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Thomas takes over role of ‘power back’

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 4, 2005

Travis Thomas made a good first impression on Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, and seven games later, it is paying off.

Thomas was elected special teams captain for the Irish’s first game against Pittsburgh, something that really stuck out to Weis.

“When I first got here, the first game I coached here, Travis had already been awarded to be the team captain on special teams right off the bat,” Weis said. “So he had already won my respect because I thought that’s the type of performance that he had put in, in the offseason, getting ready to just get started when I first started coaching here.”

Thomas first started playing special teams as a sophomore last season after losing his starting running back position when he fumbled twice in six carries in the opener against Brigham Young. When freshman Darius Walker emerged in the next game against Michigan, Thomas was relegated to second-string. But he found a home in special teams, and that gave him the confidence to try to work his way back into the offensive rotation.

“Special teams was something I did well last year, and I thought playing well on there would also give me an opportunity to have a key role on offense,” the junior said. “So I just took advantage of every opportunity I had.”

For Thomas, it took a lot of waiting to get another opportunity at running back. In the first six games of this season, he didn’t get many carries outside of those when the Irish were winning by a large margin.

“It’s always hard to be patient, but I just tried to keep a positive mindframe,” Thomas said. “I’m going to wait to get an opportunity sooner or later, I just had to be ready when it comes.”

But the patience paid off, as the coaches slowly started to insert him as a pass blocker in certain situations.

“I think that’s where they started me off in situations where I had to pick up blitzes, key plays, and I capitalized on that opportunity, and I got some carries off of that,” Thomas said.

And so after excelling in those opportunities, Thomas has finally made his way into the offense. Against No. 1 USC on Oct. 15, he ran for 52 yards on 18 carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run. Thomas credits the fresh start he had this season in helping him regain his confidence.

“New staff, new start, new attitude,” Thomas said. “[The key was] just stepping up and playing the way I know I can play, and I think I’ve done that so far. I think the more you play, the more confident you can be.”

And so now that Walker and Thomas are sharing the carries, both believe it is only to the benefit of the team. Walker is more of a finesse back, whereas Thomas hits the line a little harder, giving opposing defenses two backs to prepare for.

“Travis is a bigger back, and he’s able to get in there on the short yardage; he’s more of a power back than I am,” Walker said. “Me, I’m kind of the speedy guy who kinda moves around a little bit, slashes and cuts. It’s nice for us to get out there and for both to be able to play our role because it keeps the defense off balance, they don’t know what they’re going to get which back is going to come in.”

And both backs are willing to share carries, as they say that they see it as friendly competition.

“Obviously there’s competition – running back is a competitive spot,” said Thomas, who has carried 38 times in seven games, good for 167 yards and three touchdowns. “But we’re also good friends off the field, too. I think we complement each other well. I think he’s a more flashy type of back, and I’m more of a hit it and get it type of guy, so I think we’re a good complement to each other.”

And with Thomas more confident in himself this season, Weis isn’t hesitant to give him the ball on offense, as was shown in the game against the Trojans.

“Travis has now put himself in the position to continue to get more reps offensively as a running back,” Weis said. “It’s a definite change of pace between him and Darius. I have a lot of confidence in Travis both as a special teams player and as a runner.”