Sheila Thornton once enjoyed watching her son Zack play soccer, but no more.
"When he was young, the game was cute," she said. "Now, the game's gotten so much more physical. A lot of times, I go to the games, but I just stay in the car."
Take one look at Zack Thornton's imposing, 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame standing in the goal mouth, however, and consider just who should be afraid.
Coach John Hughes calls Thornton "fearless" in the way he pursues opposing attackers and dives headfirst to snatch the ball from their feet.
Thornton has great leaping ability and huge hands (he can palm a basketball). He often rises above rival players on corner kicks or dangerous crosses to pluck the ball from the air. Thornton can punt the ball from the goal nearly the distance of the field.
"His punting has made him an offensive weapon, and I've been pleased with his decision-making," said Hughes. "Of the six goals we've had scored against us, I'd say maybe two were his fault. He's coming out a lot better in one-on-one situations and making those types of saves. I think he'd be a great [college] Division I player."
Thornton, a senior, recorded nine shutouts during the Patriots' 13-1-3 season a year ago for the first title in school history.
This season, Thornton directed the Patriots to a 5-0 record with as many shutouts until dropping three straight by 2-1 scores to Division IA rivals McDonough (2-0), Boys' Latin and Archbishop Curley. All three opponents were unbeaten when the Patriots played them.
A three-sport athlete at John Carroll, Thornton has played
lacrosse and soccer since he was 5. But until he came to John Carroll, he never had played on an organized basketball team.
That didn't stop him from leading last season's Patriots basketball team in rebounds and blocked shots from his forward position. As a midfielder on the lacrosse team, Thornton scored nine goals and helped the Patriots win their second consecutive MSA BB title.
Thornton's abilities come as no surprise to his father, Ernest, a former tight end at the University of Kentucky.
Hughes said he wasn't sure Thornton was ready to tackle the leader's role this season.
"He had the intensity inside of him, but he had to acquire a more vocal attitude. The key for us is that Zack has been the leader," said Hughes. "With all the seniors that we lost, I didn't think that we'd be as competitive as we are at this point."
"Last year, I was afraid to come out on crosses. I was afraid to make mistakes," said Thornton, who spent his sophomore season as a backup to Rich Pellegrini, a former All-Metro player who starts at Towson.
"My anticipation is a lot better this year. I can tell where a guy's going to shoot and react before he does."