Simple. And efficient. When a football comes his way, Thomas regards it as personal property. Especially when it requires throwing his considerable weight around.
“I just try to be physical when the ball is going in the air. I’m 6-6, 290…everybody says 300 pounds! But when the ball is in the air, I want it.”
That pause re: pounds? The big Bulldog is a touch sensitive about his weight. In fact he claims to be ‘just’ 288 now and proud of it. Teammates still tease away with the 300 topic.
Of course if Thomas keeps making catches as he did last weekend, he can tout any tonnage he prefers. The junior transfer made his senior college debut something to see as Thomas really threw his weight around on a couple of catches.
On one in particular. With the Bulldogs already two touchdowns ahead and sitting on South Carolina’s three-yard line with first down, Nick Fitzgerald looked for his big tight end. To be sure the quarterback had done the same thing three minutes earlier in red-zone offense. Fitzgerald just didn’t see Gamecock T.J. Holloman setting underneath and waiting for a throw at the tight end.
This time, instead of sending his receiver crossing underneath, Fitzgerald had Thomas drift out to the right side and threw. It wasn’t a perfect toss; in fact safety D.J. Smith was in better receiving position and got both hands on the ball.
Unfortunately for the 5-11, 195-pound Smith there was a great big Dog right behind. Thomas reached over and applied his much longer, stronger arms and 100-pound advantage. “I tried to go strong. I wanted it more.” And, got it for the touchdown.
“It was a great feeling, to hear the crowd when I came up with the ball. It was just an awesome feeling, my first touchdown in the SEC.”
Thomas scored four touchdowns in two seasons at East Mississippi C.C., and was ranked by various analysts the leading tight end prospect in all juco football. It isn’t just his size and strength that tantalized senior college scouts though.
Thomas can run. Really run. Bulldog defenders were shocked in preseason by how fast that 30….ahhh, 290 pounds was coming at them. Training camp buzz was all about what this physical freak could bring to the Bulldog passing game.
For Thomas’ part, “I just wanted to come in and play my role. They wanted me to come in and be a physical tight end and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
True sophomore Justin Johnson has started both games, from familiarity with State’s passing schemes and routes. He’s had his share of balls thrown his direction through two games as well. Now with Thomas in the mix their position is clearly a passing priority.
“Targeting the tight ends, they’re really trying to get the ball in our hands and let us make plays,” Thomas said. “We just go out there and if the ball comes our way we just try to make plays. It’s a blessing he (Fitzgerald) chose to come to me in that game and I tried to make the play.”
Every indication is Thomas should have many more opportunities to make plays. Naturally defenses now have some scouting material on the new tight end so things won’t get easier. Though, Thomas said, watching his tape from a couple years in the Mississippi junior college system should have given the alert already.
“They call it little SEC, huh?” he said.
Still Thomas is going to draw more defensive attention as the season develops. And his game needs rounding-out in other areas. “My run game is OK. Definitely room for improvement. I just work at it every day.”
What he needn’t practice though is his attitude about footballs. Why, he even had the same mindset playing on the ECCC hardwood.
“Oh, yeah, that was my mentality in basketball. When the ball is in the air, go get it.”
‘Go’ being the operative word for this weekend. Thomas overpowered a game Gamecock bunch. Louisiana State is a different deal, even more physical and much faster all around. So, time to test that size, reach, muscle, and speed against the host Tigers.
“We’re going against a great defense. So we’re going to try to play our game. It’s going to be a good atmosphere, I heard. It’s going to be my first time going down there.