Thomas Looking for Expanded Role

The first three years at Notre Dame were trying times for linebacker Mitchell Thomas. Not playing much but special teams was tough to take. Thanks to the departed Corey Mays, who knew a thing or to about not playing the first few years in an Irish uniform, Thomas was usually able to keep his head up. Now the senior is running with the first team at strong-side linebacker.

"It was real frustrating, I'm not even going to lie," the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Thomas said about his first three seasons. "Just seeing people like Corey Mays, who didn't even get to start until his senior year, just him telling me to wait it out for my turn, it will come. It just kept me pushing and I'm here now."

Thomas is here. So is Anthony Vernaglia. Irish head coach Charlie Weis said that both would see action in the opener against Georgia Tech. Both guys bring different things to the table. With both of them playing, they will be fresher in the fourth quarter.

Though they are both competing with each other to be an every down player, Thomas and Vernaglia remain very cool off the field.

"That's part of football, you compete everyday, that's what makes your team better," Thomas stated. "If you have someone behind you pushing, you can't slack off in practice, because you have to give forth your best effort.

"Me and A.V. have been cool since the first time I met A.V. was his visit up here during my freshman year," Thomas continued. "He was from California with his wild hair and everything, but A.V. is a real cool kid, I liked him from the get go. We're still tight today, we still hang out."

Mays and Brandon Hoyte, the two leading tacklers last season, have moved on, opening up the door of opportunity for Thomas, Vernaglia and others. Thomas was the first team middle linebacker during the spring, but found out before summer that he would be moving outside to SAM.

Thomas played SAM as a sophomore, but he still had a lot of improvements to make this fall camp.

"Just being outside the box, trying to learn my outside, learn to take on tight ends," he said. "Just reading my keys, being more reactive to the run and pass. I still have to work on the pass techniques, a couple blitz techniques, my footwork for the most part. I think I'm doing pretty good if I have to say so."

The Opelika, Ala., product didn't see any action his freshman season.

"When I first came in as a freshman I thought I could play right away, I'm a starter," Thomas explained. "But I started going through practices and I started to see that maybe I'm not ready for this. I think my sophomore year I was like alright, I've had a year of playing college football and I'm ready to play."

Thomas was ready to play, he just didn't get much of an opportunity. He made 55 special teams appearances and saw spot duty at linebacker. He made two tackles. Thomas made 84 special teams appearances last year and did not see the field as an inside linebacker. He had just one tackle.

"Everyone has a role," Thomas said. "Last year, I had a role, it just wasn't a big role. This year, I'm in a bigger role, I just have to step up and try and take it."

Mays proved to be right. Now the opener at Georgia Tech on Sept. 2, can't get here fast enough.

"I'm really ready, trying to get out of practice and try and get to the game. I'm trying to push though. I'm trying to pick up a couple more techniques and stuff like that, but everything else will come," he said. Top Stories