"Two-way monster".

During spring football, Travis Thomas heard the words no athlete in any sport wants to hear. Coach wants to see you in his office. "Automatically, I'm thinking something is wrong because coach doesn't usually call you into his office unless something is wrong," Thomas said at Notre Dame's media day Sunday afternoon.

Thomas wasn't in any kind of trouble. Head coach Charlie Weis just had a proposition for his No. 2 tailback and special teams' captain. It was a proposition that could lead to Thomas playing most of the game this upcoming season.

"He asked me what did I play in high school. I said basically everything," Thomas explained. "He asked me how would I feel if he asked me to play linebacker. I said I have to think about it, but if you feel that is the best thing for me and the coaching staff feels the same way, I will seriously consider it."

In what could eventually be the best thing for the Irish defense, Thomas accepted Weis' proposal after roughly two weeks of deliberation. He will begin fall camp Monday as a weakside linebacker/running back.

"I've created a two-way monster here," Weis cracked.

Weis has stressed that the 6-foot, 218-pound Thomas is one of the top-22 players on the Irish roster, and he wants to give the senior a chance to start. If he fails to seize the opportunity, he would probably move Thomas back to running back.

If everything works out well and Thomas proves to be a starter on defense, he will be a threat in all facets of the game. He will still play special teams, and depending on the growth of freshmen running backs James Aldridge, Munir Prince and Luke Schmidt, Thomas could still spell starter Darius Walker in the backfield.

Thomas' familiarity with the offensive playbook allows Weis to experiment with him just on defense to start fall camp. If anything were to happen to Walker, Thomas in that event would move back to tailback. In that role last season, Thomas gained 248 yards, scoring five touchdowns, including 52 yards and a touchdown against No. 1 USC in his only start of the season.

"Running back is my heart but I don't have a problem playing on the other side of the ball," Thomas said. "I feel comfortable doing that. The more I can do to help this team, I am more than willing to do it."

It certainly appears the Irish need help at linebacker. With the departure of Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays, the two leading tacklers from last year's team, the Irish have significant holes to fill this fall. Nobody assumed those roles during the spring. Speed at linebacker was also a concern. Weis thought he had to do some tinkering with his roster. Thomas was an obvious in-house choice because he played safety, corner and linebacker in high school, and he has tailback speed.

A two-way standout at Washington High in Washington, Pa., Thomas made 137 tackles as an outside linebacker for the Class AA state champions to cap his prep career. The season before he had 90 solo tackles and 50 assists at strong safety.

"When you have a kid, it's his fourth year in the program, and a great athlete and is a backup, and you look at your linebacker position and you see that you are not real happy with the speed you have at the position, well then you have to figure out where the answers are," Weis explained. "Now are the answers the freshmen you have coming in? Is it Toryan Smith or Morrice Richardson? Or do you have any of the answers here already currently on your team? Coming from the Patriots mentality, you are always trying to build from within. That's what I did. I evaluated the best opportunity, and not just go over there, but go over there and play."

Thomas started studying his new position in the spring. Watching film, game tape, working on technique, x's and o's. He got his first taste of things during seven-on-seven drills during the summer.

"It's a learning process, things are going well and I am just looking forward to the future," Thomas said.

Accustomed to strictly lining up on offense the last three years, it was a little odd for Thomas to be on the opposite side of the ball.

"Darius and I are real good friends so when we are across the ball from each other, lining up, looking at each other eye to eye, it's pretty hilarious," Thomas said. "It felt weird but the more reps I took in seven-on-seven and things like that, the more comfortable I felt on the field."

Thomas will get his first look at 11-on-11 this fall. Playing weakside will give him the opportunity to worry less about coverage and more about using his speed to go after the football. Tackling won't be a problem. Thomas has shown his tackling abilities on special teams. Learning the schemes, techniques and fundamentals of a linebacker are where the challenges lie.

"With all of our guys, I am looking forward to working with him over on the defensive side of the football," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Rick Minter said. "But I don't know what he can do, and he doesn't know what he can do.

"I think he is very physical as an offensive player and obviously look forward to trying to put him in the right position on each and every play and see what he can do. He's just going to be thrown in there to compete with everybody."

And maybe for Notre Dame, compete on nearly every single down on the coming Saturdays.


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