Dwayne Thomas was in a vulnerable position when hundreds of LSU fans rushed the field at Tiger Stadium following an Oct. 25 win against Ole Miss.
The sophomore defensive back was on crutches, less than a week removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee, and easily could have toppled over in the frenzied crowd. Luckily he had a convoy of teammates and support staff to keep him safe on the way to the locker room.
“Jermauria Rasco, he was on my side. I had some great strength and conditioning coaches on my side and we were just all walking in,” Thomas recalled. “Jamal [Adams] was right behind me, Rickey [Jefferson] was right in front of me and we all just were walking in with people coming up and grabbing, excited. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s go in the crowd.’
“It actually was fun because being in the house so much [that week after surgery], not being around a lot of people, it was just so boring. To see that excitement when people rushed the field, I’d never been a part of that before so I enjoyed that moment. I kind of wanted to be out there, so I told them I wanted to stay out there and I didn’t want to go inside.”
That was the closest to on-field excitement that Thomas came in the second half of the season since he injured his knee in Game 5 against New Mexico State. The Tigers were 4-1 at the time and ranked 15th nationally, with Thomas starting to develop as a star in John Chavis’ “Mustang” defensive package.
He was rushing the quarterback off the edge, as he often does in the Mustang, when he suffered the season-ending knee injury. It was Thomas’ second season-ending injury at LSU, as he took a medical redshirt in 2012 after suffering a sports hernia that kept him from playing in the final nine games that fall.
“When they were like, ‘It’s a torn ACL,’ it kind of hit me emotionally a little bit because I was having an exciting season,” said Thomas, who had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a key fumble recovery (against Mississippi State) before the injury. “It was fun to start off fast for me and it was just a little setback and I just felt like I could bounce back from this because it’s just a torn ACL. It’s not like I tore my meniscus or anything else bad with that. I’m just ready to get back. My ACL’s healing faster than a lot of people really think it would.”
In fact, he thinks he’ll be ready to go when the Tigers open spring practice.
“He’s working hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said last week. “His rehabilitation is coming along very nicely. Hope to have him back for spring. I don't know if that’s possible, but as hard as he’s working, we would think that’s likely.”
Thomas’ return would bolster a secondary that might need a player with his capabilities next season. The Tigers will definitely lose senior starter Ronald Martin, while juniors Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are eligible to enter the NFL draft and suspended starter Rashard Robinson’s future at LSU is in doubt.
The secondary fared well overall even without Thomas available – LSU is second nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fifth in passing yards allowed (162.3) – but the group might need his veteran presence in 2015. Not to mention his playmaking ability.
“He’s a different type of player and he brings a spark to our defense,” sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “But even without him bringing that spark, I feel like we’re not really missing anything. We’re missing him as a person and as a player, and we’re missing his playmaking ability, but I feel like as a secondary, we performed well this year. I feel like with him, it’ll make it even better.”
In the meantime, he will continue to rehab the injury and attempt to assist his teammates from the sideline while taking notes about opponents’ tendencies. That knowledge will come in handy if Thomas makes it back to the field according to his expected timetable.
“It was tough in the beginning, but I’m over the mental thing. I’m just looking at all the positive coming out of it,” Thomas said. “The season is almost over. ... It just flew by, and next thing you know we’re going to be in spring and camp and I’m going to be right there on the field with those guys."