he channeled his energy into football and education.

Now, after seven semesters at Illinois, Thornton is preparing for the 2013 NFL Draft. As part of the pre-draft process, Thornton participated in the 2013 Senior Bowl and the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“I think that’s definitely an advantage,” Thornton said of his life experiences. “I don’t know everybody’s story personally, but I think that I’ve been through a lot of stuff that people couldn’t even imagine. Just being here is a testament to what kind of person I am.

“I’m stepping into a business where your future is kind of unpredictable and you’ve got to be able to adjust to change and be flexible. I’ve moved around. I went to 12 different schools in 12 years until I went to Illinois. I’m able to adjust and get the best out of an experience.”

After his parents divorced when he was five, Thornton and his five sisters moved to Jamaica with their mother. Following a move to be with his father in Boise, Idaho, Thornton visited his mother in Jamaica for Christmas.

On one fateful January morning in 2004, Thornton heard the screams of his aunt and ran to her to see what was going on. That was when he discovered his mother and eight-year-old sister had been murdered.

After that, Thornton returned to Boise, where he was a two-time State champion wrestler in the heavyweight division. However, for various reasons, Thornton moved away from his father and moved to Oberlin where he lived with his aunt and played football for the high school.

Despite moving across the country from Boise to Oberlin, a town with a little more than 8,000 people, Thornton found an outlet in sports and excelled at both football and wrestling. He turned that focus into an athletic scholarship to Illinois, where he said he matured.

“That’s what college is for anybody, whether you’re an athlete or not,” Thornton said. “It’s learning to be successful, on and off the field. I wasn’t always successful off the field, and so, through my mistakes, I grew up a lot and was able to mature as a person, as a man and as a player too.”

During his college career, Thornton played many different positions along the offensive line, where he teamed with Jack Cornell of the Baltimore Ravens and Jeff Allen of the Kansas City Chiefs.

“That’s when I was like, ‘I need to step my game up,’ especially when we were losing guys like Jeff Allen and Jack Cornell,” Thornton said. “We needed people to step up on the offensive line, so I just didn’t worry about the NFL. I worried about the season, went out and played the best I could. I ended up getting invited (to the Combine) and the Senior Bowl.”

A self-described tenacious player who uses his physicality to finish off blocks, Thornton is looking to continue overcoming the odds by going from a little-known high school star to NFL player.

“Right now, I think I’m an underdog,” Thornton said. “I want to come out and just perform to the best of my ability because that’s what I’ve been training for. I want to make my university proud, make my family proud and hopefully, spark an interest with some of these teams and get drafted.

“I’m kind of a late-bloomer. There are a lot of guys that were top guys coming out of high school and people followed them all through college, and I don’t think I was one of those guys. I’ve got a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

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