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Eric Peterson, Published August 19 2013

Thorton's focus on playing linebacker for Bison

Fargo - Esley Thorton has a different look when he’s playing linebacker – and it has nothing to do with the 20 pounds he’s added to his frame since last season.

The North Dakota State junior is now a year into his transition to defense.

Thorton moved from quarterback to linebacker last August. He is starting to feel like he’s growing into the position.

“It’s definitely been a 180 from last year to this year,” said Thorton, who was an all-state quarterback at Bismarck High School. “I was kind of a like a newborn calf last year on the field. Now, this year I feel like I fit in.”

Thorton is looking more like a bull this fall camp, and he’s expected to give the Bison quality depth at outside linebacker.

“He is an integral part of our defense right now,” said defensive coordinator Chris Klieman. “Give the credit to Esley. He’s changed his body. He’s gotten bigger. He’s gotten faster.”

The 6-foot-3 Thorton is listed on the roster at 226 pounds. He was listed at 207 a season ago.

“He’s put on about 20 pounds of lean muscle mass,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said. “He’s carrying better weight, heavier weight.”

Thorton spent his first seasons at NDSU – including his redshirt year – at quarterback before making the move to defense. He played some defense in high school as a defensive back.

Klieman said Thorton has been able to play faster this fall because he’s getting better at his reads, diagnosing plays faster.

“This defense is based on speed,” Klieman said. “Not only just your out-and-out speed, but understanding where you fit within the defense so you can play the game fast.”

The Bison return all three starting linebackers from last season. Senior Grant Olson starts in the middle. Juniors Carlton Littlejohn and Travis Beck man the outside spots.

“You’re always trying to measure to starters … so they are kind of where I want to set my standard,” Thorton said. “I want to perform as well as those guys do. They’re all great players. It’s definitely a high standard.”

The Bison could also get some depth at linebacker from two true freshmen. Bohl said Nick DeLuca of Omaha will play this season. Bohl added Pierre Gee-Tucker of Belleville, Ill., will “more than likely” not take a redshirt season.

At 6-3, 237 pounds, DeLuca is slated to play a backup role at middle linebacker.

“He’s 230-some pounds, he carries his weight well,” Bohl said. “He’s shown really well on special teams. … His main role right now would be special teams.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com