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Tino Thomas

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Having a dream dangled right in front of your finger tips before seeing it evaporate can be hard on a person.

Harold Tino Thomas Jr. dealt with that in August as the Melrose (Tenn.) High School product signed with Tennessee in February, only to be told he would have to return to his Memphis home due to a numbers crunch with the 2011 signing class.

"Aw man, it sucked. It really sucked," Thomas admitted to InsideTennessee. "I was kind of confused about everything, but after they told me what was going on, I really settled down and went home to just get ready to come back."

That kind of a shocking blow can sometimes cause a teenager to rethink things. Did the DB decide to re-open his recruitment after that?

"No sir. I've had my mind made up on where I'm going," Thomas said.

Thomas was dealing with a torn labrum and was in a sling while on campus and around Haslam Field last summer. So, the cornerback was afforded the opportunity to rehabilitate his shoulder and work on some things without losing any eligibility.

When the temperature drops, Thomas does some running with a track club known as the Memphis Mustangs.

"I also do my therapy and lift weights and everything," Thomas said. "So, I'm pretty much looking good and getting ready for when I come back in January."

When asked to compare where he is physically now to when he finished his senior season at Melrose, Thomas didn't hesitate: "I think I'm better coming out, for sure."

The 6-foot, 197-pounder stayed in contact with Tennessee defensive backs coach Terry Joseph while away.

The Vols were set to send wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who recruited the Memphis area, out to see Thomas at his home but Baggett's retirement changed all of that.

"Coach Joseph told me (Baggett) retired when he called. I was kind of like, 'Man, wow!'" Thomas said.

The brother of Miami (Fla.)'s fifth all-time leading rusher, Graig Cooper, was at the LSU-Tennessee game as a visitor. Being in Neyland Stadium in street clothes was not easy to stomach.

"I was happy but I was sad at the same time because I wasn't on the field or anything like that," Thomas said. "Just seeing all the coaches and all the players depressed me a little bit, but as the day went on, I pretty much settled down and seeing what Tennessee really needed. So, I think me sitting out with my shoulder it's just a really good plus for me."

Watching his future Vol teammates suffer to a 5-7 season and seeing the defense give up so many big plays wasn't easy for Thomas to stomach.

"Man, it hurt. It really hurt," he said. "But, at the same time, that gave me time to look back and see what not to do and what to do and to observe and come in and give it everything you've got."

During his final year on the prep level, Thomas recorded 97 tackles, 12 TFL, four interceptions and 22 pass breakups. He also rushed for 900 yards and eight touchdowns.

Thomas is all set to make his return to Knoxville on Jan. 8. He plans on majoring in marketing in hopes of owning his own hotel and restaurant one day.


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