The bulk of people associated with the Oklahoma program were probably a little disappointed watching the college football playoff selection show.
No, the Sooners obviously didn’t really care if they were a No. 3 or No. 4 seed or really care about who they were playing.
Travel arrangements? That was another story. Staying close to home at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, sure would have made things a lot more convenient for many.
Ahmad Thomas, though, had the opposite reaction. The minute it was announced No. 4 OU would take on No. 1 Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl, his phone was flooded with messages. He said it was like around 120 messages. That’s what happens when people know you’re coming home.
Miami and South Beach go hand-in-hand. But where Thomas grew up bears no resemblance of the glamourized style of South Beach.
It was a struggle to get out of the Robin Hood part of Miami, but he did it. He’s not just coming back as a pivotal member of OU’s secondary. He’s coming back as an example of what can be done if you choose to make it happen.
“It means a lot, especially coming where I’m from because I’ve had some bad times, too,” Thomas said. “To see me grow as a person, for some people it’s mind-blowing, for some people I just made them proud that I stayed on the right track. I wasn’t like my friends, that was a big thing for me – to show I didn’t want to be like the people I was raised around.”
Thomas started picking up recruiting attention his sophomore year of high school and Notre Dame was the first school to offer. He could have stayed close to home. He could have attended Miami. But he knew that’s not what he wanted, not what he needed.
He needed to see what else was out there. He needed to get away from it all, from all the tumultuous situations in his neck of the woods. But never did he expect Oklahoma.
Thomas said he had never considered the Sooners until OU coaches Bob Stoops and Mike Stoops showed interest. Thomas committed in May 2012, nine months before signing day, but he didn’t actually make his first trip to OU until September 2012.
He went four months of being a commit from Miami having never seen Norman, never knowing what to expect. He simply didn’t have any doubts.
“Coach Mike and Coach Bob used to come and see me,” Thomas said. “They came for like a week straight. I remember the first day they came. I was walking home before practice to get something to eat, and my coach called me. I need you to come into the office right now. I was like am I in trouble or something? I walked into the office and saw Coach Mike and he was just looking at me. That whole week they were talking to me and telling me why I should go to the school.”
Thomas arrived in Norman in 2013 and despite things not exactly clicking on all cylinders, he said he never really felt homesick.
Sure there were times when he wished he had mother in the stands watching him. And it wasn’t easy going that first year without any family. But he made it. He survived and his teammates at OU became like his family.
He earned his way into a starting role as a sophomore and had some up and down moments before truly finding his niche this season.
“He’s a lot more confident in his game,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “Coach Cooks kind of gives him that freedom and that helps. Once you make one play, you make another and you know his confidence has gone through the roof.
“He was good last year. A lot of people overlook his play last year. He showed it in in spurts. This year he’s just a lot more consistent.”
Thomas’ biggest play came against Baylor when he made the game-sealing interception against the Bears with OU up 44-34 in the final four minutes. It highlights what has been a quality season for Thomas, enough to be named second team All-Big 12 by the coaches.
Thomas has 68 tackles with three interceptions and 1.5 sacks this season. But it’s a lot more than just the stats on the field.
“Ahmad has made huge strides in becoming more of a vocal leader,” safety Steven Parker said. “His experience has caught up with him, too. Having that experience and now he’s one of the leaders on the defense.
“He always did what he was supposed to do last year, but he just didn’t talk a lot about it. Now he has become that guy.”
A guy who can come back to Miami Central and be a mentor to younger kids. It’s not the role he was looking to have coming out of high school, but he’s earned it.
Thomas said his neighborhood shaped the person he has become, for better or worse. In his neighborhood, he said you don’t really know what’s out there – that there is good out there. You only know the rough life and believing you’ll be incarcerated before you’re 21 years old.
Thomas won’t be one of those guys. He won’t be a statistic and that could end up being his biggest legacy of them all.
“I go to the school all the time and work out when they’re running,” Thomas said. “I go back and see my coaches. I talk to them. Even my teammates when I was in high school, a lot of them are still in the streets and all that. I don’t want to tell somebody my age what to do, but I feel like I can go back and show them what’s out there.
“A lot of them are there just to play football just for the moment and don’t want to get anything out of it. I just want to reach out to people like that.”
Thomas said he’s attempting to get around 40 tickets for the game, including his mother, his aunt and a lot of other extended family. It’s a showcase event for the Sooners against Clemson, and a showcase event for Thomas to show just how far he’s really come.