Sept. 7, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with everyone here in person.
Q. We were talking to some of the defensive linemen yesterday about how their responsibilities have changed, Georgia Tech to Penn State. As a linebacker, is there much of a change in your responsibilities, your reads and keys, or is it pretty similar to last week?
Travis Thomas: The reads are always the same from week to week. You go from one guy to another. Going against a mobile quarterback to more of a drop back passer, there’s more I wouldn’t say not much at all, but less of a worry of a scrambler. You’re going to put more pressure on your D line to get pressure up front with the front four.
Switching off from having a mobile quarterback to a less mobile quarterback, that means there’s other guys who are more threats, more weapons. We’re going to have to be more conscious of the runningbacks and receivers that they have with their speed.
Q. Do you keep less of an eye in the backfield when you’re covering in a situation like this?
Travis Thomas: I try to keep my head on the swivel. They have a backup quarterback who is more of a scrambler, Robinson type, that they had last year. No telling whether they’re going to swap him in and out or not. Just have to be knowledgeable about the personnel.
Q. Also Georgia Tech was kind of a setup where they had one receiver where they forced the ball to him if they had to. This is more of a wide?open spread?it?out type thing. What are the challenges that that creates for you?
Travis Thomas: There’s multiple talents on the offensive side of the ball, particularly a lot of speed at the receiver position. That just forces us to be conscious of them at all times, stay on their match?ups.
Q. There has been some talk about Darius being a back that gets stronger as the game goes on. As a runningback yourself, what goes into developing into a runningback like that, kind of what are the keys to developing that way?
Travis Thomas: I think the more carries you get, the more comfortable you get, the more momentum you build up. I think the more strength you build up, as well. Him getting stronger as the game goes on, I think that’s an accurate statement.
Q. Why wouldn’t you wear down?
Travis Thomas: Why wouldn’t you wear down? Basically the adrenaline rush. If you’re doing well, you’re going to continue to do well hopefully as your line blocks for you and things like that. The speed of the game tends to slow down when you kind of get into the zone. I think that attributes to it.
Q. As far as the defense goes, do they get tired in that scenario or can you see fatigue if you’re kind of one of those grind?it?out backs?
Travis Thomas: You see guys with their hands on their hips, slouching over a little bit, you kind of know their conditioning is wearing down a little bit. You kind of thrive off of that and pick up your game.
Q. Does it help you at all coming in the game before you’d come in cold, playing D, did you find that helped you at all?
Travis Thomas: Definitely adapted to the speed of the game starting off at defense, then coming in on offense. Your muscles are warm, you’re fresh. You’re ready to go.
Q. Can you talk about how you thought it went Saturday? Were you pleased with the way it turned out?
Travis Thomas: I thought it went well for my first time playing defense since high school. Surprisingly, you know, wasn’t as tired as I thought I’d be playing both sides. Got good reviews from the coaches. There’s obviously things you have to work on from week to week, but overall I thought it was a pretty decent performance.
Q. I think you had the first tackle of the game. Did that calm you right away, give you a little confidence?
Travis Thomas: It definitely gets you going. Definitely gets you going. Especially when it’s your first time, it was definitely a boost for myself.
Q. Anything that surprised you during the game? Coach Weis mentioned he was surprised how well you held up. In the fourth quarter, you had all those carries, two carries. Two plays later you sacked a ball.
Travis Thomas: My conditioning, that definitely surprised me. I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to hold up through all four quarters, the potential of playing both sides of the ball. I was pleased with how I held up. I attribute that to the strength and conditioning staff we have here getting me ready.
Q. What were you most pleased with? Was there one play you made or one thing that you did?
Travis Thomas: Well, I set out a goal to have a sack or make a big play on defense that would have an impact on the game. I got a sack, so I was pleased with that.
Q. What special teams are you on?
Travis Thomas: Right now going into this game, I plan on being on kickoff return and punt. Those plans will change as the game goes along. I’ll fit in where I’m needed.
Q. Is that what you were on last time, too?
Travis Thomas: Yes.
(Operator interruption giving instructions of phone questions.)
Travis Thomas: I’m not 215, I’m actually a little heavier than that.
Q. What are you?
Travis Thomas: I’m 218 this morning.
Q. When did the idea of you moving to linebacker, when was it first suggested? Was it broached at all in the spring or this was all beyond the spring?
Travis Thomas: It was initially mentioned to me probably a few weeks before the spring game, it was brought to my attention. I had a few weeks to think about it, kind of get the questions out that I had in mind, make a decision before summer started.
Q. Did you get any work at linebacker in the spring?
Travis Thomas: None in the spring. It was strictly runningback. My decision came after the spring game.
Q. What were you able to do during the summer to start getting you prepared to make that transition?
Travis Thomas: I met with Coach Minter periodically, pretty much every other day, watching some film. Maurice Crum helped me along. During the summer, we usually have seven?on?seven, wide receiver, DBs, linebackers, coverage, pass, kind of helped me pick up on the pass coverage aspect of the defense.
