STORRS, Conn. – College football's national signing day can be full of drama, with players holding press conferences, tugging on the caps of the school they have selected, and photographers clicking away as letters of intent are signed.
But it's not that way for every player. For some, the commitment comes early and with clarity. There's no wavering and no drama on signing day. No televised press conferences
Noel Thomas, a wide receiver from Norwalk, Conn., was the first player to commit to Connecticut's class of 2013. He told UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni he was headed to Storrs on Feb. 25, 2012 – almost a full year before signing day on Wednesday. He graduated from St. Luke's School on Dec. 21 and is one of two UConn recruits who enrolled for the spring 2013 semester. He signed his letter of intent on Jan. 18.
While the college football world celebrated as if Wednesday were a national holiday, Thomas was going to classes on the UConn campus.
"It's close to home [less than two hours away] and that was a big thing with me," Thomas said earlier this week. "I want my parents to be able to come watch me and when I first came, I was just blown away by everything."
Despite UConn's 5-7 (2-5 Big East) finish last season, the second consecutive season with a losing record and no invitation to a bowl game, Thomas' enthusiasm for the program did not wane.
"It kind of made me want to come here more and improve that record for the following year," Thomas said.
Although he feels that he can make a positive impact on the team, Thomas believes last season could have ended better with some minor adjustments.
"I definitely thought that UConn could have finished with a stronger record," said Thomas, who attended the 34-17 loss to Cincinnati in the final game of the season. "I thought we definitely could have beaten them. Couple mistakes just lost the game and with UConn last season it was just little things that we're going to fix this season."
Thomas, listed at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds by UConn, may have been recruited as a wide receiver, but he was a jack of all trades in high school. He also played running back, quarterback and safety.Thomas admits that he "likes the ball in his hands at all times."
In his senior year alone, Thomas had 21 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. As a running back, Thomas had 1,226 yards and 19 touchdowns on 106 attempts. That's an average of 11.57 yards per carry or a first down every time he touched the ball. As a quarterback, Thomas threw for 559 yards and four touchdowns, while completing 31-of-53 pass attempts. As a safety, Thomas had 43 tackles and four interceptions.
He finished his high school career with 4,888 total yards and 53 touchdowns.
Thomas believes that his versatility in high school helped his team win games and he also believes that could translate at the next level as well.
"It'll definitely help because if I can get familiar with playing offense, a defense and special teams, if somebody goes down and I'm not playing a certain position, I could be the next guy," Thomas said.
Although he played four positions in high school, Thomas believes that the focus for him will be playing as a wide receiver, which he admits is his favorite position. Thomas will join a receiving corps that lost Michael Smith, Nick Williams, and tight ends Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt to graduation.
"I want to be a spark to the UConn offense as a freshman," Thomas said.
The Huskies feel Thomas fits a specific need.
"He gives us a guy who is a little bit taller receiver," Pasqualoni said Wednesday. "He's like the X and Z, the taller outside receiver – not necessarily the inside slot guy. Excellent skill set; very, very soft hands; very good speed. Has a very good sense of balance. He can make what I call the awkward body catches. When the ball is not perfectly thrown and is behind him, he can twist around and grab it. And he's very good with production after the catch."
His first step will come soon enough as he will participate in spring football, an advantage of enrolling early.
"Definitely want to learn this playbook," Thomas said, admitting it is much more complex than his high school playbook. "It's like a novel and I just want to get it down pat."
In his high school career, Thomas played at two different schools, attending Norwalk High School for two years before transferring to St. Luke's for the final year and a half of his education.
"At first I didn't really want to switch schools," Thomas said. "I didn't want to leave friends, but then I just thought about my future. I knew for a fact that if I switched to a private school I'd get a better education… it definitely opened up opportunities to a college."
While at St. Luke's, he played for his father, Noel Thomas Sr., the coach of the Storm. Thomas Jr. had been playing for his father since 2002, when he began playing Pop Warner football.
Now Thomas must adjust to a new coaching staff , but it was a lasting impression from Pasqualoni and his staff that weighed heavily into his decision.
"The coaches showed that they care about me as a person first and a player second, that was a big thing," Thomas said.
Three weeks into his first college semester, Thomas seems to be enjoying the experience. He is getting a feel for the campus and the football facilities and is comfortable in his new surroundings.
"I've been enjoying myself," Thomas said. "I've been working really hard in the weight room, trying to get bigger and I really love it. I love it here. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
UConnPlaybook.com publisher and managing editor Ken Davis contributed to this story.