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Big Ten Media Days: Michigan State’s Payton Thorne isn’t afraid to hold teammates accountable

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and Thorne discussed how the quarterback has taken strides and improved this offseason.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pitt v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Big Ten Football Media Days have officially come and gone. Michigan State football is coming off of an 11-2 season with a Peach Bowl victory over Pittsburgh in 2021.

However, head coach Mel Tucker doesn’t care too much. In his televised press conference at Big Ten Media Days, he stated, “We did some good things, but nobody cares what you did last year.” He emphasized that what his team does now is most important.

One topic of conversation on Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was quarterback Payton Thorne, who threw for 3,233 yards in 2021, and had a program-record 27 touchdown passes. Thorne has made some great strides this offseason, but most notably, Tucker made it clear that the offense’s emerging leader has focused on holding his teammates accountable.

It’s a skill that every great quarterback needs; Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all quarterbacks that developed that skill.

“He’s gotten out of his comfort zone,” Tucker said of Thorne. “(Thorne) has really worked hard to be an extension of the coaching staff...I don’t believe there’s anyone that will out-compete him on our team.”

Specifically regarding Thorne’s attention-to-detail in practice, Tucker started to explain a drill:

“If we’re going to run sprints, and everyone’s toes are supposed to be behind the line, and not on the line, he sees it and he’s going to stop that. He’s gonna stop the drill and say ‘No, get your foot back.’ That seems like something that’s insignificant, but somebody’s gotta do that. If not a player, then it’s going to be a coach.”

During Michigan State’s Media Days appearance on Wednesday, both wide receiver Jayden Reed and safety Xavier Henderson were very high on Thorne’s leadership. I actually almost stepped in front of Big Ten Network’s camera while re-enacting Tucker’s aforementioned drill example on Lucas Oil Stadium’s field for Henderson.

Thorne said it helps that he is Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback this offseason. Last year, it was challenging for him to get players to respect him as a captain of the offense because it wasn’t yet cemented that he would start day one. This year, there is no question about Thorne’s role with the team.

“It gives me the opportunity to work with our guys a little bit differently,” Thorne adds. “I can say stuff to guys and they know, ‘OK, this is our quarterback telling me this,’ and not, ‘This is maybe our quarterback telling me this.’”

Reed and Henderson both agree that having someone like that on your team is vital to success.

“You’ve gotta have guys around you that are going to push you,” Reed mentioned. “Being around guys like him makes other people want to be great as well.”

Thorne’s offense returns several starters, including Reed, who Thorne has played with since middle school. Now the senior receiver and junior quarterback will push even further to help build a championship team in East Lansing.

MSU opens the 2022 season by playing against Thorne’s dad, Jeff Thorne, who serves as Western Michigan’s offensive coordinator, on Sept. 2. The game will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN.