The role for Todd Thomas changes a little. He'll stay at linebacker, but he's going to be one of the guys looked up to, to take charge. He says it's something in the early bowl practices, that he likes.
"Definitely," Thomas said. "I'm starting to take charge more because the seniors are not there. This is the squad that we're playing for right now, next year in spring ball. Definitely that leadership role is taking effect right now."
A couple things are different for this year's bowl preparations. First, despite Thomas being here for his third year in the program, this is the first bowl game he can actually play in. His true freshman year, he took a redshirt after tearing his ACL early on in the season. Last year, we suffered the same injury. Despite playing through the injury, he decided to have surgery after the season, leaving him out of last year's BBVA Compass Bowl. This year, he finally gets his shot to play in the bowl game.
"I'm very excited," Thomas said. "Young guys are running around, very excited, a lot of energy. I like it. They're working very hard right now. We just have to give it our all and get ready for next year, but we're just trying to focus on the bowl game and beat Ole Miss.
"We haven't watched a lot of film yet, but just seeing Ole Miss play--I watched Ole Miss play a couple games this year--they're a really good SEC team. We just have to come down to Alabama, all out, and show it.
Thomas even commented on some of the young players, who have been given a chance to step in and get more practice reps in the early bowl preparations.
"Jevonte (Pitts), the guy who went to Milford, from Woody High," Thomas said. "He's stepping up big. He's playing hard. He knows how to play football, at safety."
While this year's preparations are different, in the sense that the teams its actually coach in place, it might be tougher on the defensive side. Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable left last week to take over in the same capacity at N.C. State. Tomas said in comparison to the drama surrounding coaching changes the last two years, Huxtable's departure is minor. He said that he and his teammates understand Huxtable's decision, and also appreciate the impact he made in just one year.
"We went through so much, that when someone leaves, we just have to rally up together and do it," Thomas said. "We're not disappointed, but it happens. We just have to move on.
"I was surprised, but it's a business. You have to move on. No hard feelings for him. I hope he has a good coaching career at N.C. State, but no hard feelings. It's a business. He did a lot (for me). He disciplined me a lot. I had a little trouble with that, but overall, he did a real good job with all the linebackers."
Paul Chryst is here, and according to Thomas, that's what matters most. He said he never felt concerned or worried that Chryst would leave after the season, despite having his name linked to the Wisconsin opening.
"Coach Chryst came here for a reason," Thomas said. "There's no way he was going to come, preach what he did, and then leave. He's a real good guy, a real good coach. I know he's here for the long haul. I wasn't worried about it or not."