Thomas offers little insight into his surprising return to Rutgers
Media members waited all spring to hear from him, but when the time finally came, a standoffish Ian Thomas left more questions than answers regarding his return to the Rutgers football team.
The sophomore cornerback, who left the program Oct. 15 to pursue what head coach Kyle Flood called a baseball career at another school, rejoined the team Jan. 16 on a conditional basis.
Thomas told nj.com in November he left because of homesickness from Baltimore, though he continued to take classes at Rutgers after Flood granted his transfer. But the head coach insisted baseball came up in discussions with Thomas and his father before his departure.
Speaking publicly yesterday for the first time since leaving the team, Thomas gave little insight on the controversy, saying he and Flood have not talked out their differences.
But the bigger question remained: Why did he decide to come back?
“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Thomas said after the Scarlet Knights’ concluded their final spring practice before tomorrow’s annual Scarlet-White game.
That was just one of a series of brief, uninformative responses from the third-year sophomore, who received no further questioning on off-the-field issues. A Rutgers Athletic Communications official requested reporters stick to football questions or the interview would end.
Flood said players have “welcomed him back as part of the family,” but gave no promises that Thomas’ conditional basis terms would be lifted.
“All that stuff gets decided after spring,” Flood said. “We’ll have a checkout procedure as a team Monday and Tuesday following the spring game before the coaches go on the road recruiting full-time. We’ll sort through all those things.”
Thomas said teammates expressed a “50/50” split on accepting him back into the program.
Junior linebacker Kevin Snyder admitted the Knights’ pressing need for help in the secondary — Thomas was one of Rutgers’ better cover corners through six games last year, recording an interception — might have made it a little easier on some, but said he thought little of it.
“I took him back open arms,” Snyder said. “I understand things happen in life. You have decisions you have to make, and obviously he thought he made the wrong decision and he came back. I have no problems with that, and I haven’t seen anybody else have any problems.”
Thomas was listed as a backup corner in Rutgers’ pre-spring depth chart, though the natural ball skills he showed last year as an opening-day starter would seem to give him an edge in regaining one of the spots.
Like other Knights, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder has noticed a distinct change in the way new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is operating the unit.
“Intensity, guys buying into the system and believing what Rossi is coaching,” Thomas said of differences from last year. “Intensity level is definitely up there for me. He’s a rowdy type of guy and he really loves his guys that play for him, and he wants to get the most out of them.”
Thomas has shown a penchant for being physical with receivers this spring, yet he insists it wasn’t a point of emphasis to win back trust.
“Being physical has always been one of my weaknesses, back in high school and college, and I knew that,” Thomas said. “I’ve been working on it, but I cover people for a living.”
Junior Jamil Pollard, who was thought to have a career-ending injury last September, also spoke for the first time this spring.
Flood announced yesterday that the 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive tackle will switch to offensive guard in an effort to build more depth on the offensive line. Pollard said he asked Flood for the move two weeks ago to get a feel for taking on pass blocks before August training camp.
The West Deptford, N.J., native says he is in a “better place” after talking over a return to football with peers.
“I’ve never been so happy in my life. I missed these guys, I missed this team,” Pollard said. “I feel like football’s been renewed in my body, my mind — everything. It feels so great to be back.”
Tomorrow’s spring game marks the last chance for redshirt freshman Chris Laviano to make an impression in Rutgers’ quarterback competition before training camp.
The former 3-star recruit, who felt he “didn’t know anything” about the offense coming in, received first-team reps for the first time this spring. It has shown in the form of inconsistencies making sharp reads in practice.
But Laviano, viewed as arguably the biggest threat to senior Gary Nova from a talent standpoint, said he is beginning to develop a firm grasp of offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen’s playbook.
“Towards the end I think I’m finally being able to play my game and just put everything together,” Laviano said. “I’m comfortable out there and just making good decisions and just playing.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.