Q. When it was first suggested, was it suggested from the standpoint that you would still see some time on offense or that it would be a complete transition?
Travis Thomas: It was initially set out to be a week trial in fall camp, see how I progressed, see whether a lot of other guys picked up the game. It was just a day?by?day thing. It worked out well to I’m staying there right now.
Q. If they would have shut the door completely to offense, would that have made it a little less palatable for you to move to defense?
Travis Thomas: It would have been a little less comfortable making that decision, considering the fact I still wanted to have a role on offense, yes.
Q. On media day you said your first reaction was, Why me? How long did that period last?
Travis Thomas: It lasted pretty much till the end of school, until I realized that I could have a greater impact here at defense and still have my role on offense as well. So it lasted probably about three weeks I’d say.
Q. Maybe you’ve talked about it, but you’re a hybrid type player playing on both sides of the ball. What other guys on this team do you see as being candidates to be able to play both offense and defense?
Travis Thomas: I don’t think they’ll do this, but I think Zbikowski could do that. Every time he touches the ball on punt return, he’s a potential threat to take it to the house. We have a receiver, freshman, Richard Jackson, who is really physical. He’s kind of a safety Chinedum Ndukwe type of guy. So we have a few real athletic guys who I think may be able to do that.
Q. Talking to your high school coach, he was talking about how you were recruited heavily by Penn State. Paterno came down to talk to you. Look back at the recruiting process, your impressions of Penn State, the program, Coach Paterno there.
Travis Thomas: There was a lot of pressure there considering he was an alum. He played for Paterno. I went up there a few times him on unofficial visits, met with Coach (indiscernible), the runningback coach at the time.
I was never really a fan of Penn State but I considered them an option because they’ve traditionally been a really good football team, good school, good academics in the field I was looking for.
In the end, Notre Dame had the overall aspect of academics and football. I know it was the decision for me.
Q. What did you like about the program, Penn State?
Travis Thomas: Penn State. Big?10. I like the Big?10 atmosphere. Physical, smash?’em?out type of play. Looking on the offensive side the ball, where I was recruited there, they had the style of offense I like, I?back type of offense.
Q. Coach Paterno, what were your impressions of him?
Travis Thomas: He was a laid back guy off the field. On the field he was pretty intense. Similar to the atmosphere I was used to in high school.
Q. Did they end up making your finalists lists or not really under consideration?
Travis Thomas: They weren’t in my final list. My final list came down to Notre Dame, Purdue, West Virginia and I think it was Boston College.
Q. What school did you cheer for growing up?
Travis Thomas: I was always a Florida State, Texas, Pittsburgh guy myself. Penn State was never someone I cheered for. As I got older and got into high school, Notre Dame became more visible on TV to me, so I began to like them.
Q. Are you enjoying this? Do you like this?
Travis Thomas: Absolutely. It’s what I wanted to do. I’m definitely enjoying it.
Q. Why? What’s good about it?
Travis Thomas: It’s like being in high school all over again. You can make plays on both sides of the ball. If you’re in shape to do that, why not do everything that you can do to help the team win? That’s my goal.
Q. Which position do you prefer?
Travis Thomas: If I had to choose, I’d definitely go back to offense. That’s my first love. That’s what I really love to do. You know, I like hitting people. I like playing defense as well. If I had to choose, it would be offense.
Q. Take me through your first sack. What was that like?
Travis Thomas: It was very exciting. It was actually a goal I set out to have coming into the game. I wanted to make a real impact in my first game whether, you know, it be tackle for a loss, sack, interception. I just so happened to get a sack, so I was really excited. My teammates were excited for me as well.
Q. Who was the last guy you sacked in a football game?
Travis Thomas: Last guy I sacked in a football game was probably a quarterback I faced in a playoff game my senior year in high school. That was my last time playing high school.
Q. What was the opponent?
Travis Thomas: Freeport High School.
Q. In Pennsylvania?
Travis Thomas: Yes.
Q. What was the result of the game?
Travis Thomas: We actually lost in the first round. I was pretty upset.
Q. When you watch Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli on film, what do you see?
Travis Thomas: I see a very strong arm. I see someone who seems like they have a lot of experience playing, considering that was his first collegiate game. So he’s definitely going to be a challenge for us this week.
Q. Can you tell me about a comparison between what it’s like right before you get a handoff versus right before you try to hit a guy that’s carrying the ball? How do you compare that?
Travis Thomas: It’s actually pretty similar. You’re going through your reads and progressions, presnap reads before the ball is hiked on the other side of the ball. The only difference is on offense you’re thinking about where you’re going to cut, where the hole is going to open up.
In defense it’s pretty similar. You’re just trying to anticipate where the ball’s going to go, whether it’s pass or run.
