Death, taxes and answering questions about Lawrence “LT” Thomas. At this point, those are the certainties in the life of head coach Mark Dantonio.
After answering at least one question about the sophomore defensive end almost weekly since the season began, it’s become a practice as steady and consistent as clockwork for Dantonio. Since Thomas suffered an undisclosed injury during summer workouts, there’s been an insatiable thirst to know the status of the former five-star prospect from Detroit.
Start or sit? In or out? Will he or won’t he?
For MSU’s (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) game this week against Illinois (3-3, 0-2), the answer remains unclear as Dantonio told members of the media he “hopes LT sees the field very soon,” but gave no indication as to whether that time will come this week.
“He’s certainly talented enough, and I do think he’s been practicing for the last two or three weeks, but that’s not it — he missed August and September,” Dantonio said. “Just to come back in and pop yourself back in there and say, ‘I’m back,’ is not quite that easy up front.”
One of the few five-star recruits in the history of the MSU football program, Thomas came to East Lansing with high expectations to be a defensive force to be reckoned with out of Renaissance High School in Detroit. After redshirting in 2011, Thomas moved to fullback and spent much of 2012 chat the position, amassing seven receptions for 78 yards while serving as a part-time blocker for talented Spartan running back Le’Veon Bell.
The decision was made to move Thomas exclusively back to defense for 2013, and he showed flashes of becoming a playmaker in MSU’s Green-White spring game with three tackles and a pass break-up.
However, the undisclosed injury, which Dantonio repeatedly has declined to comment specifically on, has sidelined Thomas for the first half of 2013 and left fans and media wondering when they might get the next glimpse of LT.
But rather than sulk, Thomas said he’s used the time to get a better grasp on the defense and improve multiple facets of his game.
“I’m maturing a lot, just learning the playbook and getting physically strong and mentally strong as well,” Thomas said last week. “Being out for the first half of the season, I feel like I grew mentally and I’m stronger. Like I said, it’s helped me out a lot.”
Addressing the media Wednesday, defensive line coach Ron Burton said Thomas likely will get his opportunities, but he’s battling for playing time with others that haven’t missed the amount of time that he has.
On top of that, Thomas is trying to crack the lineup of one of the most talented defenses in the country, a tall task, especially for a player who has been limited in all football activities for nearly three months.
“He’ll get his opportunities, but we have guys who are further along than he is right now who have played and been in preseason camp, have gone through some fires and know exactly what we’re looking for,” Burton said. “The speed of the game is constant, it’s repetition. When it’s time, he’ll be on the field.”
Through the process, Thomas remains positive, being active in practice for the past several weeks and searching for the opportunity for his number to get called. At any moment, Thomas knows he’s one play away from being thrown back into the fire, asked to compete on a roster attempting to move in unison towards a Big Ten championship.
But until that moment, Thomas is preparing himself for the unknown, placing his faith in religion and the strength of his MSU teammates.
“It was tough because I had a great spring you know, had high hopes and everything, but I can’t question God,” Thomas said. “It’s in God’s hands. I put my body in God’s hands and it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. I just pray every night, and I’m gonna just have to deal with it.”