The old adage about in-state rivalries says the implications of a loss extend far beyond a single game. Sometimes, the worst part of defeat is hearing about it until the next contest is played.
Ambry Thomas is quite familiar with that concept.
The sophomore corner was on the losing end of last year’s matchup between the Michigan football team and Michigan State. As an in-state product, Thomas was reminded of the upset with each visit back home.
“Every time I go to Detroit,” Thomas said. “Every time. So often.”
Thomas knows “a lot” of Spartans from Martin Luther King High School, where he established his long-standing friendship with Michigan State linebacker Tyriq Thompson. That has made him especially eager for this Saturday’s battle between the sixth-ranked Wolverines and 24th-ranked Spartans.
“This week, I’ve been getting a lot of messages,” Thomas said. “Tyriq Thompson, he sent me a video. I just liked it. (I) let him know we’re coming, though.
It was just a recent exchange in a saga of trash talk between the two. Recently, Thomas found a picture of him stiff-arming Thompson and decided it would make for good wall decoration. When Thompson saw it, he reminded his friend, “I’m coming for you this year.”
While rivalry fuels their relationship now, the two were nearly college teammates. Thomas was recruited by Michigan State and admits that many thought he’d eventually take his talents to East Lansing. His friendships with current players like Thompson, in fact, made turning down the Spartans “tough.”
But now that Thomas is at Michigan — a decision he says he’s happy with — he doesn’t consider what could have been. Though he grew up without a strong allegiance to either side, Thomas has certainly developed feelings about the rivalry while playing for the Wolverines.
“I don’t really think about that school (any) more,” Thomas said. “I just think about beating them.
“Right now, I’m feeling the hate in my heart. I just want to get after them. We got disrespected last year.”
Thomas figures to have a larger impact this time around, however. He saw his first snap at wide receiver against Western Michigan on Sept. 8, officially expanding his role beyond backup corner and kickoff returns — duties to which he was limited last season.
It was an opportunity that Thomas had longed to receive.
“Right after Notre Dame game, (coach Jim Harbaugh) told me in the front of the team like, ‘Ambry, how do you feel about playing offense?’ ” Thomas said. “I got real excited. I was like, ‘Yeah, put me in there.’ ”
Though his stats are limited — two catches for five yards and one catch for 11 — he has become a useful wrinkle in Harbaugh’s offense. As one of the team’s fastest players, Thomas is used frequently as a jet-sweep threat. Sometimes, he causes just enough hesitation in opposing defenses to open opportunities elsewhere.
Six games in, Thomas feels like offense is coming more naturally to him.
“Probably just seeing the game speed and all of that — I’m acclimated to it,” Thomas said. “Just getting the ball, I can really just play instead of doing what the coaches tell me like, ‘run here, run there.’ I’ve opened up my vision more.
“It’s a lot (playing all three sides of the ball), but I’m tough. I came here for the challenge. I’m just ready for work.”
That’s the kind of confidence Thomas carries into Saturday’s matchup. He has experienced the disappointment of losing to Michigan State — and the year of grief that comes with it. Now, Thomas is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“It’s just a high-emotional game for me,” Thomas said. “And I’m ready.”