Washington State safety Skyler Thomas practices in Lewiston, Idaho, Tuesday August 6, 2019. (Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times)

LEWISTON, Idaho — It’s all about the attitude.

“You’ve got to be a dog,” said Washington State junior defensive back Skyler Thomas.

That’s particularly true when you are 5-feet-9 and 185 pounds and you’re tasked with tackling players often bigger than you, and sometimes a lot bigger than you.

Despite the size disadvantage, Thomas led WSU in tackles through the first third of the season while playing free safety, and ended up third on the team with 76, including 40 unassisted. He also had two interceptions and three pass breakups.

“There are a lot of people out there bigger than me and I can’t let that discourage me,” said Thomas, who played at Citrus Hills High School in Perris, Calif., and was rated the No. 18 safety recruit in California in 2016 by scout.com.

What if it’s a 240-pound fullback coming at him with a head of steam?

“Same thing, he’s got to get hit just like everyone else,” said Thomas, who plays with great intensity at all times. “You’ve got to make a play. That’s my responsibility. I signed up for that.”’

Thomas has been expected to move from free safety to nickel back this season, but was also playing in at both safety positions in summer camp.

“I think I am equally good at all three positions,” Thomas said, saying he doesn’t care where he plays.

As a nickel back, he would be closer to the line of scrimmage and could be utilized more at rushing the pass, something coaches say he does well.

“If we are playing against a good receiver, I want to cover him, and I want to show that I am better than that guy,” he said. “And if we’re facing a good running back, I want to be in the box and be able to tackle that running back.”

Thomas said he has taken on a bigger leadership since star safety Jalen Thompson, who would have been a senior, was declared ineligible for the season in June.

“There are a lot of young guys looking up to me, so I have to make sure that they are doing the right things and learning the same way that I had to learn,” Thomas said. “If someone messes up, I am going to tell them and make sure they know how to fix it as well.”

Thomas sees no reason why the WSU defense and the team in general can’t be better than last season, when the team set a record record for wins by going 11-2.

“I don’t want to just carry it on, I want to improve,” he said. “If we stay the same, no one is going to get better. I want to keep getting better every day, every year.”

He has done that each year at WSU. He had surgeries on his feet and stomach in his first season, when he redshirted, and he said he wasn’t back to full strength as a redshirt freshman, when he played in two games.

He started all 13 games last season, and expects big things from himself this year.

“I don’t want to be second place in anything I do,” Thomas said. “I don’t work all year to come in second place. I just want to be No. 1 in everything I do.”