After losing four key defensive players to the NFL draft, the University of Louisville football program will turn this season to senior linebacker Stacy Thomas for leadership and experience on defense.
Thomas will be expected to help the new guys adapt to new roles while also learning the terminology and play-calling of new Louisville defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon.
“We’ve lost a lot of productivity with Keith (Kelsey) and everybody leaving so people have to step up,” Thomas said. “I’ve had a couple coaches and teammates tell me that I need to step up and be a leader, so I feel like I can become a leader this spring.”
Former University of Louisville linebacker Keith Kelsey led the team in tackles over the past two seasons. He was one of the four defensive starters who graduated after last season. Thomas was second on the team in tackles (85) last season, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 49 solo tackles. He also recorded one interception and one sack. As the returning leader in tackles, Thomas will be a focal point of the new defensive unit.
Inside linebackers coach Cort Dennison, who coached the secondary last season, says that his unit has looked to Thomas to be a vocal leader.
“He’s the quarterback of the defense,” Dennison said. “He’s the guy out of my group who has had a lot of playing time. Not only is he a senior, he has made a lot of plays. When you make plays, people look up to you.”
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Thomas says that part of being a leader on defense is knowing where everyone needs to be on the field.
“I just want to be a leader,” Thomas said. “Being the middle linebacker, I’m the quarterback of the defense. I not only need to learn my position, but everyone else’s too and then make sure everyone is in position when the play starts.”
The departures of Kelsey, Devonte Fields, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and DeAngelo Brown left holes in the Louisville defense, but Thomas is confident that guys will step up to fill those positions.
“This will be my second full year playing so I still feel like I have to prove myself to everybody, Thomas said. “Last year we had a lot of big names on the team still, so this year I have to improve.”