Cavalier Corner

June 2018

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18 CAVALIER CORNER perience he had had at the position. "It was a lot like riding a bike. It's not easy, especially the mental part of it. The physical stuff comes pretty natural to him. It's the mental side that he's had to work at, and I've been pretty pleased with that." "When Tim got hurt," Thornhill noted, "I felt like Coach Howell didn't want to move me back to corner because he saw how I played well that first game at safety. But he also felt that it would be best for the team — and I also felt that it would be best for me to go back — because we had a guy that could step in to play that safety role. It was kind of slim at the corner spot. "I felt like it would be best for me to go back there and help the team out and not just worry about myself." The rising fourth-year attributes much of his development to the way Howell pushes him, both on and off the field. "Most people, they don't see all the things Coach Howell actually has done for me," he explained. "He's a quiet guy. He doesn't like the media or the hype, but he's a great guy. He doesn't really care about how good a player you are because he's always work- ing to make you a better player. He wants you to get better as each day goes on. "Coach Howell has been a big part of my improvement on the field. He helped me with my technique, and he always pushed me. "There are times where I'm in practice and I'm very tired, but he will keep me in there and make me play through the fatigue. He has helped me out a lot for sure." "When you have him and Bryce out there [at corner], you know they're not throwing deep," Howell said. "I felt really comfort- able that they were not going to throw the ball down the field. But at safety, I think one thing that Juan does really naturally is he has aggression. He's prone to attack, so he can get a little bit more in the mix. "And I think he'd like to. He probably has a little more of a safety's mindset, but when you put him out on the edge, he's competitive." Ask Howell whether he'd line Thornhill up at corner or safety, in an ideal world, and he'll struggle to come down one way or the other. "That's hard to say because Juan's done so well and played so well at corner," he responded. "I know everyone thinks he's a safety and this and that, but he's a pretty darn good corner, too. "I like him where the ball's going, how's that?" Howell added with a laugh. Regardless of what position he plays, Thornhill is expected to be one of the top defensive backs in the conference and the country. Pro Football Focus lists him as the fifth-best returning defensive back in the ACC and also rated him 83rd nationally. Thornhill, who said he added 10 pounds in the offseason, is now at the point in a player's college career where things shift. The days of down-the-road potential have arrived. He'll be judged this season as an upperclassman on a defense that could be special, depending on how well he plays. He's very aware of those expectations, both for him and his team. It's a reality he's always had to live in. "It's been like that my whole life," Thorn- hill said. "I really don't think about it. I just go out there and play football, and if bad things happen I just try to look past them and keep playing. "I don't try to focus on that because if you focus on it, it's just going to hurt you on the field. I just play football." After his third-year season, Thornhill did look at his options as far as submitting his name for the NFL Draft. But it was apparent to him, both in the information he got back as well as what UVA was looking to do, that it was best to stay and come back for his final season. So then comes the added pressures of being a fourth-year leader, which is exactly what the Cavaliers need. "This year, from the spring, I've chal- lenged him to be vocal," Howell said. "When Quin was here, he was directing traffic. Quin was in charge. "Now, it's time for everyone to look to Juan, and that's going to be a challenge for him. I've seen him develop in all those areas, and leadership is something that's important to develop this year. "We need him to lead. We need him to tackle extremely well. He's one of our more violent players, and we need that to rub off on to the rest of our guys — the tackling and the playmaking. We're going to play him in different roles as well, and he's going to have to fill in. We need all that from him this season." While there may be an entire summer between now and when he runs out of the tunnel at Scott Stadium again, Thornhill is ready for what he hopes is a strong finish, a winning season and a catapult to a profes- sional career where the victories continues. "It's going to be very special," Thornhill said. "I'm just trying to make the most out of it and have fun every single day, even at practice even though that's kind of difficult. "I'm just going to go out there, have fun and just enjoy it. Go play football and hope- fully everything will work out for us." Safety or corner, it doesn't much matter for the Wahoos as long as Thornhill is on the field. "Wherever he's playing," Howell said, "I want him there making tackles and covering their guys." Pro Football Focus ranks Thornhill No. 5 in the ACC and No. 83 nationally among returning defensive backs for the 2018 season. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA "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." UVA DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/DB COACH NICK HOWELL ON THORNHILL

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