"He's brought toughness and competitiveness to that side of the ball," Weis said about the running back position. "Although he would like to have the ball in his hands every play, he's made the whole group better by how hard he works. He's one of the hardest working guys on the team."
Thomas was born and raised in Pennsylvania. The fifth-year senior spoke of the love for football in the state and how people live for the sport each and every week. This passion for the game was coupled with some family members installing a drive for winning. Thomas credits his grandfather and uncles for his leadership skills.
"They were very competitive," Thomas said. "Whatever they're doing, regardless of the job they're doing, they try to be the best at their position. I carried that in the classroom and growing up.
"They tried to make me tougher. I played ball with my uncles, basketball or football or whatever it may be. Our friends in the neighborhood always played sandlot. Sometimes, we'd even play in gravel. That's just the way we were raised."
Weis said Thomas, along with fellow fifth-year senior John Carlson, were head and shoulders the best in off-season workouts and it wasn't even close for the second. The strong work ethic is valuable for Notre Dame because of Thomas's position. He is the elder statesman at running back. Sophomore James Aldridge and freshman Armando Allen are both competing with Thomas for carries. Senior Junior Jabbie has been around the football program but lacks playing experience.
Thomas has done it all in his four years at Notre Dame. After scoring five touchdowns in 2005, Weis and the coaching staff decided to try Thomas over at linebacker for 2006, where he stayed the entire season. The move was one of need more than want but Thomas went along with it. Because of the building depth at linebacker, the Washington, PA native flip flopped back over to offense again before the spring. With the young nature of the running back group, a player with the experience and leadership of Thomas can help the others with the learning process.
"It's part of the game," Thomas said about providing leadership to the other backs. "You get up there and you learn things. You show the younger guys the tricks. When they get into the position, hopefully they'll show the younger guys as well."
The backs besides Thomas may lack extensive playing experience but all together the group may be the deepest on the team. Thomas has scored seven rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons and averaged six yards per carry in 2006. Aldridge rushed the ball 37 times for 142 yards but was still getting over a knee injury that plagued him since his later years of high school. Fully healthy, Weis said Aldridge had his best practice of the spring on Monday. Allen is a speedster and has Notre Dame fans excited about having a home run threat. Even Jabbie has been drawing praise from the Irish head coach for his spring performance. The talented group keeps Thomas focused each and every practice.
"It definitely makes me better because it makes me stay on my toes everyday," Thomas said. "I know those guys are working hard. Since I've been here, talking about a healthy competition, it's been one of the best I've seen. Everyone shows up ready to go everyday."