Walking On "Bye"

While most of his Mountaineer teammates will be taking the upcoming "bye" weekend to kick back, relax and perhaps watch some football on television, one of the team's linebackers will be on the road to support his younger brother.

On the field, J.T. Thomas is a hard-hitting defender. But the redshirt junior has a soft spot for his family. One of those family members, his 5-year-old brother Jared, is autistic.

Rather than simply deal with such a personal issue privately, Thomas and his family have opted to openly address the situation in the hopes of increasing awareness of the plight faced by those with the disorder.

In the course of doing so, the West Virginia linebacker will be heading to Philadelphia this Saturday with Jared and other family members in tow to participate in the Walk Now For Autism event at Citizens Bank Park.

The family, Thomas included, has collected money on behalf of Jared to donate to Autism Speaks, the organization which holds the Walk Now event.

"We want to show him support," Thomas said. "We want to let him know that people care for him."

The brain development disorder typically affects a person's ability to communicate and handle social situations. Thomas said that Jared lives a relatively normal life, but certain things are a bit more difficult for him to handle than they would be for other children.

"He has to give you eye contact to listen to you," Thomas explained. "Sometimes, I'll have to kind of grab him and make sure he's looking at me so he can listen."

But beyond that, the multidisciplinary studies major said his younger brother lives a life similar to that of many other curious 5-year-olds. Jared enjoys exploring things on his family's computer and loves to eat certain foods -- particularly raisin bread.

"A lot of people think (autistic children) can't function," Thomas said. "He excels at a lot of things."

Those misconceptions are just one of the reason Thomas' family will be attending the Walk Now For Autism event.

The linebacker admits that there are certain unavoidable challenges that Jared (and his family) must deal with on a day-to-day basis. That is one reason why the family has become passionate about autism awareness.

"He doesn't understand the things he's doing," Thomas said. "He doesn't understand that he's messing up the house. He doesn't understand that he spilled his food."

"It takes a lot of patience (to deal with those things)."

  • On the field, Thomas and his Mountaineer football family are preparing to take on a Colorado squad that won a close battle between the two teams in Boulder last season.

    Thomas doesn't remember much of that contest, an overtime loss for WVU. He went out early in the game after being hit on the head while making a tackle and was out cold on the field for some time.

    In fact, Thomas said he doesn't even recall making that tackle. He recalls closing seeing Buffaloes quarterback Cody Hawkins throw a pass and closing on the receiver, but doesn't remember the hit at all.

    After "coming to," Thomas said he remembered trying to get up off the Folsom Field turf on his own but feeling as if he couldn't move. He began to panic, thinking he might be paralyzed. He was not aware that Mountaineer head trainer Dave Kerns was actually holding Thomas down to keep him from moving.

    While the linebacker said he knew he was "messed up" when he called Kerns "Tony" (as in Tony Corley, one of the team's other trainers -- Corley later told Thomas that he even called Kerns "mom" at one point, which Thomas denies), that didn't stop him from trying to return to action once he realized he wasn't seriously injured.

    "I was trying to find my helmet," Thomas said of what he did along the sidelines after he returned from the locker room. "I was going to sneak back into the game."

    While the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native was frustrated at the time with his inability to help his team in a close game and with the fact that he missed a chance to have a big game in the national spotlight on a Thursday night, he realizes he has another shot at that glory with Colorado coming to visit Milan Puskar Stadium this Thursday for another prime-time match-up.

    This battle with the Buffaloes comes as the fourth game of a season which has seen Thomas get off to a strong start, as he has 22 total tackles after the first three contests of the year. He comes into the CU game with momentum after reaching a career-high in solo tackles in the team's loss at Auburn with his five individual takedowns.

    Thomas credits the solid start to having been around the WVU program a bit longer.

    "It's just experience," he said. "I'm listening to (defensive coordinator and linebackers) coach (Jeff) Casteel and all the stuff he says. It really helps your game."

    While injury kept him from having a big game on the big stage a season ago, Thomas hopes to make up for that lost time against Colorado.

    "That's what you play for -- those Thursday nights," he said.


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