SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Tavion Thomas is back, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
For the first time in five weeks, Thomas was a force to be reckoned with this past Saturday against Stanford. Thomas rushed for a career-high 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Utes 42-7 victory.
“It felt amazing,” Thomas said. “Just the energy and the juice was amazing. The way we prepared and were ready to go this week, it was just good.”
“It was great to see him flying around with the ball, making plays,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “I love seeing him out there having fun. It’s a good sight to see, and we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
Thomas, who was a first team All-Pac-12 player in 2021 with 1,108 yards and a school-record 21 touchdowns, has struggled mentally ever since his aunt, who raised him, passed away in September. Thomas was actually away from the team for a while, and missed the Washington State game entirely. Thomas went home to Texas a couple times where he realized how much he missed the game.
“I ain’t going to lie,” Thomas said. “Honestly, once you’re not there, you realize how much you miss everything and miss being around these guys. Just to play the game again, that kind of hit me hard.”
Thomas said he has seen a sports psychologist at the university to help him through these tough times, and he feels like he’s turned a corner.
“I took a trip back to my hometown, and that gave me another visual of you don’t want to go back to this,” Thomas said. “Handle your business, get right, because you’ve got people counting on you. So, I just want to turn it around, finish this season strong and do whatever I’ve got to do for the team.”
His return couldn’t come at a better time as the #10 Utes face a must-win situation at #12 Oregon Saturday in Eugene, as Utah tries to get back to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
“It means a lot because it’s another team getting in our way from trying to stop us from getting to our goal,” Thomas said. “So we’ve got to win that game, get them out of the way so we can reach it.”
“He knew exactly what he needed to do the whole time,” Rising said. “He just had to take care of some things and we’re just happy to have him back.”
In two games last year against Oregon, Thomas scored five touchdowns. Against Stanford, Thomas received 22 carries, the most since the season opener at Florida. Will he get a similar workload against Oregon?
“We’ll see how the week goes and what the plan is,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “But I can’t see him not being a big part of what we do. He just came off of one of his best performances, and hopefully we get more of the same this week.”
Utah and Oregon will kick off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.