Thomas’ leadership instrumental for young Texas defense

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Senior cornerback Duke Thomas (21) has been a consistent piece of the Longhorns defense, tallying four pass breakups and 48 tackles in nine games this season.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Senior cornerback Duke Thomas sported a new look during Saturday’s win over Kansas.

Instead of wearing his normal No. 21, he donned No. 28 to pay homage to former Longhorn safety Freddie Steinmark,­ who the University honored throughout the game. Head coach Charlie Strong said he asked Thomas to wear the number because of his level of play this season.

“It meant a lot,” Thomas said. “That’s a big stage putting on that number. It meant a lot. I knew that every play out there, I wasn’t just playing for myself. It was definitely big.”

Strong said Thomas is one of the team’s most consistent players. Through nine games, he ranks second on the team in pass breakups (four) and tackles (48). He’s also pass rushed effectively, blitzing from the nickel spot.

Thomas’ coaches and teammates rave about his leadership. Strong emphasized the cornerback’s emergence as a mentor for the team’s freshmen — especially cornerbacks Holton Hill, Davante Davis and Kris Boyd. As those freshmen continue to see more playing time, each relies on Thomas to put them in the right position.

“Duke’s been great for the younger players, and they just all gravitate to him,” Strong said. “You come out in practice, and he’s always coaching them. … He’s letting them know which route is coming, and they get locked in.”

Thomas said he feels responsible for guiding his younger teammates. He highlighted former Texas defensive backs Quandre Diggs, Adrian Phillips and Kenny Vaccaro as his past mentors. Now, he hopes to have that same influence on his teammates.

“I know what it’s like to be in the game as a young guy,” Thomas said. “Just to be out there, keep them confident, keep talking to them, keep them in their position, keep them poised … and just letting them play their game because they’re good players.”

Freshmen aside, Texas’ defense depends on Thomas’ smarts and experience. He’s been a staple for the unit since he started 10 games as a sophomore. With several years behind him, he has seen many facets of the game. That’s why junior safety Dylan Haines said he considers Thomas the defense’s go-to guy for questions.

“Duke’s a guy who has been here four years — I think he knows more than anybody out there,” Haines said. “He’s a coach on the field, and that’s the best way to put it.”

At most, Thomas has just four games left in burnt orange. While he’s already made his mark with his leadership, he’s anxious to end his Longhorn career on a winning note. Texas needs to win two of its next three games to qualify for a bowl game. Thomas said he hopes to lead his team to that curtain call.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency,” Thomas said. “For myself, I only have three more games left as a senior. … It’s a one-game season, and I don’t want [to make] projections, but [I feel] that we can definitely get there.”