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October 4, 2013

Thornton shoulders more of the load

Senior defensive tackle Khyri Thornton shouldered a lot of the blame for his defense's struggles last season. He acknowledged the fact that the players didn't do all they could to stop the losing spiral that started in 2012 and continued into this year. Thornton vowed this season would be different.

But that was before.

Before the daunting three-game road stretch that left the Golden Eagles grasping at straws. Before Southern Miss became synonymous with turnovers. And before a slew of injuries knocked out some of USM's best players just four games in.

One of those injuries was to Rakeem Nunez-Roches, the Siegfried to Thornton's Roy on the defensive line and a guy who was tabbed as a potential All-Conference USA selection at the beginning of the year. Such a big loss on the defensive side of the ball (both literally and figuratively) has been a tough pill to swallow, but what the Eagles have missed more than his on-field play is Nunez-Roches' leadership in the locker room.

That's where Khyri Thornton has stepped in.

The redshirt senior from Panama City, Fla. has always been a mentor to the younger players on the team, but he has been called upon now to be a leader both with how he performs and what he says.

"Rakeem's personality is so outgoing. He has a way of bringing people with him. Khyri, although he has a great personality and leads, it's different," coach Todd Monken said. "Khyri has tried to do a better job that way. Khyri was a good player with Rakeem and he's still a good football player."

Thornton is more quiet than his gregarious friend and usually takes a lead-by-example approach that players appreciate. He doesn't just talk about it. He shows you how it's done.

"Khyri made sure this week he's been giving excellent effort and trying to lead by example," redshirt sophomore Terrick Wright said. "You have to follow that in just wanting to win because they (the older players) know what the taste of winning feels like. That's just one of my dreams. We have to win."

It seems like every single younger guy who hasn't experienced a win as a Golden Eagle is licking his chops to finally taste victory. And Thornton is there to answer their questions about how awesome that feeling truly is.

"They wanna know how it feels to win… Of course they ask me every day: how does it feel to get a ring, how does it feel to be in the spotlight, to have fans actually come to the games and everybody's parading you and congratulating you," Thornton said.

"I just try to stay humble about it because I don't really want them to get some type of jealousy but we feed that fire because we need a win. We're gonna get a win."

The way he says it invokes a confidence in the words that don't sound like they come from a player who hasn't won a game since December of 2011. But they personify the type of person and player Khyri Thornton is - confident and hungry to right the ship.

When asked if the team will finally throw the elusive monkey off its back, he cracks a thin smile and raises an eyebrow.

"Saturday I feel like we're gonna get a win."

Is it going to be close?

"No," he says, as if you don't understand what he's saying.

"I feel like we're gonna get a win."

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