Trieu: Michigan State flips 'gunslinger' QB Payton Thorne from Western Michigan

By Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News

Naperville (Ill.) Central quarterback Payton Thorne is the latest commitment for Michigan State and filled a key need for the Spartans as Wednesday’s Early Signing Period approaches.

Thorne was committed to Western Michigan, before flipping to MSU.

Naperville (Ill.) Central quarterback Payton Thorne committed to Michigan State on Friday.

"I would like to thank Western Michigan University for the opportunity they gave me," Thorne tweeted. "I can't thank Coach Lester, Coach Evans, and the rest of the coaching staff enough for what they've done for me and how they treated me. ... However, over the past couple of months, I have gathered new information that I did not have prior to the verbal commitment I made in May. 

"This has been a very difficult decision, but after talking with my family and close friends I have decided that it's in my best interest to decommit from WMU. I will be committing to Michigan State University!"

After a prolific career that began at Aurora (Ill.) Metea Valley and concluded with two seasons at Naperville Central, it should not be a surprise that the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Thorne was coveted. He passed for more than 7,000 yards and 83 touchdowns in his career, and ran an offense at Central that will have him very prepared to play at the next level, as those yards came on a variety of passes.

“Obviously he has all the physical tools that you want in a high school quarterback,” Central head coach Michael Stine said. “He can make a 60-yard throw, throw a 20-yard deep out, he can throw swing passes, passes with touch, he has all of that ability and he can make reads and run the ball.”

He comes from a football family. His grandfather, John Thorne, is a legendary high school coach. His father Jeff Thorne played collegiately at Eastern Illinois and is now the head coach at North Central College. Their football acumen has certainly been passed down.

“What really sets Payton apart from the quarterbacks I’ve coached, and we’ve had some really good ones here, is his football IQ,” Stine said. “His football IQ is way advanced for a high school kid. His grandfather is a hall of fame coach and his father is a college coach, so for his age, his understanding of the game is remarkable. He can dissect a defense, break down film, and knows what to do to attack a defense.”

More: Payton Thorne profile

Stine said having Thorne on his roster was like having an extra assistant coach, but he knew what the young man was capable of before he even came to Naperville Central.

“His sophomore year, we played against him, then he moved here his junior season,” Stine said. “We knew what he did against us his sophomore year at a rival school and we were lucky to get out of that with a victory, They probably deserved to win as they outplayed us, but it was very obvious what he could do.”

Even as a sophomore in that game, Thorne was making checks at the line of scrimmage. Stine noted how the game seemed to slower for him in terms of his ability to process and make reads.

Once he had a chance to coach Thorne, he also discovered the confidence it takes to play quarterback at a high level.

“He has what I describe as a gunslinger mentality,” Stine said. “A Brett Favre-type of mentality where he is not afraid to throw it deep or into a tight window, but with him, he would give his receivers a chance to make a play, but he would make a 50-50 ball more like 70-30 in your favor because he is extremely accurate and has a strong arm.”

In the classroom, Thorne carries a 3.8 grade-point average, and is described as well-liked by teachers and students.

“If you had a son, you would want him to grow up to be like Payton,” Stine said.

Stine’s father is a legendary coach himself. Everett Stine won 222 games at Byron High School. Having a family tree of extremely successful coaches is just one of the ways he and Thorne formed a bond over the last two years.

“He and I are a lot alike,” Stine said. “Partly because our fathers were both football coaches, we understood each other a lot. I am going to miss him a lot. He is the type of All-American kid you hope to get to coach in your career, but don’t get very often.”

Thorne was named Player of the Year by both the Naperville Sun and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at