Tailback/Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
University of Oregon Ducks
Los Angeles, California
Crenshaw High School
There will be little argument from Oregon fans if they are involved in conversations as to who might be the best all-purpose player in school history. The answer will quickly be De'Anthony Thomas, owner of 5,345 career yards that trail only all-time greats LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, with whom Thomas teamed in the Ducks' most recent Pac-12 Conference championship season of 2011.
Thomas holds Oregon records for kickoff return yards (1,885) and punt return average (17.13), and he's fourth in career scoring (278 points). Talent evaluators liken his speed and versatility, having good success whether running, catching or returning the ball, to that of former New York Giants great, Dave Meggett.
Thomas' "dance card" at Oregon was not only filled on the football field, but he was also a key contributor to the university's success in track and field. He anchored the 4x100-meter relay that advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships and ran the sixth-fastest time in school history, 39.89 seconds. Competing on the 2013 outdoor squad, he clocked the second-fastest time in both the 100 meters (10.31) and 200 meters (21.17) behind Ducks sophomore sensation, Arthur Delaney.
Under former head coach Chip Kelly, Oregon's recruiters often ventured out of the state for talent, with Southern California becoming a "feeding ground" while local schools UCLA and Southern California were undergoing restructuring to return to their former prominence. During those "lean years" for the Los Angeles area universities, Kelly managed to swoop up Thomas, a prep legend during his days at Crenshaw High School.
Still, it was a tough decision that Thomas had to make before he surprised hometown fans in his native Los Angeles by spurning Southern California for Oregon. Since arriving in the Pacific Northwest, he went on to be one of the Ducks' most beloved players. With his bright smile and fast feet, the kid known as "DAT" was a quick fan favorite.
Thomas was also a "favorite" of his first football coach, when he began playing the game. As a 12-year-old, he was a Pop Warner Football legend while playing for the Crenshaw Bears in Snoop Dogg's Snoop Youth Football League. Snoop Dogg claims to have given Thomas the nickname "Black Mamba", though Sports Illustrated has written that another coach in the league first identified Thomas to Snoop Dogg as the "Black Mamba". Thomas himself prefers the spelling "Black Momba".
Thomas carried his legend over to his days at Crenshaw High School, where the Los Angeles native played running back, defensive back, and wide receiver for head coach Robert Garrett. During his junior season, Thomas produced 902 yards with 12 touchdowns on just 81 carries (11.14 ypc), as he pulled in 11 passes for 204 yards with three scores to help the Cougars compile a 14-1 record, ranking 13th in the state.
The All-Los Angeles City Section and All-California Division South-2 performer also made sixty tackles with four sacks, three forced fumbles, seven pass deflections and a pair of interceptions in 2009. As a senior, he collected 359 yards with four scores on 16 catches, returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown, scoring twice on five interceptions for 122 yards. He tallied 42 tackles, gained 1,927 all-purpose yards and scored 162 points while rushing 114 times for 1,299 yards (11.4 ypc) and eighteen touchdowns in 2010.
That performance was a major reason Crenshaw High recorded a 12-2 record en route to capturing the 2010 CIF Los Angeles Section state title. He would close out his prep career playing in the U.S. Army All-American game after receiving a five-star recruit status from Scout.com.
Thomas was rated as the second-best athlete by Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports and named MVP by the City Section coaches, adding All-City first-team on defense and City Section Player of the Year honors. He was the recipient of the Glenn Davis Award, which is presented by the Los Angeles Times to best high school player in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to his success on the gridiron, Thomas was a standout performer in track at Crenshaw. He ran the fastest 200 meters in the nation by a prep player in the spring of 2010, clocking 20.61 seconds. He also won the 100 meters at the CIF Los Angeles Section meet with a time of 10.57 seconds.
Perhaps because he is such a consummate "team player," it was fitting that Thomas would share team MVP honors with tight end David Paulson and Pac-12 Conference co-Offensive Freshman of the Year accolades during his first season with the Oregon Ducks. He would become the only player in college to gain at least 400 yards as a receiver, ball carrier and kick returner in 2010, leading the league while placing tenth nationally with a 27.31-yard kickoff return average, running back two for scores.
Thomas also piled up 595 yards with seven touchdowns on 55 carries (10.82 ypc) while starting six of 14 games. He was second on the team with 46 receptions for 605 yards that included nine more scores. He ranked 11th in the FBS with an average of 159.64 all-purpose yards per game, amassing 2,235 yards, the second-highest total in school history.
Thomas was a semi-finalist for the Maxwell Award (college player of the year) as a sophomore, as he started eight contests for the Ducks in 2012. He scored in some fashion in 10 of the 13 contests he appeared in, generating 1,757 all-purpose yards. He was third on the squad with 701 yards on 92 carries (7.62 ypc) that included 11 touch-downs, leading the squad with 45 catches for 445 yards and five scores. He also averaged 24.31 yards on 16 kickoff returns and 17.08 yards via 13 punt returns.
During his junior campaign, Thomas suffered a right ankle sprain returning the opening kickoff vs. California, sitting out the rest of that game and the next three contests. The injury would limit his mobility the rest of the year, scoring just three times during his final six appearances compared to six touchdowns in the three games before getting hurt.
Thomas finished the 2013 season fourth on the team with 96 attempts for 594 yards (6.19 ypc) and eight scores. He made 22 catches for 246 yards, scoring once on 21 kickoff returns for a 24.43-yard average to finish with a career-low 1,335 all-purpose yards.
Seven days after the Ducks defeated Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl, Thomas announced that he was not returning to school for his senior season and was entering the 2014 NFL Draft. "I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL," Thomas said. "I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans. I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible."
Thomas appeared in 37 games at Oregon, starting 19 contests, as he carried 242 times for 1,890 yards (7.78 ypc) with 26 touchdowns, catching 113 passes for 1,296 yards (11.47 ypc) and a score…Returned 73 kickoffs for 1,885 yards (25.82 avg) and four touchdowns…Added 274 yards and a score on 16 punt returns (17.13 avg), along with recording five solo tackles…Scored 278 points and generated 5,345 all-purpose yards, an average of 144.46 yards per game.