Lightning in a Bottle: De’Anthony Thomas

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Kevin Harrington

If you are an athlete from Los Angeles known as “The Black Mamba” (see Bryant, Kobe)… you better be good at what you do. De’Anthony Thomas excels at just about everything he does on the football field. Even before he became a star for Crenshaw High School in the highly competitive south Los Angeles district, he was a household name thanks to Snoop Dogg’s “Black Mamba” endorsement from Thomas’ Pop Warner days. Then after high school, due to his ability to shine at every position he played, recruiting sites such as Rivals and Scout were unsure exactly how to rank him. Despite his diminutive stature (5’9”, 173 lbs.), Thomas was considered the number one ranked “athlete” in the 2011 football recruiting class by Rivals.com, and the number one cornerback by Scout.com. Under his Scout.com bio, Scott Kennedy said, “The only player I’ve ever said that could legitimately be 5-Stars at four different positions; running back, safety, cornerback, and wide receiver.”

That being said, let’s take a look at how he performed at each of those positions. Including his debut season as a hybrid running back/receiver at the University of Oregon, Thomas has NEVER averaged less than ten yards per touch in any aspect of his game. This includes receiving, rushing, as well as punt, kickoff, and interception returns. His pure speed, ball carrier vision, and cutting ability are on an entirely different level than his competition. If you need any evidence of this, refer to the 2012 Rose Bowl game against Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Thomas was only given two carries throughout the game, but it would be fair to say that he took advantage of his limited opportunities when he outran the stout Wisconsin defense for 64 and 91 yard touchdowns. It’s a pretty impressive feat for a teenager to be the fastest athlete on the most electric offense in the nation.

To put his success in perspective, De’Anthony Thomas won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award as Oregon’s tertiary running back option behind starter LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barner. If he had qualified, Thomas would have led the nation with a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry average. Still, Chip Kelly and Oregon found creative ways to involve Thomas in their gameplan. On top of his impressive rushing statistics (595 yards, 7 TD), he averaged 17.3 yards per punt return, 27.3 yards per kickoff return (983 yards, 2 TD), and 13.2 yards per reception (605 yards, 9 TD). Now that Oregon has lost 2011 All-American LaMichael James and starting quarterback Darron Thomas (no relation), they will rely on Thomas’ game-breaking abilities even more.

Without James to compete for touches in the backfield, I firmly believe that Thomas will contend for the Heisman trophy for the next two to three seasons. Every so often, there is an athlete in college football who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, from anywhere on the field. Essentially, he is his team’s greatest weapon and an opposing defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. Desmond Howard, Reggie Bush, Devin Hester, and Percy Harvin come to mind. As a reference, I’ll use the most recent Heisman winner out of the bunch to compare against De’Anthony Thomas’ freshman year. USC’s Reggie Bush scored a touchdown once out of every twelve touches during his Heisman campaign season. In 2011, Thomas scored once every nine times he touched the football. May I remind you that Thomas gives up three inches and almost thirty pounds to the former Trojans superstar. Barring injury or a sophomore slump, I would count on the nineteen year-old traveling to New York this December as a part of college football’s most prestigious award ceremony.

Check out this highlight reel of De’Anthony Thomas’ incredible plays from his 2011 freshman season.

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