Aiming High

As senior linebacker J.T. Thomas prepares for his final season at West Virginia, he is the first to admit that he has his sights set high. While the past few seasons have been good and led to bowl games, Thomas is hoping for more in 2010.

"I know I'm taking [this season] different than what a freshman would," admitted Thomas. "I know this is my last time playing as a Mountaineer and that's the only thing that I am guaranteed -- another season with the Mountaineers."

Trips to bowl games in Charlotte and Jacksonville have certainly not been bad experiences, but Thomas, like several other players filling the leadership roles that have been emphasized by head coach Bill Stewart during the off-season, is aiming higher. He's expecting fellow veterans on the defense, such as senior linemen Scooter Berry and Chris Neild and fellow 'backer Anthony Leonard to take advantage of their last chance to contend for a Big East and a national title.

"I feel like I've been with these guys forever," said Thomas. "We have all been playing together for three years. We've had our bumps and bruises for two years with going 9-4 and 9-4 and now it's time to put it all together. It's everybody's last chance at having the season we all want to have."

While leadership has been quite a trending topic on the Mountaineer football team, Thomas believes that the team has distinguished which players will be looking to for leadership during the season.

"We have leaders on our team," said Thomas. "We have guys that are taking charge. Now, we have to get some followers. We all have to be leaders in our own way. We are kind of weeding ourselves out and seeing which guys are going to step up and who are the guys who will follow. I have always been that guys that people can look up to that will lead the way on and off the field."

Thomas and the rest of the senior leaders have a big task on their hands as they have to work as mentors to the team's incoming freshmen. The freshmen can work only with upperclassmen, no coaches, until fall camp begins in August. This means players such as Thomas give freshmen some of their first introductions to college football. It comes in both the weight room and in seven-on-seven drills, and it can be an overwhelming experience for some. Others, however, catch on quickly.

"Everything is going great," Thomas said of the summer workouts. "Some of the young guys are in. They're looking really good. The defense is looking like itself. Seven on sevens have been going really well."

Thomas has been particularly impressed with the two incoming quarterbacks, Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti.

"All of the quarterbacks are looking good," said Thomas. "Jeremy Johnson is really fast. I don't want to say his name in vain but Jeremy Johnson looks like Pat White when he takes the ball and runs. Barry can throw the ball really well. Ivan McCartney is looking good."

While sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, will undoubtedly be the team's starting quarterback, Thomas believes that the sophomore still has a lot to learn. That's certainly no rarity for any player entering just his second year of school, and Thomas thinks his continued growth will be aided by veterans on the offensive side of the ball.

"Geno is looking good throwing the ball but he still has some developing to do as a leader," said Thomas. "That will come in time. The kid is only a sophomore. He's going to have a big burden on his shoulders this year that he will have to carry. Jock and Noel are guys that have been embedded in that offense. They know exactly what's going on. You have to have guys out there that know what they're doing. He doesn't have to do too much. We have Jock, Noel, Tavon [Austin], Bradley [Starks] and J.D. [Woods]."

How far can this team go? In the eyes of Stewart, much depends on the leadership that he has been looking for. If Thomas' assessment is correct, WVU could indeed be a strong contender for another trip to a BCS bowl.

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