By Matthew O’Chuida
KU’s football program ended the 2018-19 campaign 9-2, thanks to a huge impact from sophomore outside linebacker Chris Thomas. With the Maroon and Gold game approaching April 25, KU’s coaches are looking to emphasize Thomas’s role on defense in 2019.
After accumulating 53 total tackles, one interception and one forced fumble in his sophomore campaign, KU’s staff look to empathize Thomas’s role for his junior season.
“We are looking to get Thomas more involved as our strong side linebacker. His first two seasons, he was mainly weak side,” said Eric Fargo, KU’s defensive coordinator, when asked about Thomas’s role for the upcoming season.
Thomas started all 11 games his sophomore year and appeared in 11 his freshman year. It was not until the sophomore campaign that he had a breakout year.
“There is a lot of stress with making such a jump from high school football to college,” said Thomas. “Also, the position change from offense to defense has been interesting, but everyone has been patient with me.”
He was being recruited by Division I schools as a running back, but his size and speed did not meet the requirements of a college running back. His mixture of downhill running and power does not translate to today’s spread offenses.
“Chris did a great job covering the weak side for all 11 games as a sophomore. There is no reason to think he cannot handle the bigger role on the strong side,” said senior linebacker Tajier Jefferson when asked how Thomas would fit into the new role.
Thomas attended Interboro High School where he had his breakout season occurring his senior year. He posted 1737 yards on 269 carries and 25 rushing touchdowns, which is a school record. He averaged 6.5 yards per carries and 133.6 yards per game.
“Thomas was a very versatile player. He filled in many different spots well and has the ability to make a direct impact in any role he is placed in,” said Interboro High school’s head football coach, Steve Lennox.
He made a conscious decision to switch to defense, and it benefitted him. His speed translated well, and his ability to make quick cuts allows him to fill holes quickly.
“I was always on the opposite side of Chris on defense, and he made my job way easier,” said ex-teammate Mike Chamberlin. “He is a special talent who makes everyone else better.”
It is going to be interesting to see Thomas take on the role of the strong-side linebacker this coming season. His coaches and teammates all have faith in him to adjust well in his new role.