If Bloomington's Kyle Thomas has his way, John Pannozzo will not be the only Hoosier to successfully make the switch from one side of the ball to the other this season.
After being recruited out of Bloomington High School North for his prowess at defensive end, Thomas has found a new home on the offensive line. Thomas was approached by new head coach Terry Hoeppner during fall camp, and Hoeppner told Thomas that his 6-4, 250-pound frame would be better suited at offensive tackle.
"Coach Hoeppner was the one who asked me to make the move at first," said Thomas. "I was surprised. My initial thought was I didn't want to do it because I love playing defense. But I was willing to do it for the team. I am glad that Coach Hep made the decision for me because I think it was in my best interest to play on the offensive line."
An athletic big man, Thomas has adapted well to the switch. After less than a month of practice, Thomas has already worked himself up to the second-string offense.
"It was a case where he was a little buried on the depth chart on defense," said offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. "We were so thin at offensive line, so it was a question of what candidates are out there. He was a kid who was receptive to it and has taken to the switch really well.
"I'm excited about him. He has a lot of potential and he's learning every day. I see him doing the techniques that we are teaching every day."
When Thomas committed to Indiana he was joining a Hoosier squad going into the third season under head coach Gerry DiNardo – a team that was forced to play underclassmen early because of a lack of depth and posted a 5-19 record in DiNardo's first two seasons.
Chances were good that after one redshirt season, Thomas would be able to compete for a spot high on the depth chart for the Hoosiers.
"It definitely helped me that I redshirted my first year," said Thomas. "I got faster and I got stronger. It really helped me get used to playing at the college tempo because it's so much different than playing in high school.
"When I started practicing on offense I still wasn't sure if I wanted to switch. But as I went along I started getting better at it. Coach Johnson has been getting me a lot of reps and the more I practice at it the more I like it."
Johnson, who is in his first season with the Hoosiers after coming with Hoeppner from Miami (Ohio), is excited about the potential of Thomas. With his 6-4 frame, Thomas still needs to add some weight and muscle to be an offensive tackle, but his work ethic and athleticism is ahead of par.
"He brings a little different demeanor to the offensive line," said Johnson. "He's coming from the defensive side, so he's aggressive. He'll hit you. He'll run his feet. One thing he does, if he makes a mistake it's 100 miles per hour. That's always good because you can teach technique and you can fix those things. The demeanor that he plays with, you can't always instill in somebody.
"He's been a pleasant surprise. He's a guy who I could see in the future really being a great offensive lineman. He has all the tools. Great feet, great athleticism, he's got that aggressive streak in him."
While Thomas is adding the mass needed to play the tackle position he is taking reps at center in case of injuries and Johnson is trying to find anywhere he can to get him in the game.
"As far as this year, I don't know how much he'll contribute," said Johnson. "But I've already had some ideas – how can I get him to contribute? Is he big enough to play offensive tackle right now? Probably not. So we have him working with the centers and quarterbacks snapping the ball, and he does a great job of that. Could he contribute at center this year? Possibly. Could he be an extra tight end and go in and block for us? Quite possibly."
Thomas knows he is only at the beginning of a journey that he hopes will land him in the starting lineup in the years to come.
"It's pretty tough pushing around those big guys in there, but I'm learning technique and getting better at it," said Thomas. "It just tells me I need to keep working hard until I make it up to the first string.
"I'm looking forward to helping this team out even more next year than I can this year. I'll be one of the guys who can give leadership until I'll be battling for a starting role."
Thomas Excited About Being Offensive
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