LANSING — One of the most accomplished and well-respected leaders in Michigan State football history faces a new challenge off the field.

Josh Thornhill, a Lansing native, and his wife, Holt native Katie Thornhill,  learned last week that their son Marcus, 5, has an aggressive, inoperable cancerous tumor in his brain. 

“It’s almost like a game plan,” Josh Thornhill said Monday night in a phone interview. “I’m trying to game-plan for the future. But it’s so hard because it’s something we’ve never dealt with before.” 

Since that Friday Facebook post revealing Marcus’ diagnosis, the Thornhills have received an outpouring of support. 

They need it, Katie Thornhill said, because Marcus is expected to start radiation in a couple weeks. He is scheduled to undergo six weeks of radiation, five days a week, followed by chemotherapy. 

Since Saturday, the support has generated nearly $20,000, ranging from online GoFundMe donations to profits from a children’s lemonade stand in New Jersey. 

“People have really rallied behind our family, and loved on us, and poured their hearts out to us,” Katie Thornhill said Monday afternoon over the phone.

All donations are expected to help cover the Thornhill family’s medical and travel expenses. The family, which includes Hannah, 12, and Isaac, 9, lives in Clarksville, Tenn. and is expected to get treatment for Marcus in Nashville, about 50 miles away. 

The GoFundMe page to help the Thornhills had raised over $18,000 by 9 p.m. Monday. On Saturday, a lemonade stand operated by the son of a former MSU player and other children in Morristown, N.J. had drawn $1,400.

The children who raised money Saturday for Marcus may reopen the stand this week so they can offer more help, said Joe Savage, one of Josh Thornhill’s former teammates.

Jaden Savage, Joe Savage’s 8-year-old son, and several kids in the neighborhood, raised $230 at the stand in four hours. Some of Joe Savage’s friends were so impressed they each contributed $460. 

“We were selling whatever we could,” Savage of Saturday’s effort. “It was really cool to have the kids know they are helping.” 

Several former MSU teammates of Josh Thornhill have posted messages of support on Facebook and his family’s GoFundMe page messages of support. 

“He was a great teammate and an even better person,” former MSU teammate Joseph Patrick wrote of Thornhill. “His family’s toughest fight is ahead of them (far tougher than any opponent he ever faced on the field).” 

Marcus Thornhill will turn 6 on July 27.

He is part of a family with ties to the Lansing region and Michigan State’s football program that date back to the mid-1960s. 

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Josh Thornill attended Lansing Eastern High School and was a four-year football letter-winner at MSU from 1998 to 2001. He was also a two-time captain under former coach Bobby Williams. 

Thornhill’s brother, Kaleb, also played at Eastern and MSU. He was four-year letterman and a team captain in 2007 under Mark Dantonio. 

“This is going to be a 12-round fight for Marcus,” Kaleb Thornhill wrote Saturday on his Facebook page, describing his nephew’s diagnosis. 

The Thornhill brothers’ father, Charles “Mad Dog” Thornhill, also was a Spartan.

Charles Thornill helped MSU to a combined record of 19-1-1, including back-to-back Big Ten and national championships in 1965 and ’66. He died in 2006 at age 62. 

For information about the Thornhill family’s online fundraiser for their son, visit gofundme.com/marcusstrong-cancer-fight

Katie Thornhill said she and her husband have tried to practice extreme patience and optimism during this difficult time. 

“We look at each other every morning and say ‘Day by day,’” she said. 

Eric Lacy is a reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Contact him at 517-377-1206 or elacy@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricLacy.

 

 

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