All About "Puff"

<i>Inside Carolina</i>'s Mac Heffner writes about one of the Heels' top lineman targets - Isaiah "Puff" Thomas. Includes quotes from Thomas, his coach and a local expert.

Isaiah Thomas has been described as a fun-loving comedian off the football field.

"I just make jokes off the field I like to pick on people," Thomas told IC. "I like to make the guys have a good time."

However, his skills on the gridiron are no laughing matter.

The talented lineman from Winston-Salem (N.C.) Carver High is at the top of the Tar Heels wish list, but virtually every school in America is after him.

With offers from Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, it might surprise some to see Thomas' current top five schools.

North Carolina, Tennessee, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Georgia hold the top five spots in the race for Thomas, and all are pretty even at this point.

Thomas (6-4, 315, 4.9) will visit UNC on Jan. 10, and then he will head to Tennessee the following week. N.C. State gets its crack when he comes to Raleigh on Jan. 26. Maryland is also still in the running to land Thomas.

Carver coach Keith Wilkes said Thomas is a good leader who works hard and is very fast for his size.

"He just wants to dominate every play," Wilkes said. "Probably is the strongest kid I have ever coached."

Thomas said his size and quickness are what helps him gain an advantage over other players.

"On offense my strength is pulling around and running over somebody," he said. "On defense, it's getting a sack."

Thomas has 10 sacks this season in eight games.

It might seem hard to believe but there was a time when Thomas was an unknown commodity.

But the reason is fairly simple. He was too big to play until he entered ninth grade. "When he first got here he didn't know a lot of football because he had never played," Wilkes said. "We worked with him and he got better and became one of the best in the nation."

Thomas has started three seasons for the Yellow Jackets and saw action on varsity as a freshman.

Mason Linker, who covers prep sports for the Winston-Salem Journal, agreed with Wilkes that Thomas is fast for his size.

"To be as enormous as he is, you see him running down guys on the sideline," Linker said. "On occasion, he will just shoot through the line and make a play.

"He is just extremely quick for a guy that size. He's just big – not a big fat boy, he is broad – a moose."

With a nickname like "Puff," a name his dad gave him at birth, it might be easy to think Thomas is cocky. However, according to Wilkes that is not the case.

"I don't know where the name came from. He had it before he got here.

"He comes from a good religious family. His dad is a preacher and off the field he is sometimes a jokester, but he is a mellow kid who is keeping his head on straight."

Thomas said the nickname "Puff" came about when his dad first saw him.

"He said that is what I looked like when I was born."

UNC coaches James Webster and Ron Broadway are hard at work on landing Thomas. "They are great guys," Thomas said.

Thomas also camped at UNC and thought the facilities were nice. He also had a chance to talk with UNC coach John Bunting.

"He is a real straight-forward guy," he said. "He is real cool."

Don't expect a decision until near signing day, as Thomas plans to take all his visits before deciding. Thomas said his family hasn't made things any easier.

"They say they are up for wherever I go, so they are making it hard for me.

"I have visits all way down to signing day. It will be close to signing day before I announce where I'm going to go."

Thomas said he doesn't have a favorite at this point.

With an already talented recruiting class, Thomas could solidify what many experts already rate as a top five class nationally in Chapel Hill.

"I know about three of them (UNC verbal commitments) – Mike Mason, Adarius Bowman and Joe Kedra. I met Bowman at the Tennessee-Florida game, met Mason at ECU camp and UNC-Texas game. We would probably be a great team."

Isaiah Thomas Stats:
Bench - 425
Squat - 655
Power Clean - 330
4.9 40-time

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