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.”


  1. 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.

  2. @ 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!