Texas safety keeping recruiting "real"

James Thomas is a big recruit out of the state of Texas. That's figurative more than it is literal, but that's something Thomas has been working on for a few years. For a guy who stood just 5 foot, 9 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds when he started his first game for La Marque high school in the town of the same name, he's made some pretty nice strides. That's what's made him more than popular lately, Nebraska just one of many schools looking for his services in the future.

Starting for any team on defense, playing safety and in Texas no less, if you are 130 pounds, people either think that this school is in no-man's land or you are talking about some high school game in the 70s.

Neither would apply, because it was right around two years ago when safety prospect James Thomas took the field, exactly at that weight. Even with all-everything DBs around him at the time like Korey Mangum, that's a hell of a task for someone that size.

It makes one grow up real fast, figuratively speaking, of course.

"You better get it figured out or you are going to find yourself getting beat a lot," James said of the mental adjustment he had to make during his sophomore year as a starter for La Marque. "I had good guys around me, but that didn't mean I could just stand out there."

"Teams were going to look for me, because I wasn't very big, so I had to do what I could to make sure I was going to be effective."

One of those things was watching film. An admitted freak of sorts when it comes to watching film, Thomas knew that if he wasn't going to have the advantage physically, he was going to make sure to have it mentally. When the offense got down on the ball and lined up, Thomas' fanaticism in the film room made him very confident with what he saw on the field.

"You might as well call me a coach as much as I watch film," James said. "I have seen so much film, I have a real good idea just by how they are lining up, what they are going to do. Part of making plays is being in the right position, so I made sure I was always where I needed to be."

It's been close to two years since that time and James doesn't have the physical limitations he encountered when he first stepped onto the field. Now he's almost 6 foot tall and he's weighing just under 180 pounds, all while still managing to run the 40 in the 4.4 range.

That projects him nicely to what he can do in his final year of prep ball, but James knows that for college, he's still got a ways to go. The good thing is, he looks at his family and he knows that he'll get there in time. "I think the shortest person in my family, at least for the guys, is 6-1," Thomas said. "My dad is close to 6-3. So, I'm not worried about gaining the weight and all that. I just need to keep doing the work."

At his current size James already projects as a lethal safety. In fact, you could project him as a cornerback with a safety's body. As a junior, the 90 tackles were pretty darn good as he helped to lead his team to just a one-loss season, his team getting knocked out in the fourth round of the playoffs. But grabbing 11 interceptions from that spot is just sick.

That goes back to the film room, but it also is a by product of that studiousness he shows on the field, combined as much as possible with that noted defensive player's mentality. "Some guys get totally out of their game, because they like to be really aggressive during the game," Thomas said. "You do that and you lose focus of what you have to do."

"Me, I think God before every single play to put me where I am today and I thank him for giving me every opportunity that I have. Then I combine that focus with my aggression and just let it flow through."

"I combine the best of what I can do, so I know I am in control."

You can figure out pretty easily that Thomas has his head screwed squarely on his shoulders, knowing what he can and can't control. And of those things he can't control, he just takes in stride.

Taking recruiting for example: the one facet of his football experience, where his play dictates a lot of his attention, but the attention comes and it goes. He has no more control on where it's coming from as he does when and in what amounts.

Another nice by product of his maturity is that he looks at it, the teams that are recruiting him and all the attention he's getting and it's as if he isn't being recruited at all. "Recruiting and looking at teams, to me, that's just something you try to take in stride," he said. "I don't get caught up in the offers or who's paying attention. I just thank God they are and I feel fortunate for the opportunity God has given me in being able to choose where I want to go."

"All I do now is just listen to what coaches have to say, do the research I can and think about what academics they have to offer, which fit what I want and how their team fits me."

To that end Thomas has already made quite a few unofficial visits, having already stopped by to check out Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor. Out of that group, only Kansas and Missouri haven't offered as of yet. Those add to those to the offers he's gotten from Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, with offers expected soon from the University of Houston and possibly LSU during the month of May. And he's got future plans over the off-season to visit even more schools, time and finances permitting.

But if he can't get it covered then, he's got his official visits either during or after the season, which fits just fine in his timeline for when he'd like to make a decision. "I'd like to make it after either the NCAA season or my season, so I have had a good chance to see everything I want to see," James said. "There's a lot to look at when it comes to these schools, so that's going to take some time."

Would you believe that one of his potential majors could be in the culinary arts?

"I like to cook, what can I say," Thomas said. "I don't know what I am going to take at this point. Maybe that. I like Real Estate a lot and landscaping. I don't know right now."

Over the last couple of recruiting seasons, Nebraska has been hot and heavy after safeties, coming up short with names like Nic Harris and Adam Myers-White. This last year they scored with some great athletes, but all were running backs, who also played the safety position.

With the loss of their two starting safeties this last season, getting someone in that not only has the physique for the position, but has the mentality as well, playing nothing but that position in high school, that's probably still a direction the Huskers are trying to go.

Thomas will admit that outside of some childhood knowledge about the Huskers and what he's learned from his recruiter, defensive line coach John Blake, he's still got to learn a lot more about the big red. But from what he sees, he already likes. "They are a defensive team," Thomas said of Nebraska. "They play great defense, hard nosed defense and they get after the ball."

"That's one of the things I am looking for, but not the only thing, so I still have to take a look at what they do and who they might have coming back."

Here comes another refreshing part about Thomas in that he isn't looking at who's coming back, to see who has to compete against, because he's worried about the depth chart. He's looking, because he wants to know that like he's experienced at La Marque over the years, there are plenty of quality players on the field.

"Hey, I want to win more than anything else I want to accomplish out there," he said. "I'm not a real individual-like guy. The wins are what matters and you can't do that alone, so I want to see that wherever I go, there's a solid team already there."

"I'll compete for my spot. If you don't have to compete for it, that's probably not a good thing."

Thomas will be competing with himself more than he will anyone else, climbing, scratching and clawing his way to his magical mark of 200 pounds. And he if does add even one or possibly two more inches in height, you have an already impressive looking young man, who will become the absolute prototype of the safety of the future.

That will take a young man from six offers to more and then even more than that, and his popularity will soar. Even if that happens, though, the one thing that won't change about Thomas is what he's looking for and even if you are Texas or USC, you better have it or he's looking somewhere else."

"My education means more than anything else to me, because you are one play away from nothing," James said. "I'll look at that and then I will look at the team. I will take into account what I think about the coaches and how that team plays defense."

"I don't know who it's going to be in the end. I can't predict the future. But I can tell you that it's going to be the best place for me. I'm going to make sure of that."

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