HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - If there’s one thing Jay Hopson knows well, it’s defense.
The 27-year coaching veteran has seen a lot talented football players from stops at LSU, Florida and Michigan.
His compliments of USM defensive back D.Q. Thomas can be considered high praise.
"He's a guy that pretty much can do it all,” Hopson said. “He has great cover ability, great physicality. He's a very smart, intelligent football player. You're talking about a player that I'm extremely high on. I think he's a next-level player."
Saturday’s 49-7 loss at Alabama didn’t come without a career-high ten tackles for Thomas and his second interception of the season.
The second-year Golden Eagle has quickly taken command of the Southern Miss defense, leading the team with 34 stops, seven for loss and two sacks.
"Last year it was my first year, I was new to everything,” Thomas said. “I kind of knew the playbook, I really didn't – not as much as I do now. So in the spring I took more time, studied the playbook. Coming into this season, I'm more comfortable and I understand the defense better than I did last year."
“He could play linebacker for us,” said USM defensive coordinator Tim Billings. “He could probably be one of our best running backs, too. He's 5-foot-9 in high heels. When you have a guy with his skillset, we like to move him around and [blitz] him some and do a lot of things with him."
Billings said Thomas’ 200-pound frame makes it tough for wide receivers to block on the edge, allowing him to make tackles in at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Versatility is a coveted trait to have in college football. It’s much of the reason why coach Hopson recruited Thomas from Tyler Junior College.
Hopson needed a smart, physical player to take ahold of the nickel-safety position that Picasso Nelson Jr. left vacant when he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Thomas has answered the call.
“It was a humbling process,” Thomas said. “Coming out of high school, I thought I was entitled to something. I made the best out of my position to get where I’m at today. The JUCO route just made me into a better person.” “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he had a chance to be a really good player and I’m proud for him,” Billings said. “He’s really playing well this year.”