Drive south down I-20 out of Columbia on your way to the beaches of South Carolina, and about 80 miles away you run into a quaint little place in Florence, SC. It's a small crossroads town that sits basically at the intersection of I-95 and I-20, where you can take your pick on which direction to go either within South Carolina or up and down the East Coast.
Some might call Florence a sleepy town in the midst of the "Pee Dee" region of the state, an area famous for producing a lot of college football talent in the past, such as former Clemson and NFL star Malliciah Goodman and Pittsburgh Steeler and FSU alum Lawrence Timmons--two defensive ends to come out of Florence and make it the biggest stage.
Well in 2018, Florence yet again is poised to present the nation with yet another college-ready and future NFL prospect in the form of 6’4, 260-pound Xavier Thomas of Wilson High School. He is arguably the number one defensive player and some (ESPN) say top player overall for the 2018 class.
Xavier has an offer list from a veritable who’s-who of college football, including the entire SEC, ACC and most of the Big Ten all vying to get a commitment from the 5-star and Scout Top-5 overall recruit for 2018.
Thomas was also a star in the camp and combine settings. In fact, this year he was one of only a handful of underclassmen invited to the The Opening Finals--a heralded combine camp presented by Nike each year to which only the best recruits in the nation are invited.
Xavier came out of the experience making a huge name for himself, as he proved time and time again that he had the make-up to take on even the best of the 2017 class and win the head-to-head battles.
We first met Xavier at the 2015 Dabo Swinney Camp and have since spoken to him from time to time as he has made his frequent visits to the Clemson University campus. He's very familiar with the campus by now, having competed in two consecutive Dabo Swinney Camps, visited for more than a few home games and attended the “Junior Days” event held back in the spring. Thomas has probably spent more than time on campus at this point than any other school. In-state rival South Carolina has also garnered a few stops, as Thomas grew up a fan of the Tigers' SEC rival in Columbia.
At present, Thomas has already broken down his recruitment to a final five that consists of Clemson, Alabama, FSU, Ohio State and South Carolina. Thomas is planning on getting out to all of the final five during the season to take in games--a schedule he promised to let us know about after he nails down the dates and travel logistics.
You can surely expect him in the upstate in the next few months as the Tigers take on opponents at Death Valley and Frank Howard Field. Clemson, of course, hosts the Gamecocks this season, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Xavier among the many recruits at that game. Thomas will carry out his recruitment into the 2018 year, making the trips and doing the due diligence on all fronts with regard to his recruitment and where he wants to spend the next three or four years of his life after he graduates high school.
We took the long ride from Clemson to Florence to take in Xavier’s first game, and here is some of what we saw:
When you watch him in person, the first thing you notice is Xavier's size and speed. When he walks onto the field, his presence is felt as soon as he hits the gridiron. Play after play of this game was designed to run away from Thomas and his reach.
As we saw from the outset, no one from the opponent that night (Timmonsville, SC) wanted to run toward his strong side defensive end position. And that did not deter Xavier from showing us another part of his game: the ability to track down running backs from backside pursuit. All night, he was taking proper angles but more than anything showing the heart and desire needed to move that huge frame down field on plays that were designed to avoid him.
You have heard the term “a motor that won’t quit.” Thomas personified that expression on this particular night. He was in on as many plays on the opposite side of the field as he was on his side and in the opposing team’s backfield.
Without a doubt, we saw in person why the big man from Flo-Town is poised to become the next FBS star out of South Carolina from the defensive end position. The state has had a tremendous track record in producing talented DE's, including #1 overall players Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson) and Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina). Xavier spoke with CUTigers and answered a few questions for us prior to taking the field last Friday in Timmonsville.
Stay tuned to CUTigers.com and the Recruiting Radar Screen as we continue to follow Xavier Thomas and his recruitment moving forward!