Movin' on and movin' up

He turned some heads at Tennessee's recent skills camp by exhibiting good coverage ability in the one-on-one drills. Even when the drills ended, however, he continued to impress.

After five hours of drill work last Tuesday, Vol coaches assembled all of the campers at Neyland Stadium for an old-fashioned foot race. This gave Tino Thomas one final chance to make an impression on UT staffers, and he took full advantage.

"We went to the stadium after the drills and everybody ran – seniors, juniors, upcoming sophomores – and I beat 'em all," Thomas recalled, laughing with pardonable pride. "I was the fastest man in the camp."

As a result, he may be shooting up recruiting boards even faster than he shot across Shields-Watkins Field last Tuesday afternoon. The 5-11, 179-pounder is in no hurry to pick a college, however. After all, he'll only be a junior at Melrose High School of Memphis this fall.

Though largely unheralded, Thomas was one of the breakout performers of the UT camp. He did well enough in the press-coverage drills to elicit congratulations from Vol assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.

"Overall, I think I did real good," Thomas said. "Coach Orgeron came over and told me to keep up the good work."

Thomas describes himself as "a lock-down cover guy," but clearly enjoys making a resounding hit even more than making a good play in pass coverage.

"I feel like I do both well, but I like hitting the best," he said, his enthusiasm obvious even by telephone. "If I see run, I come up immediately. I like to prevent the run. I really enjoy that part of the game. It's exciting."

As a starting defensive back for Melrose as a sophomore last fall, Thomas says he recorded 56 tackles and three interceptions. This fall he'll also play running back, return punts and return kickoffs.

"I like returning kicks real good," he said, his voice again rising with excitement. "If I see a little crease, I hit it and use my speed. I've got good speed."

Obviously. Thomas, who claims a 4.5 best in the 40, might have run a little faster than that to win the Neyland Stadium footrace.

In addition to a fondness for run support, a knack for press coverage and penchant for winning footraces, Thomas has good bloodlines in his favor. His brother, Graig Cooper, led the Miami Hurricanes in rushing as a true freshman last fall with 682 yards. Thomas said he plans to attend the Canes' skills camp this weekend.

Whatever happens, though, Miami's camp is unlikely to make a stronger impression on him than the UT camp did.

"I thought it was real cool," Thomas said. "I liked the drills. They were tremendous drills. And I thought the coaches were real down-to-earth. I liked the DB coaches, Coach Orgeron and Coach Lane Kiffin. I really liked meeting them."

After winning recognition as The Fastest Man in Camp last week, Tino Thomas could be meeting them a lot over the next 18 months.


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