High School Sports

‘Nobody can outrun’ this Coast football star and colleges have begun to take notice

Gautier’s Drake Thornton junior season highlights

Gautier senior linebacker Drake Thornton has drawn the attention of college coaches due to his outstanding speed. -- Hudl/Gautier High School
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Gautier senior linebacker Drake Thornton has drawn the attention of college coaches due to his outstanding speed. -- Hudl/Gautier High School

Gautier’s Drake Thornton has been considered one of the better high school linebackers on the Coast over the last couple of seasons, but it was his exploits during a May track meet that grabbed the attention of some of the region’s major college programs.

While looking every bit the football player at 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, Thornton claimed the Class 5A state championship in the 100-meter dash on May 3 in Pearl. Most of his competitors checked in at 150-160 pounds.

Thornton crossed the finish line with a time of 10.85 seconds and received a new junior college football scholarship offer before he even left the course.

Much bigger offers were on the way with South Alabama becoming the first FBS program to offer him that day and he also received a call from a member of the Auburn staff.

“He was on the radar (of college programs), but it changes things when you’re a kid that’s able to run a time like he did,” Gautier coach Marc High said. “He had run a previous sub-11 time, but when he was able to win a gold medal in 5A, they really started talking to him.”

Since landing the USA offer, Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Miss, Troy, Louisiana-Monroe and Nicholls have also jumped on board with the speedy senior.

Thornton, who has as a time of 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash, has also received interest from Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida State and Baylor. Most schools see Thornton as a linebacker, but FSU has said they’d like to get a look at him at safety.

Although South Alabama is the school that has shown Thornton the most attention so far, he claims to have no favorite in the mix. He said he has no plans to commit prior to the Aug. 23 start of the season and may allow the process to drag out to signing day.

As a junior, Thornton registered 103 tackles and punched in four touchdowns as a short-yardage running back.

As a senior, Thornton hopes to garner bigger offers with a breakout season.

“I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. “I’ve been known as an under-the-radar guy. All these schools look at the stars and want five-star athletes. I don’t have any stars. That’s what I’m fighting for. I have something to prove to everybody.”

Thornton kept a busy camp schedule this summer and he’s betting on the tips he picked up from college coaches to help him this year on the field. His camp visits included Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Auburn and Tulane.

“We’ve seen him develop,” High said. “We know his numbers are going to get better. We’ve been working on his lateral quickness. We know he runs well straight away. We’re just trying to get his lateral quickness improved.”

As for the mental aspect of the game, High believes that’s a strong attribute for Thornton.

“Drake is very savvy when it comes down to football,” he said. “I was talking to one recruiter and he said that he noticed Thornton was a smart football player on film. He’s a vocal guy on the field. He makes sure everybody around him is ready to roll.”

While Thornton has the size, work ethic and the intelligence to stand out on the football field, it’s the speed that has allowed him to take off as a college prospect.

“Nobody can outrun me in high school,” Thornton said. “If you watch on film, I just chase everybody down. Speed is my advantage.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.
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