The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 14, 2010

WVU linebacker Thomas steps up his game

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas is resilient, having started 13 games in each of the last two seasons.

And the redshirt senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is starting to become a force with which to be reckoned.

Last year, Thomas had 76 tackles (two behind team leader Pat Lazear, who had 78), two interceptions (tied for third) and seven tackles for a loss of yardage (second).

“He started doing that last year as a junior, getting himself into position where he can be a guy who can start taking over the defense — he and Chris Neild,” defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. “I think it’s something he looks forward to, and I think that’s something he’s going to work hard to be very good at.”

Thomas and the Mountaineers continue spring drills this week at Milan Puskar Stadium in preparation for the annual Gold-Blue game at 7 p.m. Friday, April 30.

“People are getting back in shape from spring break, and we got a lot more effort out of guys today,” he said Tuesday.  “We had to get on them this past Saturday to get guys going to in the right direction. Today was an improvement, but we definitely have a long way to go.”

Maybe not for Thomas, whose father, also J.T., was a linebacker at WVU in the mid-1990s.

Casteel was almost at a loss of words when talking about the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Thomas.

“That’s a great question, and I don’t know that I can put it into words,”  Casteel said when asked what makes Thomas so good. “This kid is very talented, number one. He works his tail off. He cares about his teammates. He cares about his team, and it’s important to him to do well and that his football team does well. I think that he’s really embraced that.”

With Thomas and Lazear back, the linebacker corps will be a definite strong point on a WVU defense that is expected to be strong this season.

However, it must replace mainstay Reed Williams.

Leonard isn’t worried about people stepping up.

“At Mike (linebacker), Pat (Lazear) is (stepping up) and Anthony (Leonard) at the Sam (linebacker position),” Thomas said. “Seeing them switch roles is funny, but it seems to be working out for the best. I think that was a good experiment by the coaches.”

Head coach Bill Stewart agreed with that assessment and offered more.

“Let’s talk about our Sam linebackers. I really like what I saw with Anthony Leonard and Tyler Anderson, this young man from Morgantown,” Stewart said. “He’s got my attention and our defensive coaches’ attention. (Pat) Lazear and Branko Busick are two tough guys. They’re doing well. On the wing, you have the Willie position, certainly with J.T. Thomas and Najee Goode. It’s good to see those guys. All six are running around really well.”

Admission to the Gold-Blue game April 30 is $5 and proceeds go to WVU Children’s Hospital.

— E-mail: demorrison@register-herald.com

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