MUNCIE, Ind. — Jaylin Thomas speaks for himself and probably thousands of other college football players.
The Lima Senior graduate, who is heading into his third season as a starting linebacker at Ball State, just wants to play football this fall. And he doesn’t want to think about the unthinkable, which is the possibility of the 2020 season being affected or even canceled by the coronavirus.
“I feel like the season is going to go as planned. I’m just keeping that mindset and I’m going to stick with that,” Thomas said last week.
“I would hate to see my season cut short. I just pray that we are able to have a full season and we are able to do something successful this season. I’m ready, I’m excited,” he said. “But I’m just taking it day by day. I put it all in God’s hands. He’s always got a plan for you.”
Thomas’ 97 tackles were second on Ball State’s defense last season and he started every game for the Cardinals, who finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference. He was third team All-MAC.
After redshirting in 2016 and playing mostly on special teams in 2017, Thomas’ first big moment in college came in a 24-16 loss to No. 8 Notre Dame in 2018 when he had nine tackles. He went on to start eight games that season.
Each season has been better for him than the one which came before it, which is another reason he wants a full season this fall.
“I want to win a MAC title and win a bowl game. That has always been my goal here and it’s something I have yet to do, something I want to accomplish,” Thomas said.
“As a personal goal, I just want to be better than I was last season, be a team captain, be a leader. This is my last year so I want to do some big things. And hopefully I get a shot at the next league (the NFL).”
Originally, the 6-foot, 1-inch, 230-pound Thomas had NBA dreams instead of hopes of playing in the NFL.
He played basketball throughout high school and was part of Lima Senior’s Division I state runner-up team in 2016. But football gradually became his No. 1 sport.
He began his high school career at Shawnee, where he was a running back, before transferring to Lima Senior as a sophomore. But Lima Senior already had an established running back in Juniel Liles and was deep at wide receiver. So Thomas found himself playing linebacker.
“It was the best move for me and it actually worked out for the better. I actually loved it. I started to love it when I started playing it. It was my way to get on the field and help the team out and be productive,” Thomas said.
“We needed a solid linebacker and a solid defense. We were offense heavy. We had receivers left and right and our running backs were pretty good. I just wanted to bring that athleticism to the defensive side of the ball and make a difference.”
Lima Senior went 5-5, 8-3 and 9-3, including two trips to the playoffs, in his three seasons as a Spartan. By the time he was a senior he was first-team All-Ohio after having 199 tackles and 24 tackles for losses in 12 games.
Though the honors came his way, not a lot of college offers did before Ball State offered.
“Going into my senior year I had no offers and it all worked out for me. I was given that shot and I’m a person who if I get a shot I’m going to attack it full throttle and give it my all. That was one of the greatest days of my life,” Thomas said.
“That drives me every day. I’m still proving it to people. I’ve got that chip on my shoulder. It will always be with me.”
Ball State had not started spring practice when the campus was closed because of the coronavirus. Thomas stayed in Muncie and has worked out at the home weight room of a friend of his roommate since March.
While it might not be the same as working out on campus, Thomas is confident he will be better than ever this season.
“I’m definitely getting better every day,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.