One big reason why Payton Thorne came to Auburn — and why he's now QB1
The Tigers' new starting quarterback revealed something very specific about Auburn that has been critical to his preseason success.
QB Payton Thorne (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
To understand why Payton Thorne decided to transfer to Auburn, you have to understand his football background.
Thorne is the son of a coach — and an offensive-minded one at that. Jeff Thorne played quarterback at Eastern Illinois before spending eight years as the offensive coordinator under his father John Thorne at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Illinois.
In 2001, the year Payton was born, John became the head coach at Division III school North Central, just outside of Chicago. Jeff moved to be his offensive coordinator there, too, then took over for his father in 2015.
In six seasons at North Central, Jeff compiled a dominant 66-10 record, winning four conference championships and a national title. Last year, Jeff was the offensive coordinator at FBS program Western Michigan.
“I grew up around football my whole life,” Payton said Wednesday, in his first interview session since transferring to Auburn. “I was riding the team bus with my Dad when I was like 5, sitting and watching film, sitting in meetings when I really didn't know what was going on. But I was hearing it.”
Now Payton is 22, and he’s still spending a massive amount of time in the film room.
“He's a guy you have to run out of the building,” offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery said earlier this month. “He's always watching tape. He's always studying. He'll text me, 'Hey, what do I read on this? What do I read on that? I saw this on tape, how are we progressing through this?' He wants to be on top of every detail that is involved in our offense.”
Thorne’s attention to detail has been praised from the moment he stepped onto campus at Auburn. One notable example was when he asked for a stack of papers with the names and pictures of everyone in the football program — from the coaching staff and the players to the custodial staff.
“He was trying to get to know their faces, he was trying to get to know everybody around him,” running back Damari Alston said. “I think he takes pride in just getting to know everybody around the facility, for sure.”
Even before he knew he was going to be the starting quarterback on the Plains, Thorne was constantly in contact with his coaches outside of practice hours.
As a transfer who didn’t go through spring practices, he knew he had a lot of catching up to do in a short amount of time.
“It’s impossible for you not to visit with Payton because he demands it,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I’m on my phone every day… ‘Hey, Coach, you got any free time today? Hey, Coach, you got any free time today?’ I love that about him.”
That’s just how this third-generation football mind is wired. And it also sounds like an appreciation of what he’s now getting at Auburn.