LB Thomas Ready to Go
By Julie Brown for MSNsportsNET.com
August 9, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Senior linebacker J.T. Thomas has been here before. Five times to be exact. While the beginning of football training camp always signals the start to a new and different season, some things remain the same.
“Everybody’s happy to be out there, to be running around in some new gear and just ready to put their jersey back on,” Thomas said. “We’re all very enthusiastic and everyone is having a good time out there.”
The freshmen and sophomore players have been just as eager as the upperclassmen to start the season, despite not knowing what to expect.
“Experience is a big thing for all of the older players,” said Thomas. “We kind of know exactly what’s coming so we can prepare a bit better than the younger players. We all had a week off before camp, though, so nobody’s in football shape right now.”
One newcomer that has the team (along with Mountaineer fans and media) buzzing is Bruce Irvin, a junior defensive end from Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, Calif. As the No. 6 ranked junior college prospect in the nation, he helped lead Mt. San Antonio to a 13-1 record and was the second-leading tackler on his team with 72 total tackles, including 45 solo stops, 16 sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
Yet while most people have been viewing the statistics as a cause for speculation and excitement, Thomas remains cautiously optimistic.
“Irvin has a lot of athletic ability,” Thomas said. “He’s a big, young kid and he’s very fast, but I’ve watched a lot of guys in this program be big, strong and fast and stand out in the gym. If you don’t get a grasp of what we’re trying to do here at West Virginia, you’re not ever going to be as good as you can be.”
Despite this viewpoint on Irvin, even Thomas seemed to be impressed with what’s been seen out of him so far.
“Just looking at the kid, he’s a big, physical player and he has the chance to be very good. It’s all about how fast he learns the program as far as plays and what to do,” said Thomas.
As one of the leaders on defense, Thomas has no questions when it comes to knowing the plays and knowing what to do. A second generation WVU linebacker (his father, J.T., was a linebacker in 1994-95) Thomas has already been named to the all-BIG EAST preseason first team by Athlon Sports, Phil Steele, Sporting News, and Yahoo! Sports.
Thomas started all 13 games last year at weakside linebacker and was selected to the all-BIG EAST first team by the league coaches as well as Rivals.com. He was used on more than 760 plays, including a season high 78 against UConn, and was the second-leading tackler on the team with 76 total stops to go with seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, five pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.
Even though Thomas had a strong 2009, there was one thing missing. The defensive line suffered from injuries all season, and many times players weren’t able to play at 100 percent. This year, however, everyone has come back to camp healthy and ready to go.
“We’ve all been playing together for three or four years now and we’ve been able to grow together, so it’s great to look out there and see all those guys. It’s good to be out there on the field with them all again,” said Thomas.
Having everyone healthy has enabled the team to start practicing at a higher level of play, something that hasn’t always been possible in the past because of injuries.
“I think that any time you get guys back who have a grasp of what we’re doing, you’re able to do things that maybe you wouldn’t have been able to do before,” Thomas said. “Having Scooter (Berry) back is really going to help out our defense. He’s a great guy and he’s healthy again.”
Three days into camp the players are focusing on learning as much as they can while building team unity and remaining as healthy as possible.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys going hard, and I’ve seen older team members teaching younger team members, and I’ve seen a lot of guys excited about this year,” said Thomas. “That’s the feel that we all want. We want to feel ready, we want to feel enthused about everything we do now. Everybody knows what we have the potential to do, but potential won’t get you anywhere and I think we all know that.”
Day Three Camp Notes …
“I saw some good things on defense,” Stewart said.
Stewart said it was important to get up on the grass field for two reasons: One, West Virginia plays several games on grass surfaces this year, and two, the grass field is much cooler than the stadium turf with temperatures in Morgantown exceeding 90 degrees this afternoon.
“Plus, I like throwing the guys curveballs once in a while,” Stewart said.
“What it does is it keeps (the media) informed so you don’t have to ask us all of the time about injuries on conference calls and during press conferences,” Stewart said. “I think it’s a good thing.”
John Antonik contributed to this report.
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