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Altavista, UVA grad Juan Thornhill gets second chance at Super Bowl glory with Chiefs after ACL injury

Thornhill missed Super Bowl LIV after tearing his ACL in Week 17 of the 2019 season as a rookie.
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 10:22 PM EST
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ALTAVISTA, Va. (WDBJ) - For Altavista native Juan Thornhill, this Sunday is about a second chance.

“This whole offseason, in my mind, I was just thinking that we were gonna’ get back to the Super Bowl,” the Kansas City Chiefs safety said. “There was no other option.”

For the second year in a row, the Chiefs’ sophomore safety is going back to the Super Bowl.

But his role in this year’s title game couldn’t be more different.

“The part that hit me the most is when they ran out of that tunnel,” Thornhill said, recalling Super Bowl LIV. “When they ran out of the tunnel, I was standing front row screaming for ‘em, and then after that, it was just like, it hit me super hard and I shut down.”

Thornhill tore his ACL in week 17 of that season, ending his rookie year early and making him a spectator for Kansas City’s Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

“I know Juan was obviously disappointed, but I think everyone that cares for him and watches him were equally as devastated, for the simple fact you don’t know if you’ll ever get back again,” said Thornhill’s high school coach, Mike Scharnus.

It didn’t surprise him to see that Thornhill worked himself back into playing shape in time for the start of the season.

But the safety himself said it took a shift in mindset to get back to the player he knew he could be.

“It’s not really more about the physical capability. It’s more about my mind,” Thornhill said. “I feel like my mind was the one that was holding me back. And once we hit the playoffs, it was just— I made up my mind, just like, ‘Listen, you have a couple more games. Go as hard as you can, and everything will fall into place.’ Then like, last game I had a different mindset. Just like, if the ball comes to you, you’re going to make the play. It was just me talking to myself which lifted me up.”

Now, Thornhill says he’s back to 100%, and ready to make a difference against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And when that second chance comes this Sunday, he’ll have a Commonwealth of supporters eager to cheer him on.

“What he has accomplished out of Altavista High School and around the central Virginia area is inspirational to kids,” said Scharnus. “And I think the kids that want to play college football and are interested in moving on understand what Juan has done.”

“Just knowing my local area, there’s not a lot of guys that get this opportunity to come and play in the Super Bowl,” Thornhill said. “This is my second year in the NFL and my second time going to the Super Bowl. So it means a lot to me just being able to represent the state of Virginia and have a local guy on there that a lot of guys and kids will notice my face. It’s great just to be able to be that guy to represent his hometown.”

Tune in to Super Bowl LV between the Chiefs and Buccaneers on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on WDBJ7.

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