Pitt linebacker Thomas matures into team leader

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst believes senior linebacker Todd Thomas has grown up. Who couldn't see it, actually?

A year ago, Thomas was infuriated by a demotion from the first team at the outset of training camp and threatened to leave the team.

Fortunately for Pitt, and Thomas, he calmed down before signing any papers. He earned his job back after a brief suspension and played in every game, starting 10.

Chryst has no use for petulance among his players. He proved it last summer by not immediately reinstating Thomas.

But he appreciates how Thomas has matured, and understands students in their late teens and early 20s have much on their minds. Chryst and his wife are raising two daughters and a son from that generation.

“One of the neat qualities of Todd is who he is and the emotion,” Chryst said. “You have to go through things, and it's how you handle them. What can you learn from how you handle it?

“Not just football players have cornered the market on that. This age, they're old enough to make decisions, but they're young.

“Hopefully, every guy matures through this process.”

The 23-year-old Thomas said he has changed in the areas of “attitude ... demeanor ... personality ... the way I carry myself. That little incident we had, I came back a whole different person,” he said. “You see me now on the field, I make a play, I'm not really saying much.

“Before, I would throw the helmet somewhere. It would have been crazy. I've matured a lot. I've grown up a lot.”

Like many of the positive characteristics and tendencies Pitt players have displayed in the first week of camp, Thomas' new attitude can best help the team if it manifests itself in games.

Despite his late start, Thomas finished last season third on the team in tackles for a loss (six) ­— more than any returning player. He seems to be headed in the same direction this season.

“Todd is really comfortable in the system right now,” outside linebackers coach Chris Haering said. “You can see he is playing with confidence.”

Thomas is one of four seniors on a defense that lost seven starters — half the secondary and three-fourths of the line, including All-American tackle Aaron Donald.

Seniors such as Thomas, end Dave Durham, outside linebacker Anthony Gonzalez and safety Ray Vinopal are important to any progress Pitt might make this season. After all, Pitt has more freshmen and sophomores on its roster (81 of 103) than any school in the nation, according to a study by the University of Colorado sports information department. A total of 14 are considered starters or regulars.

“Todd has to be a physical presence for us, and he has to be a leader on defense,” Haering said. “And he is doing it.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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