Jermaine Thomas was the 55th rated cornerback in the nation, according to Scout.com, in the 2007 class. He had BCS offers from Kansas, Nebraska, and Washington State, but Fresno State was his first offer and the school he felt gave him the best opportunity to play early.
“I came in as an athlete,” said Thomas. “They asked me if wanted to play receiver but I only played one year of receiver in high school. I felt more comfortable at corner because of my ball skills.”
After redshirting in the fall of 2007, injuries began to take their toll. In all, Thomas suffered multiple hip and groin injuries resulting in four different surgeries. He had his last two in December 2008 and March 2009, which caused him to miss spring practice last year.
He entered 2009 ready to compete, but he was hardly 100%.
“I was playing 75% because of my strength everything else was great,” said Thomas. “I was in good shape but my strength wasn’t where I wanted it to be me. I had to get my hips and groin back up to the condition it needed to be.”
Despite that, he made one of the most athletic defensive plays in the 2009 season. In the final quarter versus San Jose State, with the Spartans at the FS 34, quarterback Kyle Reed launched a long ball. Thomas, expecting a long pass, read Reed and picked off the ball reaching around the receiver in the end zone.
Those skills set him apart from the other corners on the roster. “My ball skills,” Thomas said of his strong suit. “But there are other corners that can do things better than me, so it all evens out.”
It was tough for him sitting out his first two years. But he says the time off the field helped him become a better player. “It helped me more from a mental standpoint,” added Thomas. “I learned the playbook more. I learned the defense and got a chance to learn more about the offense, which helps your defensive game.”
Thomas enters this spring finally healthy – 13 months removed from his last surgery. Junior Desia Dunn returns as the only full-time starting corner from a year ago. Isaiah Green, also a junior, gained valuable playing time down the stretch last season, including a few starts. But Thomas only saw minimal playing time. Nonetheless, all three are sharing first team reps this spring.
“I feel great right now,” Thomas said of his health. “I’m just trying to compete and get better everyday trying to help the defense have a good 2010-11 season. I have had a lot of injuries. I’m just getting my movement back. It just feels good working with the first team.”
The Bulldog defense has been subpar the last four years and the secondary has taken a brunt of the criticism. The corners inability to play press and man coverage has been an issue. But the ‘Dogs haven’t had the athletes to play that type of aggressive defense the last few years. But Thomas says the onus falls on them.
“We all got to know the defense, know how the offense works, and get film work,” Thomas said of the corners’ responsibilities. “We’re just trying to get with the [style of play] Richard Marshall and James Sanders had, how that secondary was. We’re trying to bring that back. We have to eliminate big plays, help on the run, and do our job.
“We want to be more aggressive corners. We want to eliminate big plays. It’s on us. We have to step it up, do our job better than last year, and have more productive season this year.”
“Everybody is just working, from the young corners to the older corners nobody has their spot sewed. Everybody out there is competing, which is a good thing. It pushes everybody to work harder and everybody is competing to start. So it’s not a one man deal.”
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