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Linebacker takes over family business

April 15, 2004
MSU freshman linebacker Kaleb Thornhill, right, breaks through the defense during a drill at football practice Tuesday at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building.

Thornhill, a name synonymous with MSU football.

Throughout the program's history, three Thornhills - all related - have worn the Green and White at the linebacker position. Of the three, former Spartans linebacker Josh Thornhill probably rings a bell in current Spartans fans' memories. But it is his father, Charlie "Mad Dog" Thornhill, who is the original Thornhill, beginning the lineage of great Spartans linebackers in his family until this day.

Enter redshirt freshman whip linebacker Kaleb Thornhill, Charlie's youngest son, who is excited to finally get his chance to play in Spartan Stadium next fall, after playing last season as a member of the scout team. During spring practice, Kaleb is slated No. 2 on the depth chart behind junior WHIP linebacker Seth Mitchell.

"Watching my brother play, I'm just anxious to play," Kaleb Thornhill said. "You get goose bumps in the stands wanting to get down there, so it's definitely a long time coming."

Thornhill still has some time to wait before he takes in his first action on the playing field; the Spartans' first game is Sept. 4 at Rutgers. But with the current situation in the linebacking corps, which is very thin, Thornhill will be needed on the field that fall afternoon.

"We've always been really thin at linebacker, so it's really important that we stay healthy and that Kaleb and (sophomore) Dave (Herron Jr.) pick up on things quickly," senior mike linebacker Ronald Stanley said. "If we do have trouble with our health, then they can fill in for us."

Mitchell and Stanley now are veterans on the team. Last season, Mitchell finished with 103 tackles, while Stanley had 101, placing both players at second and third, respectively, on the team behind senior free safety Jason Harmon, who finished with a team-leading 108 tackles.

As the most experienced linebackers, Mitchell and Stanley are mentors to Thornhill, and both were impressed early on with the 19-year-old's ability.

"You know, he's picking up on things real fast, and he's really impressed me," Stanley said. "He looks real good in his techniques, so he's coming along real well, and hopefully he'll be able to help us in the fall."

Backing up Mitchell will be an important task for Thornhill. With Mitchell finishing second on the team in tackles last season, his importance to the team has been well-documented. But Thornhill doesn't have to worry about stepping up to Mitchell's statistics but rather stepping in for him as a starter in case Mitchell's chronic knee troubles resurface during the season. Mitchell said his knees feel better after gaining strength and losing weight, and his expectation for the 2004 season is to be on the field for as many snaps as possible.

"One thing I'm shooting for this year is to stay on the field a lot more," Mitchell said. "In the past, I've had knee trouble, and my knees are feeling better as of now, so that was one of my goals, to stay on the field more."

Filling in for Mitchell undoubtedly will merit pressure on such a young athlete, but the family name might be Kaleb Thornhill's biggest adversary throughout his career.

"It puts some pressure on me, you know, but I try to remember that. It's my time. It's going to be hard to follow in their footsteps," Kaleb Thornhill said of his father and brother.

"I just try to come out and work as hard as I can and try not to worry about the pressure that's put on me. I'm trying to live up to the expectations. Hopefully, I do, but I'm trying to leave my own legacy as well."

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