Bloomington – As much as the IU coaching staff has enjoyed seeing its 2009 recruiting class in action during the last two weeks, there's a group of players they've probably been even more excited about.
That's the handful of veteran starters that were sidelined during the tail end of last season and/or spring practice. Almost to a man they're back on the field, ready to make every effort to put the disappointment of last season in the rear view mirror.
One of those players is senior strong safety Austin Thomas. After leading IU in tackles with 112 during the Insight Bowl season, Thomas was limited to six games and five starts a year ago, first being sidelined with a lower leg injury that hindered him in the non-conference season. That was followed by a ACL tear in the Northwestern game that required season-ending surgery.
"It is tough anytime you have to sit aside," Thomas said. "You put in so many months in the year just to play 12 or 13 games, that was disappointing."
But the 6'2", 221-pounder from Woodstock, Ga., is now back and back to 100 percent. The surgery kept Thomas sidelined throughout spring practice, but he said he began to feel back to normal once summer workouts began in May and he's been full go throughout fall camp.
"Ever since May I've competed in everything," Thomas said. "I feel great. I'm excited to get the season started."
One benefit of getting the season started is to put the disappointment of last season behind them. Big things were expected of IU after it had made its first bowl game in 14 years, but things unraveled virtually from the start. The end result was nine losses in their final 10 games, an experience Thomas has no desire to repeat this fall.
While there are plenty of third-party observers that aren't expecting a huge turnaround this season, there are reasons for optimism. A strong ensemble of skill position players on offense could make the offense better than many think, and the defense returns a handful of proven playmakers. With players like Will Patterson, Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton, Matt Mayberry and Nick Polk back, IU appears to have the personnel to be much improved on the defensive side.
"It will be interesting to find out how good we can be (on defense)," Thomas said. "I think the sky is the limit. It's as hard as we want it, as bad as we want it, and as hard as we go."
When it comes to going hard, Thomas contends that won't be an issue with this group. Like the rest of his teammates Thomas isn't about to make a prediction on exactly how many games Indiana will win this season, but he is willing to say effort won't be an issue.
"I can tell you we'll play harder, that's for sure," Thomas said. "Coming off a disappointing season where you don't reach expectations, you want it more. I can speak for everyone that they do, too. Watching them in the weight room and on the field, you can see that."
No Shortage of Expectations for Thomas
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