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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Thomas picks up play despite injuries, fumble”

    Sophomore wide receiver Mike Thomas tries to keep his balance after breaking a tackle Sept. 16 against Stephen F. Austin at Arizona Stadium. Thomas battled injuries early in the season but had his best statistical performance this Saturday against USC with seven catches for 78 yards, despite muffing a punt in the fourth quarter.
    Sophomore wide receiver Mike Thomas tries to keep his balance after breaking a tackle Sept. 16 against Stephen F. Austin at Arizona Stadium. Thomas battled injuries early in the season but had his best statistical performance this Saturday against USC with seven catches for 78 yards, despite muffing a punt in the fourth quarter.

    He should have let it go. He knows it. And he says he’ll learn from it.

    But when that ball came hurdling off the foot of Southern California’s Greg Woidneck, all Mike Thomas wanted to do was give his team a better chance to score.

    The 5-foot-8 wideout ended up fumbling his first attempt at a punt return since high school, setting the Trojans up at Arizona’s 9-yard-line. A play later, USC’s Emmanuel Moody darted into the end zone to seal the game, 20-3.

    “”That’s a good learning experience,”” Thomas said. “”There’s not a better experience to have on a punt return like that that you can learn from. That’s a good one to learn from.””

    The lesson?

    “”He was on about the 25-30 (yard-line); the ball drove him back,”” said Thomas’ position coach, Charlie Williams. “”Anytime the ball’s driving you back, it makes it difficult for you to catch. In that respect, if that’s the case, then you live and learn: You let the ball hit the ground and take it where it is instead of turning the ball over.

    “”Our defense had played great defense all night. It was 13-3 at the time, and the game was not over,”” Williams added. “”So, had we just let that ball bounce, if we had to go 80 yards to score, then so be it. But it’s better to go 80 yards to score than to give them the ball back.””

    The botched punt return overshadowed an otherwise solid game for the speedy Thomas, who caught a season-high seven passes for 78 yards. But, even considering the late-game error, Saturday seemed to be the game when the DeSoto, Texas, native finally kicked his sophomore season into gear.

    “”I really hadn’t had a game like that,”” Thomas said. “”I wouldn’t say it’s my best game, either, but just to get back and start catching balls – I kind of felt like, afterwards, I kind of came into my own again.””

    After a record-setting freshman season that included 52 catches, 771 yards and five touchdowns – and the Pacific 10 Conference’s co-Freshman of the Year award – hopes were high entering this season. Thomas and the other “”T”” in the “”T’n’T Connection,”” Willie Tuitama, were supposed to do special things in 2006.

    Heading into the season opener against Brigham Young, what many people didn’t know is that a badly sprained ankle had slowed Thomas during fall camp.

    After catching just one ball for 14 yards that game, he had three catches against then-No. 8 Louisiana State Sept. 9 for 19 yards.

    But with the ankle problems lingering, it wasn’t until Stephen F. Austin came to town on Sept. 16 that Thomas showed glimpses of his former self, catching five passes for 47 yards.

    “”He wasn’t playing the way he usually does,”” quarterback Willie Tuitama said of the injury’s limitations on Thomas. “”He wasn’t coming out of his breaks like he does.””

    Added Williams: “”He’s a little cautious on what he can and can’t do. That’s what happens, it affects you like that.””

    Then came Saturday. Even though the ankle still wasn’t quite healed, Thomas seemed to finally get over the hump after a slow start to his sophomore season.

    “”Against ‘SC, he was just doing great,”” Tuitama said. “”I think we connected on a comeback one time where it was just perfect timing by him and we were just both on the same page. Just having him back is big.

    “”Myself and ‘Mike T,’ we started something last year, and we want to carry it into this year and the future.””

    The seven catches appeared to ease some tension that’d been surrounding Thomas early in the season.

    “”It was very frustrating, not getting very many balls thrown my way or what have you,”” Thomas said. “”To get those balls, it’s helped me to just get back in the groove and get back in the rhythm.””

    With each passing week, his ankle continues to improve. But it’s not quite there yet.

    “”My ankle’s still not fully 100 percent, but it’s not bothering me to where I’m thinking about it during routes or during the game,”” Thomas said. “”I guess you could take that aspect, that my ankle’s gotten better. It’s just improving my game and making me back to where I was.””

    Williams warned that Thomas might not be at full strength until after the team’s bye week following the Oregon State game Oct. 21.

    “”The ankle’s still going to bother him,”” Williams said. “”He’s not through with the ankle deal. He has to fight through it. The deal is, he has to continue to get treatment, and he has to – you know, he’ll get time to rest when we get to the bye week.””

    But until then, Thomas is still trying to top his stellar first campaign.

    “”You got four years of college ball,”” Thomas said. “”I guess every year can’t be as good as you would like it to be, but it’s a big difference (from last year). You know, I’ve had the little ankle injury or whatever, but it’s really no excuses on my part.

    “”I’m just trying to work at it and get it back to the season that I had my freshman year.””

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