Illinois cornerback Miami Thomas starred as a replacement for Vontae Davis in the impressive win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in their Horseshoe in 2007. That win propelled the Illini to the Rose Bowl and made Thomas' name a household word.
Unfortunately, his shoulder was not 100% even then, and continued problems with it forced him to consider sitting out last year to have surgery. He chose to gut it out, but he then endured a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and was forced to shut down for the entire 2008 season. He had extra reason to be excited about the beginning of fall practice.
"Me and Donsay (Hardeman) have been waiting for this moment for so long. It means alot. We've been talking about this while we've been training. We couldn't wait until summer camp, and it's finally here. It feels good to be here."
He admits to some initial trepidation.
"I was a little nervous actually. I'm not too nervous too many times. When I was in the locker room getting dressed, I was like man, I hadn't done this in so long. I was nervous to go out and have a full practice. But once I got back out here with the guys, talking, I was fine. The coaches were not showing favoritism just because I was out. They still get on me. I like that."
The knee surgery was first on the docket, with the shoulder surgery put off until winter. But the shoulder appears to have recovered quicker.
"It took so long. My knee was more difficult than my shoulder. I had to do a lot of running, and there were a lot of hard, tough days. There were days where I cried. I felt like I was never gonna get better. It just feels so good to get past those two things and be able to come out here and contribute to the team. Make it a winning season."
Thomas did some noncontact drills in the spring, but he limped through them. He is now cleared for full contact, although the knee still barks on occasion.
"It's close to 100%. If I had to give a percentage, I'd say it's 95%. There are still some things I feel kind of uncomfortable doing. But it's way better. In spring I was probably at 50% compared to how I feel now. I can open up, I can run with speed now.
"I built leg strength, and I built my upper body strength. I just feel I'm bigger and stronger. I'm up to 178 pounds. I was at 180 a week ago. I'm feeling great."
Thomas has made a quick recovery from shoulder surgery. Even though he couldn't work the upper body weights for awhile, he has more than compensated recently.
"My shoulder is definitely stronger than it was. I benched 225 nine times. Before the surgery, it was 3-4 times. My upper body strength is alot stronger, my lower body strength is alot stronger and faster."
The Chicago Morgan Park product may be the Illini's most natural cornerback, so it will help considerably if he is healthy the whole season. He was winded from the heat at practice Saturday, but he's ready for Camp Rantoul. He isn't even worried about hitting someone with his surgically repaired shoulder.
"Not really. I'm more of a tackler than a hitter. So I'll make sure to get the tackle and get the person down. I never really had trouble with my shoulder. I didn't think about it at all when I was out here."
It was fortunate for Thomas that Strength & Conditioning coach Lou Hernandez was on his side.
"Yeah, it helped. He stretched us past our limit, especially someone like me because I have that limit. He made sure he pushed me past it. I appreciate him doing it for me as well as the team. There's a lot of players that have that limit, and he made sure we went way past it. He added some things to the program this year that were very helpful to the squad."
With his injury woes behind him, Thomas is now focused on the future. He sees big things ahead for the Illini.
"The sky's the limit. Coach always says this is the best attitude team he's been around. I see it too. I know last year and the Rose Bowl year, the talent. But we have this talent. If we work hard, the sky's the limit for this team."