Terrell Thomas has been proving his doubters wrong for a long time, so 2013 should be no big deal for the former USC star.
After tearing his right ACL in 2005 while playing for USC, Thomas fought back and showed everyone that he was still an elite talent at the cornerback position after posting very impressive numbers at the NFL combine. Still some had their doubts, causing him to slip into the second round where the New York Giants were happy to snatch him up and bring him into a defense and a team on the rise.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011 where Thomas was a rising star on the verge of a big contract after compiling 10 interceptions as a starter in 2009 and 2010 with the New York Giants. But in an August 2011 preseason game against the Chicago Bears, Thomas tore his right ACL again and missed the entire Super Bowl season. Another surgery and another extensive rehab later and Thomas was back at it in the summer of 2012, where barely a week into training camp last August, Thomas slipped during a drill, and injured his right ACL for the third time is his football career. At that point a lot of other players would’ve given up – but that’s just not how Terrell Thomas is built.
Now, entering his 6th year as a pro, Thomas is on the verge of making another comeback from ACL surgery. In between his intense workouts and rehab Terrell Thomas caught up with the Empire Writes Back to talk about his latest comeback and what Giants fans can expect out of the ball hawk on the field this season.
EWB: After suffering an ACL tear in a 2011 pre-season game against the Bears, which cause you to miss the entire Super Bowl season, you work your way back and are ready to go last summer when just days into camp you suffer another torn ACL while covering Domenick Hixon in practice. In the days following that injury how difficult was it knowing you would have to go through that rehab again?
Thomas: I wasn’t even done rehabbing; I was still in the process. That ACL injury is something that you have to continue rehabbing throughout the season, and it was devastating to be honest with you. I put in a lot of work to get back to my old ways in 2010 – I was in great shape, great strength, I was training and able to do any and everything, I was lifting more weight than Linebackers that I was training with; you know I really killed myself to try to come back and prove to everybody that I can have one of those great comebacks. You know I did it before in college, came back off the ACL, ran a 4.69 at the combine, after 4 months pre-op I went with the same surgery, same doctors and everything was looking promising. That was the hardest thing because I didn’t have any setbacks – every test I passed with flying colors as far as my check ups and everything – so to tear it again on a move I did a thousand times in rehab or in training hurt, but at the same time I knew that it just wasn’t meant to be. You know god had a different plan for me, for whatever reason I don’t know what it is, you never know, but I did everything I could and was supposed to do to come back from that injury, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.
EWB: After the injury last August the decision was made to undergo a slightly different type of procedure to repair the ACL, in which your own patellar tendon was used. The idea behind that that using your own patellar tendon would result in a stronger fit. The rehab for such a procedure though, is known to be more severe. Was your rehab a lot more difficult this time as opposed to your previous recovery?
Thomas: Yeah, without a doubt. The reason I opted not to go with the patella tendon last year was that I spoke with Dr. [James] Andrews and met with the Giants and they were comfortable with me going back to my old doctor because I had great success the first time. I knew the statistics, it’s a west coast vs. east coast practice and I knew what I was going into, like I said I did it before so I had the blueprint but it just didn’t work this time, so I had to go with a more secure option, and one also to satisfy the Giants. I already knew I was going to Dr. Andrews. Other than the process the hardest part is just the patella tendon tendonitis you get in the front of your knee because they split open your kneecap to scar up the patella tendon and that takes some time to heal. Knowing how to rehab an ACL or recover from it is a little bit different – a different challenge, a little bit slower as well. And I think it’s more difficult because I had two ACL’s in one year, two surgeries, which is a lot of trauma to the knee. But other than that it definitely does feel a lot stronger right now, it’s a lot tighter. Dr. Andrews promised me that he’d put his best work on me, you know he wants to see me succeed and I was happy with both decisions.
EWB: When you’re back on the field a few months from now you’re going to have to face one of the best young players in the league – Robert Griffin III, who also rehabbed at Dr. Andrews facility in Florida. While you were down at the Andrews institute in Pensacola, Florida for your rehab did you have a chance to work together at all?
Thomas: Yeah he was there but his stage of rehab was a little bit behind mine because his surgery was a lot later so we didn’t really work together but I’d see him everyday for a couple weeks and he’s a great athlete – one of those athletes that heals very fast. I think he’s going to make a great comeback, so it’s exciting to watch your colleagues work and see their progress. Even though he’s a rival and when we play against him I’m gonna try to hit him as hard as I can, but I wish him the best. That was one of the main reasons why I went down there was to be around other NFL athletes going through the same thing and all of us motivating each other.
EWB: What would you say you have learned about yourself after having to sit out the last two seasons with injury?
Thomas: That nothing can break me. It was tough mentally and physically to get through this, you know it was just really tough. You have a lot of responsibilities; I have a young daughter, I got my family, and in football you have a small window to make sure you make a lot of money and I almost missed it until I came back. That was probably one of the hardest things just thinking about my future, how I’m going to take care of my family, what’s next. You know as a young guy I’m happy I went through it cause I learned a lot about myself. It really matured me into being a man and taught me to stop making excuses and to take what’s given to you and make the best out of it.
