Thomas running with a cause

Illinois´ Pierre Thomas had 68 yards on 11 carries Saturday versus Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Peter Hoffman

Illinois´ Pierre Thomas had 68 yards on 11 carries Saturday versus Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Peter Hoffman

By Derek Barichello

When Pierre Thomas gets the ball, he’s thinking three things: hit the hole, keep his legs driving and keep fighting until he gets a first down or touchdown.

Thomas, a 5’11” 200-pound junior, is a soft-spoken player. He would rather let his running do the talking for him.

And his style of running speaks loudly. Thomas is a power back who leads the Illini in rushing with 584 yards on 109 carries. Last season, he rushed for a team-high 893 yards.

“He has a competitive spirit, he wants to win just as bad as anyone out there,” said fellow running back E.B. Halsey. “He plays hard and he runs hard. He’s the break-the-tackles-guy on this team. He’s the guy who is going to pound the ball in there.”

Thomas’ philosophy on game day is simple.

“I just try to do all I can when I’m on the field,” he said.

Thomas does not need to be vocal for his teammates to respect him. He leads by example.

“He’s a great person, he’s a winner and a leader,” said head coach Ron Zook. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he talks, people listen. Everyone on the team loves him. He’s just the guy you’d want on your side to go to war with.”

Thomas spoke up recently and the players listened. After the loss to No. 5 Penn State on Oct. 22, Thomas called a team meeting to talk about getting a win for the seniors.

“I had this urge, and I couldn’t just be quiet,” Thomas said. “They know I’m not a big talker. When I said something it probably shocked them. I hope some of these guys thought about it.”

What Thomas said came from the heart. He just did what he would want the underclassmen to do for him if he were a senior.

“You want to have memories when you leave college,” Thomas said. “We have a new coaching staff and things have not been going well. I told them it’s time to step up and get a victory for these guys so we can send them out with a good memory. So that they can know ‘this year wasn’t all that bad that we came out in this last game and got the victory for them.'”

Thomas backed it up with a strong performance at Purdue, gaining 68 yards on 11 carries. And he said he is going to give it all he can again against Northwestern.

“Coop (Senior defensive back James Cooper) gave a really good speech before the Purdue game,” Thomas said. “He said ‘how bad do you guys want this? I know I want it bad because this is my last year.’ I knew how he felt because that’s how I’m going be for next year. I’m going to do all it takes to step up and help my team out. I told them this season I’m going to be there for them.”

Halsey said it was not the first time Thomas has spoken up to the team and it is not likely it will be the last. He said the meeting proved to him again that Thomas will take up where he will leave off as leader of the offense.

“All it takes to be a leader is a little courage,” Halsey said. “If you are going to be the one to speak up, you have to know that what you’re doing is the right thing. He’s capable of doing that. A lot of people listen to Pierre because he’s got that passion.”