On The Plains with Payton Thorne: 'Maximize every day'

AUBURN, Ala. – Not long after entering the NCAA transfer portal in spring of 2023, quarterback Payton Thorne found himself strolling through Auburn's campus with a decision to make that proved easy for him.

“I got in (the portal) on a Sunday morning and then immediately started heading to Auburn for a visit,” Thorne said. “I spent pretty much the entire day here. I got to see campus, see the facilities, and then just get a feel for the people down here – I love the people.

“Plus just the Auburn name – it’s big-time football and in the SEC. And Coach Freeze – he’s an offensive head coach, a guy who has had success offensively and with quarterbacks. It really drew me here.”

The Illinois native, who was a three-year starter at Michigan State from 2020-22, grew up around football his entire life, with his father Jeff and grandfather John both being successful coaches. Yet Payton wasn’t allowed to start playing tackle football until he was in sixth grade.

"I used to beg my dad to let me play when I was younger, but he always said no,” Thorne said. “He didn't think I needed to get into real football yet, which ended up being true. But I've been throwing a football around with my dad since I could remember; it was like walking, honestly."

Reflecting on his journey, Thorne acknowledges the significance of every small moment in shaping his path to success. When asked about his motivation to continue playing, he emphasizes his family.

“I want to give back to them as they've given so much to me and have helped along my journey, sacrificing a lot,” he said. “It’s my duty to give back to them what they gave to me. Sometimes it's just the joy of being part of something like this, but I hope to be able to provide for my parents financially, too.”


In addition to wanting to give back to his family, Thorne believes the Lord gave him the gift of playing football and wants to glorify Him through his platform.

“I believe that God blessed me with the abilities to play this game and the other things that come along with it,” Thorne said. “I believe in working as hard as I can as if I'm doing it for Him.

“Sometimes in the weight room, it would be dragging. It's hard when you’re not playing a game anytime soon, but just thinking about number one, I had to get better. I wanted my body to be in the best shape it could be.  I'm working for the Lord and doing everything I can to glorify Him. I pray that I can maximize the gifts that He gave me and use them to the best of my ability and that He can use me to reach other people.”

Deciding to transfer to a new school can be scary, especially when coming in with the visibility of the new starting quarterback. However, Thorne, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from Michigan State, soon felt right at home at Auburn.

“When I came down here, I was told the Auburn fans were a different type of fan base,” Thorne said. “But honestly, I've seen more positive than negative. It's been cool to see the support around the football program and around myself as well. I've met a lot of great people down here. I couldn't be happier to be where I'm at and who I’m playing for.”

I'm trying to maximize every day. I've taken different steps this offseason to make sure that I can look back on every day and know that I did what I needed to do.


Quarterback Payton Thorne

Thorne highlights his time here with an unexpected pregame memory from last season.

“Before the Georgia game, I was in the tunnel doing my normal warm-up, where it's usually just me and some of the camera people getting stuff set up,” he said. “Then this massive human walks up behind me dressed in a jumpsuit. I realized it was Cam Newton. That was my first time meeting him. He came over to say what's up and good luck. That was so cool.”

To younger players hoping to eventually leap to a higher level of football, Thorne stresses the importance of keeping it fun.

“If you have fun with it, it becomes easy to work on,” Thorne said. “You're in control of having fun; you can't rely on somebody else to make it fun for you, to find joy in the work that comes with it. As you get older, there's more and more work that goes into the higher levels of football. You have to make it fun for yourself. If you rely on somebody else to make it enjoyable for you, it's not going to happen.”

As Thorne’s time at Auburn draws to a close, it was clear that sticking around for one more season was the best decision he could make.

“It was a no-brainer for me to do what I can to finish my career off the right way and then propel myself to hopefully play at the next level and give myself the best chance to succeed in that,” Thorne said. “It was a pretty easy decision.

“I'm trying to maximize every day. I've taken different steps this offseason to make sure that I can look back on every day and know that I did what I needed to do. My priority is remaining self-disciplined and trying not to think about it being my last year. I try to keep the competition mindset and compete like I always have. We'll do our best to win every game on our schedule.”

Once his time at Auburn does come to an end, Thorne is aiming to play in the NFL – a lifelong dream of his. After that, he has his options a bit more open.

“I always thought that I'd get into coaching,” Thorne said. “Having my dad and my grandpa both being coaches, I know I'd be good at it. I’m also interested in possibly getting involved in the financial industry and more specifically, the real estate industry.”

But with one more round of college football on the horizon, Thorne couldn’t be more eager for what’s in store for Auburn football in 2024.

“I'm just excited for what’s to come this year,” Thorne said. “I'm excited for the fan base and for this program.”