Hugh Thornton started nine games for Illinois this past season at weakside guard. However, he missed the last half of the Penn State game and all the Michigan and Wisconsin games due to a knee injury. Those were crucial games for the Illini season, and his absence no doubt contributed to the losses. He explains what happened.
"I had a cartilage tear, but it was removed and I feel good now."
He started the season finale at Minnesota, but he needs more conditioning work.
"I still need to get stronger, but that comes with the territory. So I'm getting in the training room to get it better, and I'm getting in a lot of practice with my teammates. So it's good."
Thornton is grateful to be back playing first string with the Illini.
"I feel great, getting back out here after the knee and everything."
Most offensive linemen eschew individual glory, and Thornton is no exception. He prefers to analyze his team's play, not his own.
"I wasn't gauging my season on how I was doing individually. There were times where we came out and played the way we can play, and there were other times that weren't up to our standards. My first thing is always team. We missed some opportunities, but I think we did pretty well as a team this year."
Does he have any idea what happened to the Illini offense, so potent through the first six games but lethargic the final six?
"I can't put my finger on it. I don't exactly know what happened. But we're wiser now, and we'll try to finish the season real strong."
The Ohioan shared things he's improved upon this year and what he needs to work on before next season.
"I've improved most on understanding the game of football, reading defenses, scheming and understanding the playbook. I've definitely gotten into the playbook more this year. My missed assignments went down tremendously. I hope to improve even more before next season.
"I want to work more on fundamentals. Zone blocking, technique things I'm looking to improve on."
The 6'-5", 310 pounder won't discuss the UI coaching situation. He isn't familiar with new head man Tim Beckman, but he will work hard regardless who is the coach.
"We're excited to be out here playing football, regardless of the coaching issues."
Thornton is pleased to be playing in his second straight bowl game.
"It's a bowl game, we're going to California and playing in a baseball stadium. So I'm excited. It's a great opportunity to show the world what we're made of and what we stand for.
"It's a great team, and we're excited to go out and face them (UCLA) in a bowl."