It’s hard to find anyone else in college football who’s spent a greater percentage of his career on injured reserve than Illinois defensive back Marcus Laron (better known by his nickname Miami, the city he grew up in) Thomas.
In the 2009 preseason, Thomas was a projected starter, but he suffered a season-ending injury; a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. In 2008, he got only 62 plays in on the season before tearing the ACL in his right knee, forcing him to miss pretty much the entire year. In 2007, he started one game (vs. Northwestern) as a freshman during Illinois‘ Rose Bowl “Champaign Campaign.”
His glory moment came that year during the Illini’s historical upset at #1 Ohio State, the first time Illinois had beaten a #1 team since 1950. When starting cornerback Vontae Davis (now with the NFL‘s Miami Dolphins) went down with an injury, Thomas stepped in and grabbed his first career interception, and tipped another ball to teammate Antonio Steele for another interception.
This fall he’s obviously hoping for more ’07 type vibes, and less ’08 and ’09 style karma. From speaking with him, it’s noticeable that the old cliche “what doesn’t kill you only makes your stronger” rings true.
By Paul M. Banks
“To sit out two years in a row I’ve seen a lot, I’ve seen this program transition a lot from new coaching, new players, and not being out there made me a stronger person,” said Thomas, now a junior.
“Now when I get out there it’s not taken for granted. I’m going to play every play like it’s my last, because I’ve been through that. This is the most I’ve prepared for a season, just got to get through camp with no injuries,” he continued.
Thomas took his medical redshirt in ’08, but he may be granted another year of eligibility on top of that. So the years playing college football he’s had taken from him will be refunded.
“It’s impending, most likely if I need my 6th year, it’s there. Hopefully I don’t need it,” Thomas said.
Some day, Thomas would like to be known in the football world as much more than a health insurance provider’s worst nightmare. He’s a very heady player, and he confirmed my belief that defensive backs are some of the smartest guys on the field.
“You get two years of injuries, you kind of lose some of the athleticism, but I have to use my knowledge of the game now more than ever. And being a defensive back is not all about the physical aspects, and sometimes I know what’s coming before it comes,” Thomas said.
When I heard that quote during our Illini Media Day exclusive, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks from my senior year of high school, the varsity football awards dinner at season’s end. Before everyone receives their varsity letter, their position coach (in my case the DBs coach) says a little something about the individual athlete. For me, it was “this young man is one of the smartest players ever to come through our program. He’s very intelligent- both on and off the field. Unfortunately, health is something just as important as intelligence, and this was something he just didn’t have for us in 1995.”
It’s true, I had two separate injuries that season; keeping me inactive for seven of our nine games. Standards of journalism aside, you can see why my heart bleeds for Thomas, and why I identify with him.
Thomas a 5-11, 180lb Southside Chicago native (yet another coincidence, I was listed as 5-10, 175 in my playing days) told me who he looks up to in the NFL.
“Darrelle Revis as a cover corner, I look at myself as a cover corner. I might not be as good as Revis yet, but he emphasizes studying the game, studying the receivers. And that’s something I do, I don’t just go out and play football. I been playing the game since I was five years old and I played corner my whole life, a lot of players switch positions when they get to college, but I been playing the same position the whole time, so I know the game,” Thomas proclaimed.
Miami Thomas and the Illini begin the season in St. Louis September 4th versus the Missouri Tigers.
Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru