There’s a new No. 11 in town and his name is Dont’e Thornton.
After former Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt frequently had the No. 11 jersey on highlight reels and in endzones across the country during the 2022 season, Oregon transfer wide receiver Dont’e Thornton is now taking the number on the field.
Thornton committed to Tennessee on Jan. 9, just less than two weeks after the Vols defeated Clemson in the 2022 Capital One Orange Bowl. The Baltimore native spent the last two years with the Oregon football program, hauling in a total of 26 receptions for 541 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games played.
Now, with Tennessee having lost both Hyatt and standout receiver Cedric Tillman over the offseason, Thornton will have an opportunity to become a playmaker for one of – if not the most – electric offenses in the country.
“He’s long,” head coach Josh Heupel said about Thornton on Monday after spring practice. “He’s got great speed, he’s got experience, he’s mature. He’s got great work habits as a guy that’s constantly up here in the meeting room. But also doing things in the indoor [facility] and trying to become the best he can.”
Repost after a Twitter ghost deleted the video from Monday morning:
Former Oregon transfer turned Tennessee wide receiver Dont’e Thornton (No. 11) at his first Vols spring camp. Smooth and fast. pic.twitter.com/JZGeJMRc1d
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 20, 2023
More from RTI: Tennessee Football Practice Highlights – Quarterbacks
Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 185 pounds, Thornton operated from both the slot and the outside positions as a receiver for the Oregon Ducks. He has scored touchdowns out of both positions, too. One of his Oregon touchdowns was a slip pass from the slot position in which he broke a tackle and outran defenders to the endzone. Another touchdown of his, against Oklahoma in the Valero bowl, came on a 66-yard go-route to the endzone from the outside of the field.
“He’s got some position flexibility,” Heupel said about Thornton. “He can play inside, can play outside. How quickly he grasps what we do offensively is going to be one of the keys for him as we go through the spring but really excited about who he is and what he’s brought to the table so far.”
As Thornton continues to go through spring camp and the offseason, the coaching staff will have a better understanding of how they want to use his size and skills to their advantage. It makes sense that Tennessee will continue to be flexible with him throughout the season considering that’s what worked with less-efficient offenses in the past. But until then, despite having the tools physically, Thornton will continue to learn the offense with how important in-game decision-making is as a Tennessee receiver.
Still, though, it wasn’t hard to see the potential that Thornton has on the field – especially when also thinking about the success that Tennessee’s wide receivers had last year.
During what was seen from practice on Monday, Thornton looked smooth, fluid, and fast while running the route trees with his quarterbacks. Thornton has a nice first step off the line and was competing hard even when just doing bare-bones skeleton routes.
The Vols will continue spring camp throughout the month as they prepare for the 2023 Orange & White game on April 15 in Neyland Stadium. That will be Tennessee fans’ first chance to see Thornton in person on Rocky Top, along with other standout newcomers such as Nico Iamaleava and Cam Seldon.
Side note: The jersey number is not necessarily confirmed to be final for the 2023 football season. Thornton wore both No. 10 and No. 2 while at Oregon, which are currently taken by wide receiver Squirrel White and running back Jabari Small, respectively.