Travis Thomas is the starting weak-side linebacker and reserve tailback.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Travis Thomas ran for 5 yards on his first carry, 2 yards on the second. Five plays later he tackled Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball for a 5-yard loss.
The Notre Dame senior who once had a hard time getting on the field is now hard to keep off it, participating in more than 65 plays in the opening victory over Georgia Tech.
He's now the starting weak-side linebacker and reserve tailback, and the fourth-ranked Irish (1-0) are depending on Thomas for both defense and offense entering Saturday's game against No. 19 Penn State (1-0).
"I thought it went surprisingly well," said Thomas, who is also the special teams captain, playing on the kickoff and punt teams. "I wasn't as tired as I thought I'd be playing both sides of the ball."
Coach Charlie Weis came up with the idea of using Thomas this way.
"He surprised our whole staff," Weis said. "He's still on the learning curve because he's new to being out there and playing at this level. But I think you'd have to say he held up pretty well for being right out of the box."
Thomas caught Weis' eye on Georgia Tech's first play, sprinting across the field to knock Calvin Johnson out of bounds along the opposite sideline.
"He definitely showed us somebody who is running around very well," Weis said.
He was at his best in the fourth quarter. With starting tailback Darius Walker needing a break, and freshman tailback Munir Prince never having carried the ball in a college game, Weis turned to Thomas.
"I just felt with the game on the line, you want to go with someone who's been there, somebody who's had the ball in his hands," Weis said. "I just felt Travis was the guy who's the guy to put in there and he will continue to be the guy to put in there for the foreseeable future."
First game both ways
Thomas finished his first game as a two-way player fifth on the team with four tackles, two of them for losses. He also had six carries for 19 yards -- all in the fourth quarter.
Not bad for a guy who before last month hadn't practiced a down on defense since high school.
Thomas was surprised when Weis approached him about playing linebacker midway through spring practice. Thomas thought he was improving as a tailback and wasn't sure he wanted to change. It took him a few weeks before he agreed to give it a try.
"I realized I could have a greater impact here on defense and still have my role on offense as well," he said.
Tried as expiriment
He started meeting regularly with defensive coordinator Rick Minter to watch films and was coached by middle linebacker Maurice Crum during 7-on-7 drills on pass coverage. When the team began practicing Aug. 7, he began playing linebacker as a one-week experiment.
Now the player from Washington, Pa., who passed up a scholarship from Penn State, faces Linebacker U. as a linebacker/tailback.
Weis saw the New England Patriots occasionally use players two ways.
"I think there's always a place for that," he said. "Why waste a God-given ability?"
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