Cavalier Corner

June 2018

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JUNE 2018 17 for loss, 0.5 sacks, 12 passes broken up and four interceptions on the way to third-team All-ACC honors. "With Juan, maybe as much as anybody, you could see his athleticism, and he was eager right away," UVA defensive coor- dinator and defensive backs coach Nick Howell said. "You could see it in the winter workouts. "You could see that he had a good mind- set. He was going to try hard, and he had the measurable stuff, too. As far as athleticism, you could see it." With fourth-year Tim Harris returning at corner last fall and fourth-year Quin Bland- ing back at safety, Howell had planned to move Thornhill to safety and allow him to learn the ropes next to Blanding. But Harris broke his wrist in the first game of the year, and with more options at safety than corner Howell's best course of action was to ask Thornhill to move back to corner … again. "It's a little challenging," Thornhill said. "I had to learn multiple positions, but at the same time I feel like it's helping me for the future, like in the NFL, because I can move around and play multiple positions. "In college when I'm moving around playing all these positions, like when I'm at safety, I know exactly what the corner's doing. That's just helping me out on the field and allows me to make more plays. I know what my corner's going to do so I can help or I can shade towards another corner. I think it's an advantage for me." "Juan has been a willing worker, though not even willing because that's not the right word," Howell explained. "It's like he seeks. He wants to be good, and he pushes himself physically. He practices hard every day, he has a competitive mindset, and I've seen all of it improve this past year." With eventual defensive rookie of the year Brenton Nelson in that safety spot, Thornhill shined at corner opposite second- year Bryce Hall. Had it not been for a quad injury that slowed him at times during the latter part of the season, Thornhill likely would have posted even more impressive numbers. "His skill set is one that allows him to do so many things," Howell said. "It hasn't been easy because it's a lot of learning, and that stuff kind of goes on behind the scenes. He's been able to get detailed and become a master of what he's trying to accomplish. I'm hoping this year that he takes another big jump just because of maturity and the time he's put in. "Last year, Juan had gotten so comfort- able at corner, and he worked really hard to get to safety. I think things were coming. It was good and everything, and it was easier to go back to corner because of all that ex- Thornhill earned third-team All-ACC honors after compiling 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 12 passes broken up and four interceptions last year. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA BY BRAD FRANKLIN W HEN JUAN THORNHILL ROAMED THE HALLS AT Altavista (Va.) High School, the future Virginia defen- sive back was someone accustomed to winning. On both the football field and the basketball court, Thornhill carved out a reputation for being a part of victorius teams. The Colonels won back-to-back 1A state titles on the gridiron and picked up three championships on the hardwood during his career. So it was quite an adjustment for Thornhill, a longtime UVA fan and eventual signee, when he arrived in Charlottesville and won just four games in his first two seasons combined. However, he's turned that adversity into something positive, learning a number of different roles leading into a fourth-year season in which he figures to be one of the ACC's best defensive backs. "Coming out of high school, winning was just natural. I wasn't used to losing at all," Thornhill said. "Once I got to UVA, we had two losing seasons, and I wasn't happy with it. But then last year, we finally made it to a bowl game. "We still didn't finish the way that I expected — we really wanted to win that bowl game. We still have a lot of work to do, so we can at least get back to that place and finally win that bowl game or have a better season than we had this past year." It'll be tough for Thornhill to personally have a better season than he did in 2017. After arriving on Grounds set to play safety, he was moved to cornerback. And then once he seemed destined to play safety again, another injury forced him back to corner. He made the most of it, though, fin- ishing with 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles

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