Academy changes Pitt player's perspective
The day Pitt outside linebacker Todd Thomas walked onto the campus at Milford Academy — 17 miles from New Berlin, N.Y. (population, 1,100) — he knew he was long way from Beaver Falls.
And not merely in terms of distance.
For one, there was the uniform — and not the one he wore Saturday afternoons for the football team.
"Tie, blue blazer and khaki pants," Milford coach Bill Chaplick said, proudly.
Then, there were the wake-up call (6 a.m.) and curfew (10 p.m.) on opposite ends of a daily and mandatory series of meetings, meals, classes, study halls and practices.
Not to mention the environment.
"Kids come here, and they are used to a co-ed situation," Chaplick said. "Here, it is all boys. Here, it is all work. There are no bells and whistles — strictly a Spartan lifestyle.
"The glue that sticks to them is that they all have failed at one point."
Most recover, with Milford sending 98 percent of its students to college, Chaplick said.
Thomas is one of a handful of former and present Pitt players who attended Milford after high school because they weren't ready for college.
Chaplick said there are 11 Milford products in the NFL, including former Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, and 47 on NCAA Division I programs. Freshman nose tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith was defensive MVP last year on an 11-1 Milford team. Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Mark Giubilato also was at the school.
Thomas took two detours after leaving Beaver Falls, first to Milford, where he was defensive MVP in 2009, and then at Pitt, where he injured his knee last year getting ready for Notre Dame.
Today, 10 months after ACL surgery, he's working with Pitt's first team at outside linebacker, ahead of three-year starter and fifth-year senior Greg Williams.
Pitt coach Todd Graham likes how Thomas has shown no lingering effects from surgery.
"He is very aggressive, very physical," he said.
Still, Graham is far from naming a starter, pointing out Williams recorded several simulated sacks at practice Tuesday.
"It's a battle. They are battling," Graham said. "Both of those guys are guys who could be in our best 11. I am very impressed with them and their ability to impact the quarterback."
Thomas is just happy to be in the mix.
"It feels good working hard and getting back from surgery," he said. "I have come a long, long way."
At Beaver Falls, Thomas was merely a great athlete who was able to dominate lesser ones. At Milford and Pitt, he has become a student of the game, sometimes sitting in the film room for three hours at a time.
"In high school, you just ran around, and the coach says, 'You got him,' " he said. "Here, you really have to know the game. You have to study the game."
That's part of what Thomas learned at Milford, where he said he earned As and Bs while focusing on what really mattered.
"I was in upstate New York, so far away from home," he said. "I wasn't used to being away from my mom and family.
"It was school before football. In high school, it was football before school.
"Milford changed me. It made me grow up."