When Thomas, the high school All-American and top-ranked recruit in the state of Michigan committed to head coach Mark Dantonio for the class of 2011, many people had a vision of how his career would play out that was much different from how it’s gone.
An elite-level defensive recruit, most expected Thomas to come in right away and dominate for three years before heading off to the NFL.
Instead, the early part of his career was filled with a redshirt, injuries, and bouncing around from multiple positions. It took time for Thomas to adjust to the collegiate level, and it was a tough transition from the dominance he displayed in high school.
“When you first come in, a lot of guys just think it’s just going to be easy coming in and playing because they dominated in high school,” Thomas said. “They don’t know that the film, you’ve got to be locked into that film, because the more you’re locked into that film room, the game is going to be easier.”
Thomas said that he didn’t take film or game preparation as seriously as he should as a young player, and felt he didn’t need to.
“I never really believed that when I first got here, but when you do take time to really sit in front of the TV screen and just break stuff down and watch it over and over again, you go ‘ok’, and everything just starts to fall in,” Thomas said. “I’ve been doing that this past winter and then last year, it’s just making it a lot easier for me this spring.”
Thomas, now a seasoned player for the Spartans, is set to be a force this season for the Spartan defensive line.
He finally overcame his injuries and started to crack the lineup late in the 2013 season, and last season, started in all 13 games at both the nose guard and defensive tackle positions.
He recorded 30 tackles and three sacks from the inside, but this year is moving out to defensive end. He is confident playing all positions, and says that he has become a student of the game.
“It’s different responsibilities, but you know, you’ve got to be a student of the game,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to be just willing to go in and get extra film work and just put in that time at home by yourself and just get your iPad and just try to learn more. The more you learn, the easier the job is going to be.”
Add that in with projected starter and sophomore defensive tackle Malik McDowell, a former five-star recruit, and the Spartans have the potential to have one of the best defensive lines in the entire country.
Thomas has all of the confidence and swagger you look for in a player, and the versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line. At 6’4 and about 295 pounds, he’s got all the tools you look for at the position.
Along with becoming a student of the game, Thomas has also put a major focus on becoming more of a leader for the defense, and he’s trying to lead by example for younger players both on and off the field.
“I always had the leadership roles when I was back in high school, being the captain of my high school team,” Thomas said. “So, when it was my turn to lead, I had to just step up and just do it. I got my younger guys that look up to me, so you’ve got to lead by example on and off the field. I just try to come here everyday and lead my younger guys and show them the right thing to do.”