QB Clayton Thorson’s calm demeanor earns trust from Northwestern coaches, teammates

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Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson drops back to pass during a Wildcats practice in August, 2015.

EVANSTON – For just a second, it was OK for him to be a little giddy.

Even if that mean this Northwestern redshirt freshman quarterback would go away from his trademark attitude for just a little bit.

“It was exciting,” said Clayton Thorson when he was told that he would be the starting quarterback for the Wildcats last week. “Sitting in the room and he told us.”

Yet his excitement over winning the starting job over senior Matt Oliver and sophomore Matt Alviti was still tempered by some calm. After all, the guys who finished second and third in the running were right next to him in the room when his good news was delivered.

“Obviously feel for the other guys. They’re my friends,” said Thorson. “But at the same time I was determined to go. I knew it was my time to be the quarterback and I’m just excited to keep getting to work with these guys week in and week out.”

It’s that veteran perspective-A.K.A calm-that might have been the thing that earned the redshirt freshman the job, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Jitters and hypertension are not qualities desired for a man leading the offense-and Thorson doesn’t have a problem with either.

“From what I’ve seen in practice he’s pretty unflappable,” said Fitzgerald of Thorson. “I don’t think he puts too much stock in any specific play. He just tries to go out and play his best on every rep. That shows a little bit more maturity than a redshirt freshman typically shows. Usually their body language and their attitude are too high or too low based on the success of the play.

“He’s pretty calm and he’s got a pretty calm demeanor. He’s a talented guy but he’s got a pretty calm demeanor.”

So how did he get it? We'll Thorson said it was developed growing up in Wheaton not only as a standout player for North High School but also at home. He also got some help from his neighbor-former NFL quarterback Kent Graham-which help to develop a solid mindset along with skillset to move forward in the sport.

"Kent was a big part of that and my parents were as well. It's just about not getting to high or two low," said Thorson of his calm demeanor. "I was talking about it with Coach (Northwestern quarterbacks coach Mick) McCall this morning, you've got to go to the next play. Bad plays are going to happen on Saturday, I'm gonna mess up but you've got to go to the next play.

"If you're too high or too low, it doesn't matter. You've got another play. You just keep playing, there's another play. We're gonna run a lot o plays on Saturday. You've just got to keep a level head."

It helped Thorson become a success at Wheaton North where he was the sixth-rated dual threat quarterback in the country according to Rivals.com. He threw for 2,809 yards and 29 touchdowns while also rushing for 630 and 12 scores on the ground.

Thorson was on the bench watching last year watching Trevor Siemian during the 2014 season while his teammates watched him grow slowly. Starting this spring, that progress sped up.

"Last year we could see all the raw talent that he has on the field and everything. But this year what was awesome about this camp and this offseason was watching him really grow into a leader and taking control of this offense," said tight end Dan Vitale of Thorson. "People respect him more than anyone on the team.

"That's the biggest thing that factored into this quarterback battle is who could earn the trust of the team, lead us and take control and take care of the football at the same time."

Saturday is his first chance to do that in real game action and he'll have his hands full. Northwestern welcomes 21st-ranked Stanford to Ryan Field for an 11 A.M. kick as the Wildcats start the road toward ending a two-year bowl game drought.

He'll have guys like thousand-yard rusher Justin Jackson to help him out. The running back believes Thorson will do the same with his many talents-including his attitude.

"His calm demeanor out there. I trust him out there when I'm out there next to him. I'm calm too," said Jackson. "He's knows what he's doing and he knows what everybody else is doing as well so that makes it a lot easier for us as running backs and receivers and lineman out there.

"He can make some big plays, man. He's got a cannon for an arm and he can move."

Plus stay calm in everything he might do.

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