After signing with West Virginia, the Durham, N.C. native went from center stage to a supporting role in his first year on campus. The Mountaineer backfield was a log jam with talented veterans like Dreamius Smith, accompanied by big time playmakers in Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell. With playing time likely to be sparse for a true freshman, Thomas-Williams was redshirted in 2014, spending the year in the background.
Heading into this season, the story is much the same, with Shell and Smallwood likely to garner the majority of the carries, but Thomas-Williams is fighting to prove he deserves playing time. Consistency in effort is a key factor coaches look at when evaluating a player, and running backs coach JaJuan Seider said Thomas-Williams has been lacking that recently.
“He’s still inconsistent," Seider said. "Young kids, in my opinion, get caught up in the media. They read their press clippings too much. I always use him and Jacky (Marcellus) in that example. The guy who was unrecruited and works for everything he gets. Here goes a guy, Donte, who probably in his mind thinks he should be the guy right now.
“He doesn’t want to work for it right now. We just need to get him understanding, look, you’re not the guy. You better work for everything you get, because right now, nobody is going to give you anything.”
WVU RBs coach JaJuan Seider talks team development, motivation
The tale of Thomas-Williams’ first two years on campus is a familiar one for many big time recruits. They get used to hearing how great they are, and then when they step on campus and are faced with the prospect of sitting down and waiting their turn, their attitudes can get in the way of productivity. Social media plays a large role in the recruiting process these days, but Seider says it also has a hand in making situations like Thomas-Williams’ worse.
“Get off the social media. Stop letting people pat you on the back," Seider said. "This is Big 12 football. You’ve got to earn everything you get. He’s hearing that message. He’s hearing it from me. He’s hearing it from Dana (Holgorsen). He’s hearing it from Lonnie (Galloway) and everyone on offense. We’ll win with you or win without you, so you need to get on."
Obviously the coaching staff would prefer Thomas-Williams get on board, because he has the talent to be a major force out of the backfield for years to come, and Seider is plugging away, trying to make sure that happens with him in a West Virginia uniform.
“My job is trying to prevent him from being that next guy who was a highly recruited guy who didn’t pan out," Seider said. "Again, I hate blaming people, but I do think social media has a lot to do with that. They get patted on the back. I’m this star, I’m that star. Listen, when you get here, who cares what you were? It’s time to go play ball."
Hype can get you in the building, it may even get you on the field, but the old saying rings true, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Thomas-Williams has the talent, but Seider is still trying to open his eyes to the importance of having a strong work ethic.
“Whether you’re the guy coming in with a little more hype and a little more ability, if you’re in the program most guys either keep going or get caught up to," Seider said. "It’s college football. If you don’t put enough work into it, guys catch up. To stay elite you’ve got to work like an elite player. Donte’s just a kid with a wall and you’ve got to break that wall. My job is to keep trying to beat down that wall and get to him, and I think I’m getting closer to it.”