February 17th, 2013 10:37am

Thornton could commit to UF “at any moment”


There are few 4-year-olds growing up in Alabama who root for the Gators.

If you can find one, his or her family must have graduated from UF or been lifelong Florida fans.

But that wasn’t the case with Justin Thornton.

His mother cheered for the Crimson Tide and he knew nothing about the Gators until a trip to Louisiana in late 2000.

His little brother was born with heart problems and had to be flown to a New Orleans hospital for an emergency surgery. The Florida football team was in town for its Sugar Bowl matchup with Miami and paid a visit to his brother, who later passed away.

“They came to see him and took pictures with me and my family,” Thornton recalled. “That really meant a lot to me, and ever since then I’ve been a Florida fan.”

The UF coaches promised Thornton his favorite number. (Photo courtesy of Thornton)

Thornton, now a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end from Prichard (Ala.) Vigor, wants to wear No. 4 at UF to honor that year of his life. He visited Florida for the first time on Saturday and put on his dream jersey.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was a dream come true to wear that jersey and walk into The Swamp. Going into that stadium after watching all the games I have since I was 4 years old and actually being there now, it’s truly a blessing.”

Thornton, ranked the No. 9 weakside defensive end and No. 112 overall prospect in the Rivals250, was the last visitor to show up Junior Day because of car trouble he had in the morning. But his late arrival worked out for him in the end.

“I loved talking to coach (Will) Muschamp and the whole defensive coaching staff,” he said. “I liked the one-on-one time we had. It’s better than being around a lot of people and not really getting a chance to know them. I really enjoyed myself and my mom feels comfortable with the coaches. Plus she loves Florida’s academic program.”

Thornton and all of Florida's defensive assistants. (Photo courtesy of Thornton)

Thornton said he felt at home in Gainesville and built a strong bond with the coaches.

“They’re one big family,” he said. “I feel like I can trust the staff. They kept it real with me. They’re not the type of coaches who will tell me anything just to get me to come to their school. They speak from the bottom of their heart and they tell me the truth.”

The Gators were the front-runner for Thornton going into visit and he said their lead is even larger now.

Did he commit?

“Not yet,” Thornton said, “not yet. But it could happen at any moment.”

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  1. February 17th, 2013 11:43 am

    It is a long, long, long way to national signing day…..and would someone on the Gator staff get the new DL coach some blue and orange Gator sportswear…and tell him to dump the South Carolina black….please.

    by Tampa Gator

  2. February 17th, 2013 11:51 am

    Don’t care how long it is TG. You get enough good young men together and let the posers if there are and weed themselves out. Gator Nation or Gator Bait.

    by J

  3. February 17th, 2013 11:56 am

    Lawrence Wright’s old number. Hopefully Thornton can have as distinguished a career at UF as Wright did.

    by Gator Jay

  4. February 17th, 2013 12:43 pm

    Hopefully we can land this young man, we need to continue making in roads inside the state of Alabama. Go Gators!

    by GoGator

  5. February 17th, 2013 1:01 pm

    @ GoGator – this would be the exception to the rule, so don’t expect “in roads” to alabama. There’s an electric fence surrounding that state and very few recruits leave. That said, I would love to see this kid fulfill his dream and wear an O&B #4!

    by cggater

  6. February 17th, 2013 1:32 pm

    Were any of those players Alex brown? Should prove as an example not just to him but the rest of the team how far a “simple” courtesy can go

    by Kyle

  7. February 17th, 2013 3:45 pm

    Talking about paying it forward. That’s great karma. Good to know the actions and deeds of Gators before connected with a youth and he remembered it.

    by LewKeys

  8. February 17th, 2013 6:08 pm

    I like this young man. Hope he ends up with us.

    by TxGat

  9. February 17th, 2013 7:25 pm

    Wow, Zach, that is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. Thank you for sharing this! I hope we get him, and after a story like that, I can’t imagine we wouldn’t, but either way, he seems like an incredible kid who has been through a lot but used it to strengthen him and I wish him the best. I also hope he can use this story if he comes to UF to show the other young guys how important their platform is beyond a game or dollars and cents.

