TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Maybe it was because he was playing in his hometown of Miami.
Or maybe it’s because, after four years, he had made it through a full season without any major injuries for the first time in his career.
Or maybe, as he said after Florida State’s spring practice on Monday, “something just clicked.”
Either way, Matthew Thomas knows this: He had the best game of his college career in the Seminoles’ Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.
And he plans on even bigger things this fall.
“I feel confident,” Thomas, a fifth-year senior linebacker said. “And feel like myself again.”
Here’s what Thomas, himself, did against the Wolverines: A game-high 15 tackles – more than double the next defender on either team – and 3.5 tackles for loss in a 33-32 win.
That includes a torpedo of a tackle in the first quarter, when Thomas blew through the Michigan line, stood up Wolverines running back De’Veon Smith and brought him down three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The play happened just moments after Michigan recovered a fumble at FSU’s 1-yard line, and it helped the Seminoles reclaim momentum by forcing a field goal.
It was the type of performance that Thomas had in mind when he signed with Florida State in 2013. A former five-star prospect out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, Thomas got off to a fine start as a freshman before a handful of injuries and personal hurdles sidetracked his career.
He entered his redshirt junior year having played in just 12 games. But in 2016, Thomas’ production matched his potential as he recorded a team-best 77 tackles.
Even better, Thomas appeared in all 13 games. And knowing that his best game came during his most recent outing has Thomas feeling a unique type of confidence.
“I’m really motivated,” Thomas said. “And a lot of momentum from last year is carrying over to next year.”
Asked about his goals for his final year, Thomas answered: “Just be better.”
“Be a better player,” he added. “A better teammate, a better leader. Last go-round, I want to do things right.”
That’s good news for a Florida State defense that appears set to rely on its linebackers for leadership.
With key veterans gone from both the defensive line (DeMarcus Walker) and secondary (Marquez White), Thomas, along with fellow senior linebackers Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Jacob Puh, will be counted on to help guide FSU’s defense into the next season.
And given that the Seminoles are opening their season against Alabama, that’s a pretty big job.
“We know we have a big year ahead of us,” Thomas said. “We know we have a huge role on this team, so we’ve just got to do our part.”
FSU’s strength at linebacker starts with Thomas and continues with Hoskins, a fellow fifth-year senior who started every game a year ago.
With a full season together – and, as Thomas estimated, “a million” reps together on the practice fields – Thomas believes that he and Hoskins have a chemistry that maybe wasn’t so apparent at this time last year.
“It makes a big difference,” Thomas said. “You’re accountable, stuff like that. You know he’s going to get his job done. … All the hours we put in together on the field, off the field, in the meeting room, all the conversations we have. All that chemistry, it goes into it.”