It’s been a long journey to get to this point.
But the wait is almost over.
Offensive lineman Hugh Thornton – who signed with the Stampeders as a free agent in April – will be making his first appearance for the Red and White on Saturday, starting in place of the injured Julian Good-Jones.
The team’s new right tackle has been patiently waiting for his name to be called and knows he has a job to do in order for Calgary to build off last week’s victory.
“I’ve been up here for a while now and luckily have had the chance to sit back and learn the game a little bit and see how it moves and (adjust to) the speed of the game,” said Thornton. “Being able to play is a big opportunity not only for me but for the team and the direction that we’re headed, bouncing back last week after a two-week losing streak. We’re trying to get on the positive side of things. I’m humbled that the team has said, ‘Hey, we want you out there’ so I’m going to do my best to help this team win a ball game.”
While Thornton is new to the three-down league, he isn’t short on professional football experience.
After starring at the University of Illinois, he was drafted in the third round by the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts and made 32 starts for the AFC South team from 2013-15.
From there, Thornton attended training camp in 2017 with the Atlanta Falcons, signed in the Alliance of American Football and tried out for Washington’s NFL squad in 2019.
Instead of focusing on his up-and-down journey to get to this point, No. 61 is embracing the path which has led him to not only a new team, but a new league up north.
“I played (games) early in my career and had a lot of success but faced a few injuries and a few things in my personal life so I had to take a step away from football,” explained the 31-year-old. “I made my way back through some unusual circumstances and routes and whatnot in a smaller league before finding my way to the CFL. I’m just excited with this go-around and where I’m at in my career. I’m having fun playing football and I love being a part of the team.”
The former high-school wrestler and heavyweight state champion in Idaho never wavered with his drive to compete despite retiring after his audition with the Falcons and being out of football since 2019.
“My goal was to play and my goal has always been to play,” affirmed Thornton. “There were times where I was questioning it and wondering if this was the right path for me and if this was what I was supposed to be doing, but obviously if I was listening to the naysayers, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Everything in his past had led him to the here-and-now: a tall order against the BC Lions on Saturday.
He certainly didn’t expect to end up in Southern Alberta, but he’s soaking it all in and is proud to be representing the White Horse.
“As soon as I got the call with the chance to come up here, I was stoked,” Thornton recalled. “Getting up here for training camp and sitting back and watching how these guys approach a season has been exciting. This is home right now and where I’m at and I’m thankful for the city of Calgary for welcoming me, and the Stampeders are a top-notch organization.”
With friends, family and ex-teammates set to tune in from states such as Texas, Idaho, Arizona and North Carolina, Thornton is grateful for everyone in his life who has been by his side and cheering for his success.
“There will probably be some people watching me on TV,” admitted Thornton with a sly smile. “Nobody at the game, but that’s kind of the way it’s always been for me. I’m just excited to have the support here and the support back home and that’s enough to keep me going.”