Thomas reinstated on conditional basis
The Rutgers football team’s secondary was statistically one of the worst in the country last season.
Thanks to the return of redshirt freshman cornerback Ian Thomas, the outlook for the unit looks a little brighter.
Head coach Kyle Flood announced Jan. 17 that Thomas, who abruptly quit the team Oct. 15 in pursuit of a baseball career will be reinstated back to the Scarlet Knights on a conditional basis.
“To me, the conditions are very simple,” Flood told The Star-Ledger on Jan. 17. “He has to show up every day and prove to the coaching staff and prove to his teammates that he’s all in. It’s nothing more complicated than that.”
After converting from wide receiver to cornerback during the spring last year, Thomas earned a starting role for the Knights in the season opener Aug. 29 against Fresno State. The Reistertown, Md., native registered an interception against the Bulldogs.
He started two more games before he told Flood he would leave the program.
As bizarre of a decision as it was — Thomas didn’t play baseball in high school — it became even more confusing more than a month later.
Thomas told nj.com Nov. 18 that he did not tell Flood he left to pursue a baseball career, an accusation Flood and the rest of the program strongly denied.
“The idea of him playing baseball in the future did come up, and at the end of the discussion, I asked Ian the question, ‘Are you OK leaving your team at this point in the season?’ And his response was to me was yes,” Flood said Nov. 18.
Whatever happened between both parties during that time seems to be in the past now, as Flood expects Thomas to compete to reclaim a starting position he abandoned when he left the program, though Flood admitted Thomas made a mistake.
“I’m disappointed he made the mistake,” Flood told The Star-Ledger. “At the same time, it’s college football and people are going to make decisions and then realize they were wrong.”
Thomas was grateful for the second chance.
“I have learned a lot from the whole experience and was able to grow personally, spiritually and mentally,” Thomas said in a statement from the athletic department. “I made a commitment to the Rutgers football program, and the right thing to do is to finish my commitment. I am very grateful to Coach Flood and my teammates for welcoming me back to the team.”
In six games last season, Thomas recorded eight tackles, one interception and one pass breakup.
His departure began a series of problems the secondary could not get over all season.
Players with injuries, suspensions and time missed for personal reasons along with Thomas and redshirt freshman Jevon Tyree leaving the team gave Rutgers’ secondary depth severe issues.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Ruhann Peele, who at one point was the team’s third-leading receiver, moved to cornerback midway through the season.
Flood hopes that Thomas’ return provides some much-needed stability to the team.
But right now, Thomas needs to earn the trust back from a program he deserted midway through the season.
“I think with this kind of decision it’s crucial that it’s embraced by his teammates,” Flood told The Star-Ledger. “I spoke to four different players in terms of gauging their reaction and response and they all agreed that Ian needs to earn their trust back but that they were willing to give him that opportunity.”