July 27, 2007

J.T. playing off the buzz

MORGANTOWN--The name J.T. Thomas has likely created more stir than any newcomer on defense this off-season.

Surprisingly, head West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez helped start it last winter. When making Mountaineer football comments at a press conference off The Coliseum at half-time of a basketball game, Rod let it out that this kid was pretty good.

Certainly there has been a monolithic buzz surrounding the arrival of high-school All-American running back Noel Devine and All-Met linebacker Pat Lazear, but those guys were high schoolers. There is always buzz when a newbie arrives with the title of "4-star" or "5-star." We have yet to see either one in pads.

We got a peak at J.T. last season when he played in the opener on special teams against Marshall. But, actually, Rod had started the fuss at the end of the fall camp when he revealed Thomas would be one of the then-true-freshmen to see duty.

All the hype drained when Thomas, now a 6-foot-2, 230-pound medical redshirt freshman, tweaked an ankle. He sat out the remainder of '06.

NOW THE QUESTION becomes, Can a guy who fans and media alike are pulling for to become the savior of a criticized defense, handle it? Even more stories will be printed and aired when fall camp starts in 10 days, as of Thursday morning.

You have to believe the chance is good if you listen to the kid who has worn Gold and Blue for going on his second year.

At a media conference on Wednesday, the second-generation WVU linebacker (father J.T. Jr. ruled from 1994-95) said: "I hear (the talk) a little bit, just a little bit. I don't mind. It doesn't influence me. I'm going to go out and play hard regardless of whether they talk about me or not. I'm going to go out and help the team no matter what. It's always good for coach to put you out there somewhat.

"If he's talking about you, it means he has big plans for you. By him saying anything about me, it makes me want to play harder than he expects from me."

Just what Rodriguez ordered. You have the sense that if Rod thought J.T.'s broad shoulders couldn't handle the weight of the verbiage, then he wouldn't have started it.

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