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Thursday, May 26, 2011
Phillip Thomas speaks loudly for Orange

By Brian Bennett

Go to a Syracuse football practice and there's one sound you are bound to hear: the constant chatter coming from Phillip Thomas' mouth.

The junior safety is almost always yakking on the field, whether it's barking out assignments, pumping up his teammates or, yes, even talking a little smack to the opposing offensive players.

"I like to be heard," Thomas says.

Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas knows how to keep things light in the Syracuse secondary.
Sometimes his coaches have to tell him to calm down, because Thomas has a tendency to get too emotional. And when he gets excited, his words run together and teammates have a hard time understanding what he's saying.

His motor-mouth style might not be appreciated if Thomas didn't have the actions to back it up. But the Orange happily tolerate Thomas' loquaciousness because of how loudly his play on the field speaks.

He finished third on the team last year with 92 tackles while starting all 13 games at free safety. With Shamarko Thomas injured this spring, he was the only returning starter from the secondary on the practice field, and he felt the need to lead. He did that the only way he knew how: by talking.

"I try to keep everybody up and make sure they smile and have fun," Thomas said. "No downers, just uppers."

That's also a life philosophy for Thomas, who grew up in Miami's rough Liberty City neighborhood. It's an area infested with crime, drugs and violence, but Thomas said he managed to stay away from most of that as a kid.

"Sometimes you see things and you try to run away from it," he said. "You don't want to go toward it because it can hurt you. I've seen a lot of things that have gotten me to this point, and I want to continue to avoid them."

How did a guy from Miami end up at Syracuse? It was a happy coincidence.

Thomas said when he was a senior at Miami's Edison High School, he went to see the movie "The Express," which chronicled former Syracuse running back Ernie Davis' life. Just days after he saw the film, Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer came to Edison on a recruiting trip. Thomas took that as a sign and committed to the Orange, staying firm as his hometown Hurricanes made a last-minute offer.

Thomas -- whose older brother, Clevan, played cornerback at Florida State -- admits it was difficult at first adjusting to the colder weather in upstate New York.

"That first year was real tough," he said. "But if you make it to the NFL, you might be playing in Green Bay or Chicago. And in the postseason, it's cold all around. So it's an experience to remember."

Syracuse is blessed with experience at the safety position thanks to the Thomases, who are no relation to one another. Phillip and Shamarko first met while playing for Team USA at the 2009 IFAF Junior World Championship before their freshmen years and the two have grown close. They call themselves brothers from another mother.

"We're in the same class, play the same position and have the same last name," Phillip Thomas said. "We want to continue to get even better. We want to be considered the best safety tandem in the Big East."

They might be there already. At the very least, they're worth talking about.