Naperville Central grad Thorne has high hopes at Michigan State
As much as he'd love to be slinging a football in East Lansing, Payton Thorne is actually a dream quarantine quarterback.
It dates back to his time as a child watching his father and grandfather break down film as coaches at North Central College. It continued through Thorne's studious days as a game-changing talent at Naperville Central.
Thanks to a history of being a high-IQ quarterback, Thorne thrived the last few months with film work and in Zoom meetings while stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Thorne drove up to Michigan State last weekend, he was more than prepared to compete for the starting quarterback position in his upcoming redshirt freshman season.
"I think it's been a blessing in disguise for me," he said. "With no practice we've been able to go into such deep detail about everything. It's really helped me. I feel the smartest I've ever been football-wise. My knowledge of the game definitely took a step forward during this time."
For many reasons, it'll be an interesting season at Michigan State.
The Spartans welcomed a new coaching staff after the surprise resignation of Mark Dantonio in early February. Mel Tucker was hired as head coach shortly after, and Jay Johnson's hiring as offensive coordinator followed in late February.
Add in the graduation of starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, now on the New England Patriots, and there's a lot to keep an eye on this preseason.
Thorne will be competing for the starting spot primarily with junior Rocky Lombardi and sophomore Theo Day in a crowded quarterback room. Thorne was able to meet with Johnson only a few times before the pandemic canceled spring football and closed the campus, so the last few months of virtual work has been a crucial training ground for a new system.
It's fed directly into Thorne's strength.
"It's about the little things in football," he said. "We've been very detailed in everything we've done. I really like what they've put into the offense, and I'm thankful to have coach Johnson with us. I can't wait to get on the field with him."
Thorne has created a buzz at Michigan State ever since he decommitted from Western Michigan and chose the Spartans over North Carolina State. He was an all-state honoree his senior year at Naperville Central in 2018, throwing for 3,079 yards and 40 touchdowns against one of the state's toughest schedules.
Lewerke's return last year made it an easy decision for Thorne to redshirt during his true freshman season. Working on the scout team with fellow Naperville Central graduates Jayden Reed and Cade McDonald helped him adjust to the next level.
They've also been able to work out together during the lockdown the last few months.
"It was an interesting transition but it's been fun being able to create our own schedule," Thorne said. "We know each other so well. It's been great for us."
It'll be a little while before Thorne and the other quarterbacks start throwing footballs. All the players have to be tested for COVID-19, then quarantined for a week, then tested again.
After that they'll work out in pods of 10 or fewer and finally get down to the work of throwing to receivers.
Thorne might thrive in study hall, but it's just about time to start slinging.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," he said. "We've done a lot of talking about the Xs and Os, and that's obviously important, but I'm excited to apply it and get rolling with my teammates."