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Travis Thomas: Tale of two talents

Ken Fowler | Friday, November 17, 2006

For three years, Travis Thomas usually was on the bench when the Irish offense had the ball. As a senior, that’s still the case. But almost everything else is different.

As special teams captain in 2006, Thomas is the least glorified and least scrutinized of Notre Dame’s three official leaders – Brady Quinn represents the offense and Tom Zbikowski heads the defense. But even though he’s not the one usually projected onto television sets, Thomas is the most vocal of the three, a role he had to get used to.

“I find myself being more vocal, especially being on the defensive side,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of help from Zibby obviously, but I just feel real comfortable with that.”

Thomas has had to work hard to become a good linebacker and a vocal leader, but he said that’s something with which he’s accustomed.

After earning two-time conference MVP honors in high school and totaling 18 rushing touchdowns as a senior, Thomas didn’t see the field as a freshman. He finally played – and started – in the first game of his sophomore season, but it was a tough one. He had six carries and as many fumbles – two – as yards. He carried only 19 more times that season as Darius Walker and Ryan Grant picked up the bulk of the attempts.

A gifted athlete with good size, he more than doubled his carries in 2005, but Irish coach Charlie Weis felt 63 rushes was not good enough for “one of the 22 best players on the team.”

So the 6-foot, 215-pound product of Washington, Pa., about 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, went from a spot-carry, change-of-pace running back to a speedy linebacker in one off-season.

“Whenever I got my opportunity I tried to shine,” Thomas said. “I think it was noticed, and I think it was a good decision for everyone to come together and make the choice and move me to the other side. I think it was a good thought on Coach Weis’ part. I just think it was a good decision overall.”

As a senior, Thomas has started eight of Notre Dame’s 10 games, sitting two out after injuring his ribs on the final play of the 40-37 Irish win over Michigan State Sept. 23.

When Notre Dame recruits ask Thomas about his emergence, he has a simple message for them.

“I just try to let them know that you’re going to have to work for everything you earn here,” he said. “You’re going to have to earn everything. Nothing is going to be given to you. Every game is a championship game for the people you play against, and academics are tough, so if this is what you’re really looking for, then you’re going to get it.”

One of the things Thomas has gotten out of his time at Notre Dame has been his relationship with his newfound mates in the linebacker corps. Thomas said he and fellow senior Joe Brockington, an outside linebacker from Palmyra, Pa., developed a good relationship when they first arrived at Notre Dame “just because we’re from Pennsylvania.”

Off the field, Thomas is a consulting major in the Mendoza College of Business. He said most of his work deals with problem-solving in discussion groups.

“Things are going real well in the classroom,” he said. “Senior year is probably the easiest semester I’ve had so far.”

But Thomas has dreams of playing on Sundays before he goes pro in something other than sports. Having played offense, defense and special teams, Thomas just wants to get to the NFL, no matter the role.

“Special teams has been a niche of mine, so maybe at the next level I’m obviously going to have a role there,” Thomas said. “You know, the object is just to get there. So the fifth year, like I said, that’s going to take care of itself once the season ends. Coach [Weis] and I will meet, but it’s not a concern of mine right now.”