The three options for four-star defensive end Justin Thornton (Mobile, Al. Vigor) on Sunday as he prepared to announce his college decision from his church were Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M, with each of the three programs praying that they would receive his commitment.
Thornton was the latest to commit to Gus Malzahn and Auburn after he left church, capping off a big week for the Tigers, who secured three four-star commitments in the past four days.
Thornton joins his high school teammate ILB De’Shaun Davis, who committed last month, as well as recent commitments ILB Tre’ Williams (Mobile, Al. St. Paul’s Episcopal) and top JUCO safety Derrick Moncrief (Prattville, Al. Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.) to form the core of a strong defensive class. This continues what Malzahn did last winter when he brought in elite defensive linemen led by No. 2 overall recruit Carl Lawson.
Auburn closed the gap between them and LSU in the chase for Thornton (who was said to be leaning towards LSU), but credit Dameyune Craig for bringing Thornton, who is coming off a seven-sack season, to the Plains and away from their SEC west rival.
Thornton has some bulking up to do before he comes to college and is making rapid progress in that department. His bench press is over 300-pounds, and he already had a squat max over 500-pounds, so his upper-body strength is catching up to his lower-body. He has a great frame to work with and his first-step quickness, closing speed off the edge and the use of his hands will make him a nice bookend to Lawson and Elijah Daniel.
The Thornton commitment is big on a personnel standpoint for the reasons listed above, but the biggest reason this is a recruiting coup for Auburn is that six of the seven commitments are in-state products. Furthermore, four hail from Mobile County, where Auburn has failed to sign the area’s top players in the past two seasons.
Craig was a successful player for Auburn his final two years in 1996-1997, but his biggest contributions are coming as the chief recruiter for the Tigers and he is dominating Mobile and Baldwin County. Thornton is the latest and the biggest recruit to come out of Mobile this year, but I have a feeling he will be joined by a number of equally-talented players in the coming months and years with Craig doing the heavy lifting on the recruiting trail.
Thornton has an opportunity to be an early contributor as a freshman in 2014 and if he continues to add weight and strength, he could develop into a potential All-SEC performer.