Recruited as a guard out of Oberlin, Ohio, Hugh Thornton was forced into a starting role at right tackle last fall as a freshman. He did an outstanding job, but the transition was harder than it appeared.
"Yeah, it was really hard. But I had help from Jon Asamoah and the other guys on the line, so that made it a lot easier."
Thornton appears to respond positively under duress.
"If they needed a play, I had to step up and be able to play."
Knowing he was able to make plays gives him a big confidence boost for the future.
"Yeah, it definitely does. It was a great accomplishment, so it definitely gives me confidence. It feels good. Adjusting to everything that's going on, I've had some experiences. I'm transitioning into the next phases of football."
Someone needed to replace third round draft pick Asamoah at guard this year, and Thornton was asked to make the move. It's a good thing he responds positively to change.
"They moved me to a weakside guard. I play next to Jeff Allen, so that's a little different. But it's a smoother transition than moving from high school to here. Position-wise it's still difficult, but I think I'm making the transition pretty well."
In essence, he must learn both guard spots as he changes sides of the ball depending on the formation.
"At first it was a little difficult. A lot of confusion in the huddle, just breaking to the strong side or weak side. But I'm kind of used to it now, so it's easier."
Thornton is also having to learn a new offense under offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Again, he is taking it all in stride with a maturity far beyond his years.
"A lot of technique differences, but the game is still the same. When you read defenses, and you see a lot of guys coming in, it's still me stepping up instead of staying on the end."
His move to guard was necessitated because of his mobility. Guards must do a lot more running than they did last year.
"I have to move a lot more. There's a lot of pulling. You have to be quicker, more agile and conditioned a little better than I needed to be last year."
To that end, Illinois linemen were required to become leaner and meaner.
"A lot of us have lost weight. We've been trying to slim down so we can get quicker and keep up with the rest of the guys. I'm down to about 300. I played at about 310-315 last year."
Working with Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez has helped him other ways as well.
"I'm a lot stronger working with Coach Lou and the conditioning team. It's been a good offseason. I've been working hard to be bigger, faster and stronger to keep up with these guys."
Winter conditioning was beneficial, but it certainly wasn't easy.
"It was different. It was pretty hard, to be honest with you. It was a hard offseason we went through, but I think it paid off."
The Sociology major is excited about the potential of the new offense.
"It's a lot different than last year. I like it, just looking at the plays and running them through in practice. The first couple scrimmages we didn't do so well execution-wise, but the plays are there. I think we're gonna have a good offense this year."
With teammate Corey Lewis suffering a knee injury that will force him to sit out the 2010 season, Thornton may be moved back to tackle in the fall. If he does, he will make another adjustment with the same confidence and maturity he has made the previous changes.