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Pitt LB Thomas coming back from two ACL tears

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 11:02 p.m.
Pitt's Todd Thomas returns a second quarter interception past Cinncinnati's Travis Kelce on Nov. 4, 2011, at Heinz Field. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

His name appears at the bottom of a list of 15 Pitt players who recorded tackles against Syracuse.

It was an assist, actually, but for Todd Thomas it was akin to stopping a freight train when he helped teammate K'Waun Williams run Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib out of bounds after a 4-yard gain in the second quarter.

If you weren't watching closely, maybe you didn't even notice the play. It was so important to Thomas that he became a little emotional.

“It felt good to hit somebody,” said Thomas, who returned Friday night after recovering from the second ACL tear of his left knee. “I was almost in tears going out there because it had been so long.”

Thomas made the ultimate sacrifice last year, postponing knee surgery until January so he could finish the season.

“I said, ‘I'm going to play through it. I'm going to play through the pain,' ” he said. “I knew it was going to hurt me going into this season, but I didn't care.' ”

Thomas, who started six games at outside linebacker last season, showed up for the first day of training camp in August and went through drills with his teammates before they put on the pads. After that, he wisely — if reluctantly — sat down and kept working with trainers to get the knee strong again.

“I was in (the trainers' room) whining every day,” he said. “They were, like, ‘You are getting on my nerves.' ”

Thomas wanted to return earlier, but a conversation with his mother changed his mind. “She said, ‘You have three more years of football,' ” Thomas said. “ ‘If you want to reach your goal, you are going to sit your butt down.' ”

Sitting was nearly as difficult as fighting off the advances of a 300-pound offensive tackle.

“Some people, when they tear their ACL twice, they just give up,” he said. “They don't fight. I love this game. This is what I know. This is what I do.”

The next step for Thomas is to get more playing time, possibly as soon as Saturday against Louisville at Heinz Field.

Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable is eager to unleash Thomas' mix of size and strength.

“I don't know where he is at (in his recovery), 100 percent, 98 percent, but he's moving around a lot better,” Huxtable said. “Just his quickness and his strength and his toughness on the field are going to bring a lot to our defense.”

That may include schemes no one has seen from Pitt's defense this season.

“He's a guy we want to try to do some things with,” Huxtable said. “We were trying to do that a little last week, maybe a little bit more this week.”

Thomas said he is about 95 percent recovered. The mental part is all that's left to conquer.

“After a while, I said, ‘OK, it's in God's hands,' ” he said. “If (an aggravation) happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm just going to go play.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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