When Marietta (Ga.) Walton three-star defensive end Chase Thomas committed to Stanford this week, Thomas and his family attributed the decision largely to a strong relationship with the Stanford Football coaching staff. In speaking with The Bootleg about his commitment, Thomas once again emphasized his bond with the coaches and also touched on other factors that led him to commit to the Cardinal.
"It just came down to where I found myself most comfortable," Thomas explains. "I did at Stanford. It was very comforting. The coaches are awesome and they're just really energetic, personable guys. And I'll definitely get a chance at some early playing time there. It will definitely open up some doors after college for jobs and stuff like that."
"It's great," Thomas offers in expanding on his relationship with the Stanford coaches. "We get along well. It's just relaxed when we talk with each other. We don't really talk about football. We just talk about life and stuff like that. That is also nice."
The continuing focus on the staff comes amidst a vigorous recruitment in which Thomas has emerged as one of the top prospects on Stanford's board. A talented pass rusher with a 6'4" 210-pound frame and athletic ability that could project him at any one of a number of positions in the defensive front seven, Thomas offers the Stanford coaches an attractive option for filling significant needs on defense.
Given the high priority the staff places on Thomas, he has been the recipient of regular phone calls and visits by various Stanford coaches throughout the year. With in-home visits allowed the last two weeks as part of one of the most intense contact periods of the recruiting cycle, the Thomas home has been a regular stop for Stanford coaches eager to attract him to the Farm.
"Coach [D.J.] Durkin and Coach [Jim] Harbaugh came one week, and then Coach [Willie] Taggart and Coach Durkin came this past week," Thomas says of his most recent face-to-face contact with his future coaches. The regular involvement of a regional recruiter in Taggart, position coach in Durkin, and head coach in Harbaugh reflects the high degree of importance the Stanford staff has placed on landing Thomas. With a non-stop motor and athleticism that produces relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Thomas represents exciting possibilities for Stanford in a year in which stockpiling defensive talent is a top priority.
Playing defensive end for Walton this year, Thomas wreaked havoc in opposing backfields to the tune of 84 tackles and 17 sacks, to go with three quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and an interception. Over the course of his last two high school seasons, he racked up an impressive 37 sacks.
The high level of production in getting to opposing quarterbacks as well as the big frame begging for more weight to prepare for the banging of the college game evoke comparisons to current Stanford linebacker extraordinaire Clinton Snyder. At the same stage in his development, Snyder reported a 6'4" 210-pound build and had just completed a high school career that boasted 32.5 sacks in his final two years. Three years later, Snyder has added 20 pounds of muscle and has finished 11th in the Pac-10 in tackles in each of his first two seasons. His sophomore campaign placed him in the conference's top 10 in sacks, tackles for loss, fumbles forced and fumbles recovered on his way to earning all-conference recognition. In introducing the starting lineups in the nationally televised game against Notre Dame, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh called Snyder the best player on the team.
The uncanny resemblances between Thomas and Snyder in terms of build, high school production, and tenacity at getting to the quarterback help explain why Thomas is viewed as capable of helping out at any number of positions for the Cardinal defense. In his three years on campus for Stanford, Snyder has variously lined up at defensive end and each of the linebacker positions and has played in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive alignments. Similar flexibility may be in Thomas' future, which he says will depend on how he grows.
"I think they think I could play multiple positions," Thomas muses regarding the Stanford coaches' plans for him. "Anywhere from a linebacker, three of those positions, down to defensive end."
Despite this apparent flexibility, however, Thomas provides a particularly appealing option at defensive end, where his pass rushing ability promises the potential for a much-needed helping hand at a position unit gutted by graduation losses. With Udeme Udofia and Emmanuel Awofadeju completing their eligibility this past season, Stanford loses half of its 2007 playing rotation at defensive end.
The 2008 team will return the other half of that rotation in Pannel Egboh and Erik Lorig and will depend on contributions from current freshman Thomas Keiser, but the rotation on the edge still looks very much up in the air. Chase Thomas figures to be in the mix given his proven pass rushing ability and the acute needs for the Stanford defense.
"I think they definitely see me playing next year, and I don't think they are going to redshirt me," Thomas says. "That's why I need to get bigger and ready by the time I get in during the summer. We'll definitely have some meat on me in the next couple of months before the season starts."
With a frame that currently looks more like an outside linebacker than a college defensive end, it stands to reason that putting on bulk tops the off-season to-do list for Thomas. Indeed, he identifies size and speed as the attributes he would like to improve in the coming months. Nonetheless, the lean Georgian notes that Stanford's coaches remain more interested in the latter attribute at this point.
"Mostly they want me to keep my speed and work on my speed some more," Thomas reveals. "But yeah, I'm trying to put on some weight, too."
In addition to having a clear sense of the off-season ahead and the likelihood of early playing time, Thomas claims a more immediate focus on helping attract other top prospects to join him in Stanford's recruiting class by telling them "the same thing that I saw from Stanford and relay that to them."
"I've talked to a couple [other recruits]," Thomas shares. "There's a kid down here named Xavier Avery that might be interested in coming to Stanford... I'm trying to call some other recruits and talk to them." An elite two-sport athlete who ranks near the top of the wish list for both Stanford Football and Stanford Baseball, Avery joins Thomas as a Georgia product the coaches are eager to sign in February.
Meanwhile, Thomas can concentrate on enjoying his last year of high school when he is not on the phone with other recruits. Already admitted to Stanford last month, he does not need to sweat out the school's admissions process any longer. He is also done with his high school season after seeing Walton's championship run come to an end last Saturday with a loss in the Class AAAAA Georgia state semifinals.
"Well I wish we could have won [last weekend] and gone to the state championship this week," Thomas reflects on the end of his playing days with Walton. "But it felt good in winning our region title and leading our team to the semifinals. It is the farthest we've gone in the last couple of years. So it was good to get back to dominance. It was a great year."
With his high school season over and his impressive potential apparent to scores of college coaches, Thomas is sure to continue hearing from a multitude of suitors between now and Signing Day on February 6. Though ranked by Scout as the #55 defensive end in the nation and #38 recruit in Georgia, his list of offers eclipses dozens of Southeast recruits currently ranked ahead of him. He ultimately chose Stanford over fellow favorites Auburn, Tennessee, and North Carolina but also received offers from Georgia, Florida, LSU, Boston College, Kentucky, South Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Purdue, and Syracuse. The list made him one of the most-coveted recruits in the region and made his decision to spurn the local powers for Stanford particularly noteworthy.
"It was a little difficult," Thomas admits. "I met some really nice coaches and some big powerhouse teams down here in the SEC, but I just did what I think is best for me and that's why I chose Stanford."
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