January 6, 2011

Once forgotten, Thomas plays role of hero

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Solomon Thomas is one of the five players who will be facing a five-game suspension next year for selling memorabilia given to him by Ohio State.

But when his named appeared on the list next to names like Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, and Mike Adams, it may as well have been completely forgotten.

After Ohio State's 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl Tuesday night, however, Thomas could be a household name for years to come.

Though Thomas wasn't certainly not the only player of the suspended five that made big plays for the Buckeyes en route to Ohio State's second BCS bowl win in as many years, his may have saved the game.

"You know Solly was the hero (Tuesday night) after just a few weeks ago everyone was looking down upon him," Ohio State junior center Michael Brewster said. "I'm just very, very happy for him."

After holding a 28-7 halftime lead, Ohio State fans thought the unthinkable was about to happen when Arkansas blocked a punt with roughly a minute remaining in the game down by just five, giving them the ball inside the Buckeyes' 20.

With Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett at the helm of once of the nation's most explosive offenses, it was hard not to imagine the future NFL signal caller wasn't going to lead the Razorbacks to the game-winning drive.

Instead, a perfect defensive call that had both Thomas and Cameron Heyward drop back into coverage instead of bringing pressure led to Thomas' first-career interception.

The same defensive call came up big for Heyward earlier in the season when he intercepted Miami's Jacory Harris on a similar play in the Buckeyes win over the Hurricanes.

"It was a great call," senior linebacker Ross Homan said. "Coach (Luke Fickell) and the rest of the coaching staff knew what we wanted to do on that play and we had to do whatever we could to execute it. They pushed us to put everything on the line and we made the play in the end."

For Thomas, there was no better way to finish off the season.

"It's funny because you always hear stories about adversity and how, if you push through, lessons lie at the end," Thomas said after the game. "It's where you have such adversity, it's such a blessing and it's so drastic. This has really taught me how to deal with adversity next season. I just turned 22, so I think it comes along with age."

The biggest play of Thomas' career came after perhaps one of the toughest months of his life.

Though Thomas and the other players sold the items - which consisted of gold pants, Big Ten Championship rings, and other awards - over a year ago, the announcement of the infractions and suspensions came during Ohio State's bowl preparation.

If that wasn't enough, Thomas had missed time in practice in Ohio State's days in New Orleans battling flu-like symptoms.

"It's been tough. It's hard because in a team environment, when you're singled out, you have to realize when you make a mistake and you have to man up to it," Thomas said. "You have to look your teammates in the eye and your family members. I'm thankful for it. It's taught me a lot and it's made me stronger."

With the win in the Sugar Bowl, Thomas and the Buckeyes were successful in beating a team from the Southeastern Conference for the first time in 10 tries. That, of course, was due in large part to all five of the suspended players for next year.

Though Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel made each player vow to pledge to return next season in order to play in the Sugar Bowl, there has been some doubt that all will return.

Thomas feels as if all five will return to take another shot at a national title in 2011.

"I do," Thomas responded when asked if he believes all the suspended players will return next season. Everybody's different from the situation that happened. Everyone comes from different places; everyone's financially different and economically different.

"You can never judge. That's something that this process with the NCAA and the suspension has taught me. Everybody's different. We're a team. I don't know, but I would say so."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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