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Utes football: Cornerback Justin Thomas not taking anything for granted

Published: Thursday, April 18 2013 8:10 p.m. MDT

Justin Thomas practices with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Justin Thomas practices with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Although Justin Thomas is pleased to be on top of the depth chart at one of the cornerback spots, the redshirt freshman from Texas isn’t taking anything for granted as Utah closes out spring camp.

“Everything is like temporary right now,” Thomas said. “Nothing’s locked in. So I’ve got to keep on working.”

The 21-year-old is especially eager to play in a game. It’s been awhile since he’s done so.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Thomas, who wasn’t allowed to play for West Orange-Stark High School as a senior because he surpassed the University Interscholastic League’s maximum age mark. “I haven’t played a game in two years. I’m ready.”

Justin Thomas works to get free during University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Justin Thomas works to get free during University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The former four star-rated prep star spent his first season with the Utes as a redshirt while senior cornerbacks Ryan Lacy, Moe Lee and Reggie Topps completed their eligibility.

“He’s very talented. He’s maybe the fastest kid on the team — certainly in the top three or four, which is a requisite for playing corner,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “You’ve got to be able to run. So he’s got that. He’s got great quickness and balance and he’s eager to get in there.”

Whittingham added that Thomas has had a nice spring and would be a starter, in the 4-3 package at cornerback with Keith McGill, if the Utes were to play tomorrow.

Justin Thomas practices with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Justin Thomas practices with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

“He’s really got a bright future in our opinion,” Whittingham said.

The former four-star recruit, though, shies away from such recognition.

“Anybody that can get the job done will do good for us,” Thomas said. “I’m a team player, so that will work for me.”

As for Utah’s ability to replace last year’s three contributing cornerbacks, Thomas is confident this year’s squad is capable of doing it.

“Oh yeah. We can work something out,” he said. “Everybody’s coming along technique-wise.”

Junior Davion Orphey and redshirt freshman Reginald Porter are also on this week’s depth chart at cornerback — as backups. Junior Joseph Smith and senior Michael Walker occupy the No. 1 spot at nickel back.

Justin Thomas runs a punt return during University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Justin Thomas runs a punt return during University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SPRING GAME: As has become the norm in recent years, the teams in Saturday’s annual Red and White game (1 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium) will be divided up evenly.

“It’s a chance for us to see guys in as game-like situations as we can create — find out who can finish, find out who can make the plays when they need to be made,” Whitingham said. “A lot of the position battles are very close and very heated and this will be one more opportunity to evaluate them.”

A few healthy players, though, won’t be participating. Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi and safety Eric Rowe are among those being held out of the game for precautionary reasons. Quarterbacks Trevor Wilson and Adam Schulz will play, but will be off-limits to tacklers.

GREAT SHOWING: If Friday’s golf tournament is any indication, expect a lot of former Utes to be on hand for this weekend’s spring football finale. Whittingham said all 144 slots have been taken.

“We’ve had great response,” he explained. “It’s just been building over the last five or six years, where we get more and more every year and so we’re looking forward to seeing them all.”

Eric Weddle and Sione Pouha are among those expected to be back for the spring game. An alumni flag football contest is scheduled for Saturday at noon.

CHANGING TIMES: Utah’s spring game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks.

“I think it’s great. It’s great for recruiting and I think that certainly we’ve come a long way in the last 15 years,” Whittingham said. “I remember when the spring game was maybe 100 people in the stands, tops, and now we’ve got several thousand and a live broadcast on national TV.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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