EWB: Yesterday you sent out a tweet saying “New Diet….no more junk food”, which was accompanied by a picture of an amazing looking spread of fruit. Have you seen a big difference from the new diet yet?
Thomas: Not yet, I mean I just started, but I’m always on a diet – you know sometimes I just splurge to the junk foods. You know if you don’t eat sweets anymore or have the urge for them but that one time you do you just kind of go through – it’s kind of hard to put yourself on a diet year round, you have to treat yourself sometimes. But now it’s all about eating clean, eating healthy, getting all the junk food out of you, and just trying to have as much energy as possible so you can maximize your workouts. You know I’m working out twice as hard as anybody and I’ve been doing that two years straight – I got rehabs and workout at the same time or two different workouts so I can’t have junk food slowing me down. So that’s pretty much what that’s about – getting lean. You know I’m going to Cabo, so I gotta make sure the six pack is right (laughs). But really all of that is just about preparing for the season.
EWB: General manager Jerry Reese recently speculated that you might be better off at safety, where you can have the play in front of you and where quickness and cutting is not as much of a priority. I know you’ve played a little Safety in nickel packages with the Giants but how would you feel about making a switch like that fulltime?
Thomas: If that’s going to keep me on the field, if that’s going to keep me a Giant, and if that’s going to keep me a job in the NFL then that’s what I gotta do. At this point in my career it’s all about stealing some years (laughs) to be honest with you. Getting through this year, getting healthy, proving to everybody that I can still play football, and just adjusting. Who knows, I might return better than I was before – I feel great right now to be honest with you. My knee’s feeling good – all the stuff that I’m doing kind of feels like the old T2 but you wont know until you get on that field. So I think what he [Jerry Reese] was hinting at was just more to keep my career going, to be a little bit more easy on my knees a position switch is one option. And like you said I’ve played that position before for the Giants so it wouldn’t be a hard transition. I knew later in my career that would be a transition for me as well given the aggressive style that I play with as far as being physical, so I’m definitely open to whatever’s going to keep me on the field. You know I’m all about the team, I’ve always been an unselfish player throughout my career so that wont be a hard adjustment at all.
EWB: What are your goals for the 2013 season?
Thomas: Playing 16 games my man. We have a Thursday night, that’ll be a tough one, but with God, faith, and hard work, I definitely think I can tough it out. And like I said, at this point in my career it’s not even about me. You know I had big aspirations when I entered the NFL, I was steadily improving every year but those goals changed a little bit. You just have to be realistic with yourself, you know missing two years, things change and right now its all about just being an advocate for overcoming injuries. A lot of guys will quit, a lot of guys may give up, you know young athletes, a lot of them high school guys, and I can’t even imagine going through that in High School. A good friend of mine Thomas Davis did it last year, and I’m trying to follow suit in that – start a new trend, prove the statistics and the doctors wrong and just maybe even motivate somebody to do the same.
EWB: Los Angeles doesn’t currently have an NFL team. The closest thing to it would be USC football were you spent your college years. What has it been like playing in both LA and NYC for teams that have had so much success?
Thomas: It’s been great going from a winning program at USC to a great, storied franchise with the New York Giants that has a winning culture – it was an easy transition for me. The fans are similar but different at times. The NY fans are a little bit more rowdy, but that’s just because they want the best from you. They’ll dog you when you suck and praise you when you’re good. You know that so show up to play and don’t disappoint them. I definitely enjoyed my experience at USC, we were the NFL team of LA, I got to play in front of 90,000 fans every game, which was crazy.
EWB: Are you surprised by how quickly your ex-college coach, Pete Carroll, was able to turn things around in Seattle?
Thomas: Not at all, you know obviously it took some years, some transactions, getting the players he wanted. More importantly coach Carroll has a young spirit, which helps getting younger guys – you know you can’t get these vets to be rowdy, rowdy – you know running around in practice everyday, but you can with the young guys cause they’ll definitely respond to that. He’s a very easygoing coach, a great motivator, so I’m definitely not surprised by it.
EWB: Tell us about your upcoming youth football camp on June 29th at Chaffey College in California?
Thomas: It’s my 5th annual football camp and it’s really just to give back – my mama always taught me to give back and never forget where you came from. You know Rancho [Cucamonga] was where I made my name. There was a pop warner coach, Bob Pleasant, who took a bunch of guys to football camps in Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington and helped them with the recruiting process and got a lot of guys scholarships, cause we really didn’t know the process and just the way he helped me out is something I try to do with the young kids, just give back to them. For them to have a professional football player where they live, that played his Friday night High School football on Chaffey College High School field coming back and tell them that they can do it too, just get good grades, work hard, and put the rest in God’s hands. So that’s really what it’s all about is just giving back to the kids.
It’s hard not to route for Terrell Thomas, who truly is one of the good guys in professional sports today. Of course only time will tell if the 28 year old can make it back from the third ACL surgery of his career. If Thomas’ focus and dedication to his craft are any indication of how comeback #3 will play out, I would count on seeing the talented cornerback making a big contribution for the New York Giants this year.