Q. What type of conditioning did you do over the summer to get you in shape to play as many snaps as you did?
Travis Thomas: Well, a lot of things I focused on were primarily speed conditioning, a lot of bursting, 40?yard dash type drills. I did a lot of endurance?type running, 110 yard sprints, doing multiple laps around our practice fields to get some endurance. I try to work on the short speed as well as the overall endurance.
Q. Is that different conditioning from what you went through your first three years when you were strictly a runningback?
Travis Thomas: It’s not different. I just did a lot more, anticipating playing both sides the ball.
Q. Did you put on much weight to play linebacker?
Travis Thomas: Actually I didn’t put on as much weight as I would have liked to. I’m currently sitting at 218. I’m comfortable there.
Q. What were you last year when you were playing runningback?
Travis Thomas: Last year I was the exact same weight. I wasn’t able to gain too much over the summer.
Q. Did you have a goal to maybe add five or 10 pounds and it just didn’t happen?
Travis Thomas: I had a goal to come into camp around 220. I fell a little short of that. I’m still in the area. I’m just trying to maintain it.
Q. Last couple years you guys have had some struggles at home. Is there anything you are planning on doing differently this year? Talk about how important it is to get off to a good start at home this year.
Travis Thomas: It’s definitely important to get off to a good start considering our schedule is very tough in the beginning of our season. The more wins you stack up, the more confidence you get, the more comfortable you begin to feel out there with the guys you’re playing with.
We have one down and we’re looking to get two here this Saturday.
Q. Could you ever see yourself becoming a completely defensive player?
Travis Thomas: I don’t think coming from offense I could see that. Becoming more comfortable now that I’m playing linebacker, it could be a possibility in the future, yeah.
Q. Looking at Penn State, are you tight with any of the Penn State guys being that you’re from the Pittsburgh area?
Travis Thomas: One of the guys I talked to probably heavily coming out of high school was the runningback Austin Scott. We were the two runningbacks they really heavily recruited when we were coming out of high school. Paul Posluszny, as well, we were co?captains in the Ohio Pennsylvania Big 33 All?Star Game. Those were probably the two guys I talked to most.
Q. You mentioned Posluszny. What stands out when you see him? You have a little bit more experience.
Travis Thomas: Knowing him from high school and knowing the type of player he is now, he’s really physical. It’s a smash?’em?out type of guy, really intelligent about the game. His physicality is what most stands out to me.
Q. Can you talk about what it’s like to have Rhema McKnight back in the offensive huddle. I hear he’s quite the talker in there.
Travis Thomas: Right. He’s another leader out there. Before he went down in the Michigan game last year, he was our leading receiver, our go?to guy. I think Brady feels a lot better about having him and Samardzija back. That’s a dual threat right there. He’s happy to be back. He has a lot of energy. Real excitable type of guy, high energy type of guy. He gets things going when people get down.
Q. How do you change the look of your offense having Rhema as opposed to Mo, who is a different style of receiver?
Travis Thomas: I think they’re both deep threats. Rhema doesn’t have as much height, but he can jump very high. So I think he’s an intermediate as well as a deep threat which gives you maybe a little bit more options.
Q. Can you describe the buzz around campus this week. How has the atmosphere been in South Bend?
Travis Thomas: Atmosphere is pretty similar to the USC game last year. There’s a lot of hype going on. Two top?rated teams. I mean, two great coaches. Definitely a lot of buzz going on. You try to not focus on that and just focus on the things you need to do to get ready to play.
Q. Why do you think so many people are excited? Just the fact that it’s two great teams? Does it have a little bit to do with history? What is it?
Travis Thomas: I don’t know a lot about the history. I think the last time Notre Dame played Penn State was here in ’92 with Reggie Brooks at runningback. It was a 17?16 win. It was pretty close. There’s been a history of close match?ups between the two.
Two great teams. They have a lot of tradition. I mean, there’s a lot of hype going on. A lot of people are wondering what Notre Dame is going to be all about this year. I think that attributes to it as well.
Q. Does Coach Weis try to educate you on the history of some of this stuff? Do you watch clips of the Snow Bowl?
Travis Thomas: I haven’t watched any clips, but usually every week he’ll give you some facts about the opponent you’re going to play, whether it’s personnel, things they’re going to be doing throughout the week, things they’ve done in the past to prepare for a game, the history of past games you’ve had between match?ups that you’ve seen before. He definitely gives you a little bit of information at the beginning of the week.
Q. Does that give you a better appreciation of rivalries, history, all that stuff?
Travis Thomas: Right. I mean, whenever you know who you’re going against, what to expect through tradition, it definitely helps you out.
Q. Charlie felt like you could have had two sacks against Georgia Tech. Did you feel the same way?
Travis Thomas: Probably, yeah. I’ll set up for that this week.