By Dan Hoard
CINCINNATI - To add a little juice to Friday night’s spring game at Nippert Stadium, UC head coach Luke Fickell split up the seniors and allowed them to draft the remaining roster for the Black team and the Red team.
The number one draft pick by the black squad was junior cornerback Alex Thomas.
“It makes you feel even better when they let the players do the draft,” said Thomas. “It lets you know how much the other players trust you and believe in you.”
It proved to be a wise selection. Thomas had a pair of interceptions to help the Black team defeat the Red team 22-6.
“He had a really good spring,” said cornerbacks coach Willie Martinez. “He improved each and every day. He’s a sponge when it comes to learning the game and he wants to get better. He proved tonight that he’s a gamer.”
Thomas’s first interception came off of Hayden Moore and led to a Josh Pasley field goal. His second INT came off of Jake Sopko and set up a 35-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ross Trail.
“That second pick was really a good football play,” said Fickell. “It’s one thing to be a great athlete and go up and play some man coverage, but it’s another thing to see the play develop, do the things we’re asking you to do, and then break on the football.”
“It was nice to see him catch the ball because he’s dropped a few this spring,” said Martinez. “It was good to see that for his confidence.”
“When you’re a corner and you’re playing press coverage most of the time you’ve got to have confidence and trust in yourself,” said Thomas.
Last year as a sophomore, Alex had four interceptions to finish second on the team behind Mike Tyson’s five. Thomas and senior Linden Stephens have typically been the first-team cornerbacks during spring practice and they wound up on the same team for Friday’s game.
That posed problems for the Red squad as Moore finished 13-for-32 for 156 yards with two interceptions.
“Linden has had a great spring camp too,” said Martinez. “To get those two on the same team with the style that we play – it’s pretty tough to go at those two guys and be successful.”
Thomas’s spring game performance put the finishing touch on an outstanding camp as the junior from Lauderdale Lakes, FL appears to be thriving under the new coaching staff.
“As a player, you’ve got to come ready,” said Thomas. “It doesn't matter if it’s 5:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the morning – it don’t matter what time it is; you had better get up and be ready. That’s how Coach Fick and (Strength coach Brady) Collins work.
“The thing that stands out the most is that everybody is up. Everybody is moving forward and thinking that we’re going to be good.”
The Bearcats’ chances of having a strong season will get a big boost if Thomas continues to justify the faith that his teammates have in him when they selected him first in Wednesday’s draft.
“He loves to play the game, he’s physical, and he’s a playmaker,” said Martinez.
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