Redshirt freshman recognized for improvement
With the ball on the turf after a fumble in the Rutgers football team’s spring game Saturday, it was only appropriate Ian Thomas was there to recover it.
The redshirt freshman cornerback scooped up the loose fumble and ran 24 yards for the touchdown, extending the team’s lead to 24-0.
“Today was a good day, today was a very good day,” Thomas said after the Scarlet team’s 57-19 win against the White team. “Everything felt good and the ball just went into my hands. I just picked it up and ran into the end zone.”
For Thomas, the touchdown capped off arguably the most impressive spring performance for any Scarlet Knight, as the Baltimore native impressed in practice after practice during the spring.
And Thomas has done so working out at a new position, as he entered the program last year as a three-star wide receiver, according to Rivals.com.
His efforts at his new position resulted in head coach Kyle Flood naming him the most improved defensive player.
Flood said at halftime of the spring game that Thomas still has work to do in order to see time next season. But as far as making the transition to a new position, he has impressed.
“There is always a learning curve that is involved and there are going to be some mental challenges to playing that position by whoever comes over from offense,” Flood said. “Ian has come in and worked really hard and has minimized those.”
Flood named redshirt freshman running back Desmon Peoples the most improved offensive player and said sophomore offensive linemen Keith Lumpkin and Marquise Wright were also up for consideration for the award.
Senior defensive end Marcus Thompson was named the Frank R. Burns Award winner, given annually to the toughest player during spring workouts.
But the most obvious improvement has come courtesy of Thomas, who led the Scarlet team with four tackles in the spring game to go along with his fumble recovery for a touchdown.
His ascent up the depth chart comes at the right time for Rutgers as it continues to fill holes in the secondary created by the departure of three starters from last season’s team.
Former Knights Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Marcus Cooper were all drafted this weekend, while Brandon Jones was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent.
Though there is still plenty of work left for Thomas, Flood said he is pleased with his efforts.
But Flood also expected it.
“I can’t tell you that I’m shocked by it,” Flood said. “Ian is a very talented football player and I think I saw enough in our bowl preparation practices that I was confident that in time he would be able to help us over there. In my mind he is a little bit ahead of schedule.”
With junior wide receiver Brandon Coleman out as he continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery, the rest of Rutgers’ receiving corps was able to receive more looks in the spring game.
Seven players on the Scarlet team had two or more catches, including four each from senior wideout Quron Pratt and redshirt freshman wideout Ruhann Peele.
Pratt hauled in two touchdowns from junior quarterback Gary Nova, with a 26-yard strike down the middle of the field giving the Scarlet team a 17-0 lead.
Peele also played well, as he turned his four receptions into 50 receiving yards. Sophomore wideout Leonte Carroo and sophomore tight end Tyler Kroft also had a touchdown reception for the Scarlet team. Redshirt freshman wideout Carlton Agudosi had a 32-yard first-down reception for the white team.
The wideouts’ performance gives Nova more confidence, he said.
“None of them surprise me,” Nova said. “Guys like Ruhann [Peele] and Carlton [Agudosi], we knew what those guys can do by just watching them on scout team last season. Those guys are going to be special players. They just have to digest this playbook, which is not easy to do. But these guys are smart kids and are going to work everyday.”
With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, 16 children affected by Hurricane Sandy played flag football, with their touchdowns affecting the overall score of the spring game.
Rutgers played along with the kids, as Nova and senior quarterback Chas Dodd tossed passes.
“It felt good to watch them,” Thomas said. “Those kids have had a bad experience with Hurricane Sandy and for them to get out here and play, it felt good to watch them play in front of thousands of fans.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.