99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Fans outside of Charlottesville may not know much about defensive back Juan Thornhill. I predict that will change after the 2018 season.

Thornhill has improved every year he has been at the University of Virginia. He generated buzz when he arrived on Grounds in 2015, and though the buzz didn’t equate to a large role, he did play in nine games his first year.

As a sophomore, Thornhill was needed to assume a much larger role at a position he wasn’t expecting to play in college. The former Altavista High School (VA) star wound up starting 11 games at cornerback in 2016. He stepped up with 45 total tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions.

Thornhill entered the 2017 season slotted at safety, the position he was projected to play when he arrived at UVA. An injury to Tim Harris forced him back to cornerback. Not only did Thornhill take the position switch in stride, he established himself as one of the top corners in the conference. Thornhill earned 2017 All-ACC Third Team honors his junior season, during which he racked up 63 tackles (47 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 12 passes defended, and 4 interceptions.

The versatile talent is one of the better defensive backs in the ACC. Virginia will need more from him in his upcoming senior campaign, as the Cavaliers are tasked with having to replace departed All-Americans Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser. Slotted at safety, Thornhill has accepted this challenge.

99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: No. 60 – Juan Thornhill Primed For An All-ACC Caliber Season

Underneath Juan Thornhill’s mild-mannered persona lies a tremendous competitor. Knowing his impressive high school accomplishments, it wasn’t surprising to hear Thornhill express some disappointment with the way the Cavaliers finished the 2017 season.

Since Thornhill arrived on Grounds, Virginia has compiled a 12-25 record in three seasons. Last year’s 6-7 campaign that included a bowl berth was a good step, but the 5-time high school state champion (2 football titles, 3 basketball titles) wasn’t ready to call the season a “good” one after the Hoos were soundly defeated by Navy in the Military Bowl.

“It’s a big improvement from last year,” Thornhill said following the Military Bowl. “I feel like this was an opportunity just to get better, but I don’t want to say it’s a good season cause it’s a lot more in the tank and we have a lot more things to work on. It’s acceptable, but we have a lot of things to work on.”

If Twitter is any indication, Thornhill remains on the path of not just becoming one of the team’s best players, but also one of the team leaders in 2018.

Thornhill has shown he can play cornerback. Don’t be surprised if he’s back on the outside soon should injuries strike again, and if he is I expect he’ll turn in another rock-solid performance. If the corners can stay healthy, though, Thornhill will be able to show off his impressive combination of range, anticipation, closing speed, and tackling ability at what may be his best position. As a result, Virginia could boast one of the top defensive backfields in the conference and possibly the country.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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