Football is in the DNA of the Thornton family.
More specifically, WVU football.
John Thornton was one of the top defensive tackles in Mountaineer history. He played under head coach Don Nehlen from 1995-98 and was a two-time All-Big East and Sports Network All-America First Team selection.
About two decades later, his son Jalen made the decision to follow in his footsteps. He is in his redshirt sophomore season with the program and plays on the defensive line. Even though he is a legacy player and the son of a former NFL player, Jalen is focused on forging his own path in his career.
And that’s exactly what his dad encourages him to do, too.
“The burden is the one I put on myself. Just being really hard on myself to make plays and help this team win,” Jalen Thornton said. “My dad has never been that hard on me. He’s not that dad that is like ‘you gotta do this, you gotta do that, go to this school, this camp’. It was just play hard and enjoy the game.”
Defensive prowess and the same collegiate path aren’t the only things Jalen shares with his father. He said they have identical mannerisms, too. That similarity has been pointed out by just about everyone that knows them over the years. But when it comes to the actual reason we see Jalen in a uniform and pads on Saturdays, he attributes that to his mother, Allison.
“She’s probably the reason I kept going with this. When I first started playing football, I didn’t know if it was going to be right for me or if I was going to make it, but there was never a doubt in her mind,” he said. “She always instilled the confidence in me that I can do anything I wanted to do. She is my No. 1 supporter.”
She’s also the one you can find cheering in the stands for her son and the Mountaineers. According to Jalen, his father is more laid back and his mother is the one that provides the vocal support.
After redshirting in 2019, Thornton saw action 10 games last season, adding depth on the line and earning experience via special teams. Here in 2021, he’s working hard to increase his role. Thornton was touted as one of the most improved players during fall camp by head coach Neal Brown and early on in the season, Brown said he needed to get more snaps out of Thornton as the year went on.
Now, here in November, Thornton is pleased with the progress he’s made to put him in a position to be ready whenever Coach Lesley comes calling.
“From year two to year three, I’ve definitely made strides. There are some things I could definitely get better at — in the weight room, on the field, knowing what to do when I get in, personnel checks. So, I’ve made strides but I still have a way to go. I am positive I’ll get there. I’m confident I’ll get there,” Thornton said. “The biggest thing for me is just being confident in my abilities. Knowing that when my number is called I’ll be ready to make a play.”
With the versatility asked of the defensive line, Thornton put an emphasis on getting stronger so he would be able to play at nose, tackle, and defensive end. His biggest area of emphasis is his explosiveness, specifically a quick first step. Having guys like Dante Stills, Akheem Mesidor and Taijh Alston as the starters up front, there’s not many more reps to go around, but that’s what makes work even more rewarding for Thornton.
He said there was never a doubt he would end up at WVU, and his time in Morgantown is something the Cincinnati, Ohio, native wouldn’t change for the world.
“The ups, the downs, the bonds with my teammates, the coaches, and getting to know the people here. It’s a great state. It’s been everything and more,” Thornton said. “Dante, I’ve been with him for a while and Darius for a little bit. Sean Martin is from West Virginia. We’ve got a lot of guys from West Virginia and I’ve come into great ties with this state. I’m not from this state, but I’ve been here a while. I see the pride people carry in wearing the Flying WV and I am proud I get to wear it, too.”