Experienced Ian Thomas Ready For Big Year

Ian Thomas (Holly Smith)

An injury-depleted 2009 Fighting Illini defense turned to a relatively untried redshirt sophomore to serve as an anchor at middle linebacker. Ian Thomas ended up leading the team in tackles despite a hurt shoulder and having to care for his mother after a brain aneurism. With that year of experience, Thomas is ready to have a breakout season.

Illinois middle linebacker Martez Wilson saw his season end early last fall due to neck surgery. Ian Thomas replaced him and did an admirable job. They are both healthy and will play side by side in Vic Koenning's defense in 2010. However, Thomas is having to adjust to the new position.

"Yeah, it's definitely different. I played middle last year, so the inside responsibility is kind of second nature. I've played it all my life. It's about the same responsibility as last year. But the defense is different with the two backers. The two inside backers work together."

Thomas says his new responsibilities are a blending of a middle linebacker and a weakside linebacker.

"Yeah, that's kind of how the defense works. We trade responsibilities sometimes, me and the middle linebacker."

Thomas is excited to have Wilson next to him this year.

"It's gonna be great. He's a great athlete, and I think people kind of fear him. It's good for me because they cut back to me a lot."

As an upperclassman, Thomas realizes he must be more of a leader to help his teammates.

"I think I have a little bit more responsibility with leadership. I'm an older guy now, and a lot guys look up to me. I've just got to be more of a leader now, be more vocal."

After depth concerns the last couple years, the two middle linebacker spots are beginning to develop backups.

"Definitely developing depth. We've got a few guys. Aaron Gress and Evan Frierson are both guys that can come in and play. We just want to be strong there for all the twos."

Most Illini say they have put the failings of last year behind them and are ready to forge a new beginning. Thomas agrees for the most part, but he doesn't want to forget last season.

"I kind of feel like I want to keep it in my mind, just to remember where we were at so we won't ever go back to that way again. It's gonna help me be stronger and to be great every day. I don't want to lose like that again. It definitely makes me hungrier."

The Illini are setting admirable goals. Thomas has a lower limit on what he hopes for the upcoming season.

"I think I'll be satisfied with a winning season. I want to do everything I can to win games. I want to be a guy you can depend on every game to come out with intensity."

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