RECRUITING: Ely Linebacker Thomas Has UF No. 1

POMPANO BEACH --- James Thomas of Pompano Beach (FL) Ely knows his future is secure. He is a hard hitting linebacker, certain to earn scholarship offers to a host of major Division I schools, and he has his academic house in order. He knows that football won't last forever, but he will enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Ely is loaded with senior talent this year. With four legitimate Division I prospects and several more whose on the field performance could earn a shot at a scholarship, Ely is fast across the board and will contend for a state title under new Head Coach Greg McGirt. Thomas is the leader that the whole team rallies behind, but his leadership is particularly evident on defense where he is a big time playmaker. He is very interested in the Florida Gators.

In late March Thomas visited Gainesville for Junior Day at the University of Florida. Like a sponge, he absorbed everything he could about UF and came away impressed with the campus, staff and the team.

"It was great … I liked everything about Florida," he said. "That is why they are number one right now because of that great Junior Day. I saw the scrimmage and I liked the intensity and the fire in those guys."

There is a warm, familiar and friendly connection to the Florida Gators in the form of a certain assistant coach who recruits Broward County for the Florida Gators. Coach John "Doc" Holliday is almost like family.

"Doc recruited my dad, J.T. Thomas, to West Virginia," Thomas said. "So yeah, I have talked to Doc a few times."

The 6-2, 205 pound outside linebacker prospect has already notched qualifying scores on both the SAT and ACT. He's got a core grade point average of nearly 3.0 and an overall GPA that exceeds 3.0. Math is his favorite subject. He's taking pre-calculus at the moment and is planning to take calculus during his senior year. He plans to graduate high school in December so he can enroll in college in January, 2006. He has plans to major in engineering.

Basketball has kept him occupied in the winter months, but the Ely hoops team will have to find a replacement next season. He's hanging up his basketball high tops for a pair of high tops with cleats. He understands that his sports future lies with football.

"When you try to be a star in what you are doing, you have to be true to one thing," Thomas said.

Thomas likes the chances for his team to succeed this year. With all the returning seniors and his leadership, he thinks Ely can take another step.

"We have a good team coming back … we have a great defense coming back," he said. "I think we have nine seniors coming back on defense and maybe the top three running backs in the state."

His leadership is key but his physical presence on the field is what the Tigers want to see. His teammates draw off of his leading personality, but he certainly that he is capable of leading with his play on the field.

"I like staying between the tackles and hitting hard," he said. "I can run pretty well … I run a 4.62 in the 40. I am just trying to keep everything together. I can play middle or outside … I like it all."

Thomas models his game after one of the very best.

"Right now I really like Ray Lewis (ex-Miami Hurricane, perennial All-Pro with the Ravens)," he said. "I recorded his special just so I could watch it over and over again."

Although he hasn't received an offer from Florida, the Gators are his favorite. He's received three offers so far and more are on the way.

"Right now Florida's number one, I also like Miami and West Virginia," he said. "I have offers from West Virginia, Ole Miss, and Akron."

He has started the thinking process for making that final decision. This will be the biggest decision of his life so Thomas wants to make sure he covers all the bases. He is aware that this is a choice that will affect his entire future.

"It all comes down to who is the best (his scholarship choices)," he said. "When I lay it all out I see who is leading with one thing or another. I want to see who will help my future the most after football. Hopefully I will make the right decision."

James Thomas is a solidly built linebacker. Off the field he has a friendly and engaging personality. On the field he becomes a silent assassin, ready to stick a dagger in the heart of Ely's opponents. Coach McGirt said it best.

"He has a totally different personality on the field," he said. "Off the field he is the nicest kid you could meet. On the field he is totally aggressive."

It is not a question of if James Thomas will be playing linebacker for a Division I school in 2006. The only question is where. The offers have started coming in and more will follow so he will have his choice of schools.

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