Pitt LB Thomas to leave program after demotion
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 2:36 p.m.
Coach Paul Chryst wants to rebuild the Pitt program in a new mold, but he wasn't counting on losing another piece of the puzzle in training camp.
Todd Thomas, who was the team's most athletic linebacker and third in tackles among returning players, wasn't at practice Wednesday, and Chryst said later that Thomas told him he intends to leave the team.
Thomas' departure comes only five months after the loss of running back Rushel Shell, who said he is transferring to West Virginia. The result is that Pitt has lost two of its top playmakers on offense and defense.
Chryst offered no details of their conversations, which he said spanned Tuesday and Wednesday, and efforts to reach Thomas were unsuccessful. When asked if Thomas plans to transfer, Chryst refused to answer.
“I obviously like Todd and want what's best for every one of these kids in the program,” he said.
Thomas' only response was a tweet late Wednesday afternoon: “I didn't quit so stop saying that!!” He also tweeted, “Nobody took my spot for the record. But I did what's best for me! I still love pitt!”
As recently as Sunday, Thomas appeared excited about the upcoming season with this tweet: “Back to the grind tomorrow. See y'all September 1 #camp #h2p last tweet!”
But camp didn't start well for Thomas, who was demoted from first- to second-team outside linebacker Tuesday. Chryst downplayed the move, saying he merely was trying to identify his six best linebackers.
Thomas certainly was one of those, and he admitted the move motivated him to play harder.
“I am going to keep working hard and see how it unfolds,” he said.
The loss of Thomas leaves redshirt freshman Mike Caprara and redshirt junior Anthony Gonzalez as Pitt's first-unit outside linebackers. Gonzalez started one game last season.
Thomas started 13 games over the past two seasons, recording 106 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Devin Street said he is focusing on the teammates who remain.
“I can't do anything about it,” he said. “Some guys have to go. He wasn't on board, so I can't do anything about it. I can control the controllables and rally the guys who want to be here.”
Meanwhile, the loss of Thomas opens up a scholarship, giving Pitt four under the NCAA limit of 85. Chryst could offer scholarships to walk-ons, make up the difference in next year's recruiting class or leave more available in later years.
Thomas is the 23rd player to leave the program since the start of the 2012 season (not counting last year's seniors), a total that includes transfers and players who were suspended or dismissed.
“Any time a player leaves a program, that's not a good sign. It looks bad,” Metro Index Scouting director Joe Butler said Wednesday on Trib Live Radio.
“But Paul Chryst, it looks like he wants his own guys in there. If his players aren't receptive to his coaching or aren't receptive to his style and his format, maybe they create more opportunities if they leave.
“Paul is trying to build a program at Pitt. He is going to do it his way.”
Thomas' high school coach at Beaver Falls, Ryan Matsook, said the news surprised him. He said he received six voice mail messages from Division II coaches wondering about Thomas' availability.
Matsook said he didn't detect any dissatisfaction from Thomas when he joined his players this spring in the weight room.
“I speak quite frequently with Chris Haering (Thomas' position coach at Pitt), and he never had anything negative to say,” Matsook said. “Todd is competitive. Every kid will get complacent, but the thing that always motivated Todd was if you put anyone in front of him or sat him for a quarter, he always responded positively.
“The more you dangle that carrot, the better Todd gets. “I am just surprised. It seems like a knee-jerk reaction.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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