Take a look at any of his 58 season tackles and there’s no question how junior free safety Tyler Thornton earned the nickname “Thor.”
The 5-foot, 8-inch, 182-pound free safety recalls the moment head coach Victor Santa Cruz first gave him the nickname during football camp of his freshmen year.
“I was doing good, and he just said, ‘You know, I like you. You bring the hammer. I’m gonna call you “Thor,”’” Thornton said as a smile crept across his face. “Before that, my nickname was ‘Sleepy.’”
Thornton said he earned that first nickname from Santa Cruz earlier in that same camp during team meetings.
“I was sitting like this,” Thornton said as he slumped back in his chair. “I just rubbed my eye, and as soon as I looked at him, his eyes were just looking at me with this stare.”
“I just got chewed out by Coach Santa Cruz,” Thornton said, laughing. He insisted that despite what his teammates may say, he was not falling asleep.
“After that year, going to the meetings, he always brings it up like, ‘It’s funny how you’ve come from that kid getting yelled at to where you are now,’” Thornton said.
The transition between the nicknames “Sleepy” and “Thor” is evident in the way Santa Cruz talks about Thornton.
“He’s willing to look at the man in the mirror and challenge that person to grow emotionally, maturity-wise and in responsibility,” Santa Cruz said. “He wants to succeed. I’m very impressed with his tenacity and will as a person, but also his humility in that he realizes he’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s always trying to grow.”
Defensive coordinator Brian Willmer describes Thornton as a fighter who, despite never being the big guy, is the one who says, “I’m the strongest guy out there.”
“Sometimes you meet guys like that who are always trying to prove something. He’s not trying to prove something. This is who he is, and this is how he plays,” Willmer said. “As a football player, he’ll knock you to the ground. As a man, he’ll reach down, he’ll lift you up, he’ll smile at you, very soft-spoken, and he’ll be ready to knock you down again the next play.”
Thornton said his biggest influence and support comes from his mother, Adonna Macon.
After his sophomore year of high school, Macon took a job opportunity in San Diego, but allowed Thornton and his older sister to stay at their home in Bakersfield so that he could continue to play football.
“She would work Friday and then right after work drive to Bakersfield to see me play,” Thornton said. “I appreciate what she did. She’s been my support all this time.”
Macon moved back to Bakersfield for health issues after Thornton came down to APU. However, she has yet to miss any of her son’s games. She even flew out to a game in St. Louis.
“If I could do anything, it’d probably be something for my mom, honestly. Make things better for her,” Thornton said.
In addition to his position at free safety, Thornton also returns kicks and punts, averaging 18.3 yards per kick return and 10.7 yards per punt return.
He earned First Team All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honors as a defensive back as well as the Second Team All-Conference kick returner nod in the 2012 season as a sophomore.
“With a whole year to go, I think he can be one of our football program’s best,” Santa Cruz said.