For the second year in a row, the Washington, PA native was selected as one of the captains. Last season, it was on special teams. In 2007, it'll be on offense where there's a lot of young talent, maybe none more than at running back. This is as deep as the position has been in many years for Notre Dame. It makes the players better and Thomas knows that each and every day in practice will be a battle.
"We are out there competing and trying to get better," Thomas said on Tuesday. "We're trying to work on our individual fundamentals and techniques. We're ready to get on the field and try to put ourselves in position to contribute. We have a lot of depth and that helps in the competition. It keeps everyone on their toes knowing that there is somebody behind you pushing you. It makes everyone better."
The backs differ in talents, giving Weis and the offensive staff various weapons. Allen is the fastest of the bunch while Aldridge and Hughes are more suited for the power running game. Jabbie might be lost in the mix but if the Blue-Gold contest is any indicator, the senior can be counted on in case an injury occurs. As for Thomas, the fifth-year senior blends a game of speed and power.
"I think it gives coaches a lot of options to put in whoever they want in any situation," Thomas said about the different skills sets at running back. "The competition is great. So whenever someone gets in, they are going to try to make an impression."
Thomas said the group meshes well and, despite competing at a high level, they still share a laugh every now and then.
"Armando is clown," Thomas said with a smile. "He's a real low key clown. James Aldridge is a crazy out there. Asaph is hilarious. Everyone has a different sense of humor and keeps things fun."
After rushing for 248 yards and five touchdowns as a junior in 2005, Thomas moved over to defense at linebacker in 2006. The switch was one of necessity for Notre Dame, who were thin at the position. Darius Walker was the main running back and head coach Charlie Weis wanted to get the best 22 players on the field. Thomas ended the season with 35 tackles, including five for losses. The Washington, PA native still got a few carries on offense, rushing the ball 13 times for 78 yards and two scores, good for an average of 6.0 yards per carry.
After Walker declared early for the NFL Draft, it left a starting spot open at running back. Aldridge, Allen, Hughes and Jabbie would provide talent but the group was short on experience. In the spring time, Thomas was back at running back after deciding another year at Notre Dame was a good idea.
"I thought about leaving at first," Thomas said about the fifth-year. "But I felt I had to come back and have a chip on my shoulder. I really thought I had something to prove. I wanted to get back to running back and help for another year. I wanted to go out with a winning season and feeling good."
Thomas was also part of a huge group of fifth-year seniors to return to campus. In total, nine players decided and were accepted for an additional year with the Irish. On Media Day last week, Charlie Weis said he owes it to this group not to throw in the towel and try to win now instead of in 2008 and 2009. The feeling is mutual between the head coach and the fifth-year seniors.
"I think he feels loyalty to us because we've been here for the three years he's been here for," Thomas said. "We played hard so I feel like he owes it to us to send us out on a good note. We feel loyal to him to play hard and get the bitter taste out of our mouths."
In addition to the competition at running back, Thomas has another huge responsibility to the team. The fifth-year senior was named captain back in the spring time. Thomas is known as one of the hardest working players on the team. After the 2006 season, Thomas was named winner of the Nick Pietrosante Award, given to the player who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Notre Dame All-American fullback.
The Washington, PA native credited the strong work ethic from his family, especially his mom, who raised Thomas in a single parent home and sometimes had to work two jobs. Thomas has been through the highs and lows of Irish football in the past four years and hopes he can contribute in the leadership role.
"Having experience helps out a lot," Thomas said about being a captain. "When you've been out there in the heat of battle and you know what to expect, it puts you at ease and it relaxes you and allows you to go out and do your job.
This will be the last go-around for Thomas, the last training camp the fifth-year senior has to experience. Thomas said there will be time after the season to get sentimental and his main focus is on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
"I'm excited about September 1st," Thomas said. "The time is flying. We're in our second week of training camp. I had a feeling time was going to fly by. But the game is right around the corner."