Earnest Thomas May See Playing Time At Safety

Earnest Thomas (Holly Smith)

The Fighting Illini football team was short of safeties this spring, especially after the top two players were injured. As a result, redshirt sophomore Earnest Thomas was moved from the Star position to help out. He adapted quickly, adding needed depth.

Earnest Thomas played behind Ashante Williams at what is now called the Star position last fall. He was expecting the same role during spring ball, until injuries necessitated a move to safety.

"I'm doing good. It's been a fun ride. I just moved to safety this spring. I played safety in high school, so it's something I'm natural at. It's just going up and playing. I'm having fun. It's mostly about learning technique and alignments, things like that. Once the ball it is snapped, it's easy after that."

Does he prefer one position over the other?

"I like both positions, to be honest. They're both fun for me; it's still football. I enjoy playing safety a lot too, so it doesn't matter to me which position."

A safety is required to accept more responsibility to help his defensive backfield mates know the proper calls for each alignment.

"We're sort of like the quarterbacks of the defense. We've got to make some of the checks, but it's not really a big adjustment. Especially when learning a new defense, it's good to know what everyone else is doing as well. Knowing what the guys in front of me are doing and what the guys next to me are doing makes it a lot easier. It's fun, and it's a good learning experience."

Maturity and experience helped Thomas elevate his game this spring.

"I played special teams last fall, and I did get some chances on defense. I played sparingly here and there. That helped my confidence at times; at times it was just okay.

"This year, the coaches are looking for me to fill a bigger role. I'm trying to step up to the plate and do my job."

Of course, he knows he must continue working to perfect his game.

"Everything we're doing on defense is not the same as we did last year. So knowing the defense is something I want to work on. And then working on my technique, alignment and things of that nature. And of course always being quicker, stronger and faster. That's always what you should be working on in the off-season."

Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks coaches safeties, and Thomas is benefitting.

"I enjoy Coach Banks a lot. He's hard on us, but he lets us know he wants the best out of us. He's very precise and very detailed with what he wants, which is a big thing for us.

"He's my position coach, so I definitely enjoy him. He's definitely taught me a lot as far as schemes, what the offense might bring to the table, and all that. I've really been enjoying it."

His first two years on campus saw the Michigan native take part in bowl games. He wants it to become a yearly occurrence.

"That (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) was my second bowl game, and my second bowl win. It's always fun when you go to bowl games, especially when you win. Hopefully this year, we're looking for a lot bigger bowl game than the past two years. And we look for another win too."

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