Going into his senior year at West Lauderdale in the fall of 2012, Richard Thomas held three FBS offers — Ole Miss, Louisiana Lafayette and Ole Miss.
Two games into his season, Thomas saw those offers go poof.
"I fractured my (left fibula)," said Thomas, who played quarterback and safety in high school. "So I decided to go JUCO."
Thomas found himself at Pearl River Community College, in Hattiesburg, and prepared to start at outside linebacker. At what Thomas calls "the last minute," Pearl River added Kentucky transfer Demarius Rancifer, who would sign with South Alabama in December.
"Since he had more experience than me and was a sophomore, he got to start," Thomas said. "But I still got a lot of playing time."
Rancifer led the team with 66 total tackles. Thomas set out for games and, as a backup, finished with 13 (1.4 a game).
The 6-foot, 205-pound Thomas has been a spring standout for Pearl River, which recently wrapped up its spring game. Colleges are beginning to take notice and Iowa State coach Shane Burnham stopped by last week on a swing through Mississippi, watched practice and collected tape.
"I showed him I can cover, because I know in the Big 12 and there's a lot of spread," Thomas said. "I'm aggressive and like to come up and make big tackles and plays for a loss."
Thomas projects as an early-enrollee and will sign in December.
"This is a big year for me," he said.