Dec 27, 2019

Michigan DB duo ready for tough test from Alabama receiving corps

By Jordan Perez, Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bowl season in Orlando comes with plenty of noise at places like Disney World and Universal Studios. But Michigan defensive back Ambry Thomas is certain of where the real din will be: the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.

“It’s gonna be a great game — bring the popcorn, all of that,” Thomas said Friday.

Thomas and fellow defensive back Lavert Hill may have their last collegiate football dance against their toughest challenge yet: Alabama’s electrifying receiving corps.

There is NFL buzz around the pair, but the two anchors in the Wolverines’ secondary are trying to live in the present as much as possible.

“We’ve just been focused on winning this game,” Thomas said. “Honestly, that’s what me and Lavert talk about.”

The duo’s history extends all the way back to Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, where the four-star recruits both committed to Michigan one year after the other. Hill was in the class of 2016, while Thomas followed in the class of 2017.

They have spent three years together at Michigan, with Hill choosing to exercise his final year of eligibility for his senior season. The result? Fifteen total tackles and three interceptions.

“I just wanted to just finish what I started, just go out there,” Hill said. “Just play for my brothers.”

It’s tough to balance the past, present and future in one bowl game, but the matchup against the Crimson Tide’s receivers demands all three.

Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III make up a formidable trio for Michigan to defend, but the “three first rounders” (according to Thomas) are nothing new. The junior saw plenty of each in high school, playing among the top of the 2017 recruiting class in both the Nike Opening and the US Army All-American Bowl.

Smith took the driver’s seat in 2019 for a breakout season, leading Alabama’s receivers with 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns off of 65 receptions. But Michigan’s Thomas has garnered plenty of attention of his own, mounting a major comeback after a battle with colitis in July, when he lost 35 pounds and was bedridden for three weeks.

The defensive back had 34 total tackles and three interceptions — both career highs with the Wolverines – and he knows his reputation has a chance to swell at the New Year’s Day duel.

“It’s gonna be a great matchup for me,” Thomas said. “I’m not backing down but I expect to come ready to play just as I’m ready to play.”

Hill wasn’t surprised at Thomas’ miraculous comeback and said his wingman has maintained a relentless personality since their days at Martin Luther King.

“I knew he was strong, I went to high school with him so I know what type of person he is,” the senior said. “I knew he was gonna fight back and just shake it off, go out there and be the playmaker that he is.”

So it’s Alabama’s trio and Michigan’s dynamic duo. Expect a lot of noise.

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