Pitt fans cheer on the Panthers in the first quarter Saturday of their game against the New Mexico Lobos at Heinz Field. Pitt won, 49-27.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It didn't take Todd Thomas long to realize he made a mistake.-
In early August, the Pitt linebacker let his emotions get the best of him and, after just one practice on the second string, told coach Paul Chryst he intended to quit the team.
The next day, Thomas changed his mind and decided he wanted to return. After a week in limbo, Chryst, the coaching staff and players decided to let Thomas return.
Saturday, Thomas made his first start of the season in Pitt's 49-27 win against New Mexico and made his presence felt with a team-high 10 tackles, including two for losses.
After the game, he spoke to the media for the first time since his week-long sabbatical early in training camp.
"It was just the way I carried myself," Thomas said of what he changed in his time away. "Stay humble, and that's what I did. I changed for the team and I'm thankful that everybody let me back."
After he informed the coaches of his wishes to return, Thomas said he had to talk to his teammates, particularly the seniors, and convince them he would come back as a committed member of the program.
They told Thomas he could come back, but only if he returned with an improved attitude, as well.
"The way I carried myself wasn't really appropriate," Thomas said. "So I just came back, did what I had to do, showed them that I could change and now I'm back and I'm thankful for that.
"I'm thankful to all the players, the freshmen on up, to coach Chryst and the staff for letting me come back."
Thomas played limited snaps in Pitt's season-opening 41-13 loss to Florida State Sept. 2, and finished the game with just one tackle.
In the past week, he began splitting first-team snaps in practice with starting strongside linebacker Bam Bradley. Bradley suffered a minor shoulder injury that kept him out of Saturday's game, and the coaches told Thomas Thursday he was going to start.
Chryst said he also thought Thomas' athleticism could help against New Mexico's option offense.
"With the way we wanted to defend this team, it suited him," Chryst said. "He certainly had been doing some good things in practice, so it was good to get him a significant number of snaps."
Thomas' biggest play came early in the fourth quarter when the Lobos, trying to pull off a miraculous comeback, ran a fake punt on fourth-and-3. Thomas sniffed it out and made the tackle for a loss of 7 yards.
"We went through [that play] all week," he said. "That was my key, that was my read, and I just did what I had to do. I did my job."
It's not clear what will happen to Thomas' playing time when Bradley returns to full strength. Before training camp started, Thomas figured to be a prominent player on the Pitt defense. He was the fourth-leading tackler last year despite playing in just nine games.
When asked after the game if he plans to be the starter the rest of the way, Thomas said "hopefully."
"I'm just going to practice like I've been doing, just work hard and hopefully everything works out," he said.
On Saturday, though, he was just glad to get back in the action.
"I was hungry," he said. "I was chomping at the bit to get back and I was happy to get back on the field with my teammates."