Hugh Thornton will have someone exciting to block for in the NFL. And his family won’t have far to go to watch him do it.
Thornton, an Oberlin High School graduate, was picked by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the draft Friday, No. 86 overall. He’s expected to play guard and compete for a starting spot. He’ll line up in front of quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Excited to be a Colt. Success is the result of hard work,” Thornton said in a text to The Chronicle-Telegram.
Thornton (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) started four years across the offensive line for the University of Illinois and was projected to be a mid-round pick. The third round was considered the high end.
The Colts were a playoff team last year in Luck’s rookie season and the future seems extremely bright.
“What an opportunity,” Thornton told Indianapolis reporters regarding Luck. “He’s a smart quarterback. It’ll be the first time that I kind of blocked for more of a pocket quarterback. Being at Illinois and playing in the spread, the quarterback is always moving around. It will be nice playing for somebody who is a little more equipped to throw the ball.”
Thornton had a tumultuous childhood and moved from Boise, Idaho, to Oberlin for his senior year. He still visits family in Lorain County.
“I love to play football. I love learning the game,” he said. “Being a Colt is so crazy. I’ve got a lot of family from Ohio, so I’ll have a lot of my support system at games. I’m an overcomer. I’ve overcome a lot of adversity and I’m going to give nothing but the best to the organization.”
The Colts had him targeted for months.
“I like that our whole entire staff has really had a big gaze on him since August,” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “This was a guy that played left tackle this year for Illinois at a high level. I thought he was the most dominant guard of the Senior Bowl. Really is a great fit as a guard, but started at four different positions except center for Illinois.
“He really represents all the traits that you could want at the offensive guard spot: size, power, aggression, production and constant finish. The way he plays excites you and it’s kind of, as an offensive lineman, he can set the tone for how the game is meant to be played.”
Grigson wasn’t done praising Thornton.
“He is big and strong, no doubt about it, and explosive,” Grigson said. “And athletic ability.”
Thornton was the Colts’ lone pick of the day, and it came late at night.
“You get a little antsy,” Grigson said. “But when a player like this is sitting there, it makes it all worth it when you’re finally on the clock and you can actually turn the card in. Like I said, we’ve been talking about him for a real long time and it’s just nice to know that he’s wearing a horseshoe.”
Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert recruited Thornton to Illinois and coached him there.
“I think that’s just God looking out, putting me in the right position,” Thornton said. “I have a great relationship with Coach Gilbert and I’m excited to work with him in the future. To know that I get to work with him and the Colts organization is so incredible. It’s kind of surreal right now.”
Coach Chuck Pagano loved hearing Thornton’s excitement during their phone call.
“He understands what’s going on here. He understands what we’re building here,” Pagano said. “He saw the excitement of last year.
“He’s got a ton of Colts traits. He’s big physically. He’s got nasty written all over him. We talk about running the football and stopping the run, this guy is really going to help our quarterback. He’s going to move people. He’s going to change the line of scrimmage for us. He’s going to be able to help us run the football.”
Thornton was asked what he thinks of when he hears “Colts.”
“I think of champions, World Champions,” he said.
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