    by Sarah

  10. February 17th, 2013 10:18 pm

    “in roads” to Alabama,heck I’d be pleased if we could make “in roads” to the panhandle,Tough turf!

    by fanan

  11. February 17th, 2013 10:19 pm

    Great story….very thought provoking.

    by Neil

  12. February 17th, 2013 10:19 pm

    I know where Alex Brown was at some point,remember the shiner he got clubbbin.

    by fanan

  13. February 18th, 2013 10:27 am

    Great story! 4 years old…wow. That shirt coach is wearing is Black but Gator gear nonetheless …but let’s keep him in either Orange or Blue! I know we’ve got a distance til NSD ’14 but I am hoping we get the commitment of some game changers early! I read a post where someone said “it’s way too early to be talking (2014) recruiting”….and here I am, anxious to see the connection between QB Will Grier (’14) and WR George Campbell (’15)! Go Gators!

    by TigerCatZeroZero

  14. February 18th, 2013 11:52 am

    Good to remember: Always pay it forward.

    by LD Arnold

  15. February 18th, 2013 3:02 pm

    Wow!!! What an absolute GREAT article, Zach! This is the type of young man that we need on campus. He would give his heart & soul to the program because UF showed his family love & support in the time of crisis. Great, great job & I hope he comes to UF. He sounds like one that Coach Muschamp would not have to worry about flip flopping. Go Gators!!

    by Baton Rouge Gator Fan

  16. February 18th, 2013 6:02 pm

    very impressive. I hope the young man has a successful college experience no matter where he ends up. I could never put up with the ‘saban chair’ (ask the recruits).

    by parnelli pease

  17. February 18th, 2013 7:42 pm

    Living right in the heart of crimson tide (Tuscaloosa) im a big gator fan. Thornton come on in and join the GATOR NATION

    by damian

  18. February 19th, 2013 10:20 am

    [...] The obvious prospect is defensive end Justin Thornton (Prichard, Ala./Vigor), who said UF increased its lead for him and he could commit “at any moment.” [...]

    by Junior Day delivers again for Gators | Gator Prospectus Gator Prospectus - Gator Sports - Gainesville, FL - Archive

  19. February 19th, 2013 1:23 pm

    That’s the class that makes us all proud to be Gator Nation! Love to hear stories like this. Regardless where he ends up I’m glad our Gator football team was there to help support their family.

    Go Gators!

    by lance

  20. February 19th, 2013 2:59 pm

    Great article btw Zach, according to your article if Justin Thornton is more likely leaning to commit to UF, what’s keeping him from taken that next step?

    by GatorNate

  21. February 22nd, 2013 10:10 am

    Thorton is always welcome as our New Gator,Fan love thier football team and treat them like a king.Gatornation is everywhere,weither they are here or there,they will make anybody happy.Gator Football will always cheer someone,Even If they don”t know us,they love having newer fans everywhere.Go Gators.

    by Rick Gastiger

  22. April 14th, 2013 3:40 am

    [...] Justin Thornton, 6-5, 215, Mobile, Ala./Vigor — Two months ago, it looked like a only a matter of time before Thornton joined Florida’s class. Things have [...]

    by Plenty of pass-rushing prospects, few sure bets | Gator Prospectus Gator Prospectus - Gator Sports - Gainesville, FL - Archive

  23. April 21st, 2013 5:01 pm

    Good story on a really nice young man. I hope it turns out for him and he is successful in whatever he chooses to do with his future decision. If he goes to UF and his successful it will be story fulfilled with legendary potential. I am sure he is a sincere person and worthy of everything good he gets from life. Go Gators!

    by NassauGator

  24. May 13th, 2013 9:08 am

    [...] (Ala.) Vigor defensive end Justin Thornton committed to Auburn over LSU and Texas A&M. He once had UF leading, but his academic concerns caused the coaches to stop recruiting him. … Jacksonville Trinity [...]

    by Week 4 evaluations | Gator Prospectus Gator Prospectus - Gator Sports - Gainesville, FL - Archive

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