“He’s a tremendous talent,” former Oxford coach John Grass said. “He’s blessed athletically and can run, jump, flip, move lateral and just all the things that you would want in an in an athlete to be a running back. Speed, quickness, explosion, all that stuff. He’s a master of vision and works on his moves and stuff like that.”
Although the junior’s statistics show his success, in week nine against Pell City, Thomas had what would be considered a “Heisman moment” at the next level.
With the snap on the right hash, Thomas went left with the ball out of the pistol formation, looking for a hole. Seeing it was closed by a Pell City defender, he went outside to the left, finding himself inside a triangle of defenders. With the possibility of being tackled for a loss still likely, Thomas used a vicious stiff arm to start what ended up being a 59-yard touchdown run that included five broken tackles with the chances of 10 players tackling the tailback.
“Yeah, that was a really good run,” Thomas said. “I still don’t know how I made it through all of those tackles.”
Bullying nearly every defensive player on the field for Pell City, Thomas spent the season with reminders to build up his arm strength to effectively use his new move: the stiff arm.
“Our coach kind of puts that on point when we’re working out,” the tailback explained. “He says, ‘That’ll help on your stiff arm, and benching will get your stiff arm up,’ so yeah, it does help a lot.”
Although, prior to the 2012 season, Thomas didn’t realize he could utilize the stiff arm and have such success with it.
“I use it quite a bit considering how many defenders want to strip the ball from me,” he said. “They just really want to make me fumble, but I don’t really give them the chance. I don’t really have very long arms, but I have arms long enough to keep them from getting the ball or making the tackle.
Although Thomas started using the stiff arm in ninth grade, he hasn’t used it as much because he’s worked on other moves throughout his high school career, as well.
“He works on a few (moves) for a few weeks and he’ll use that move, then he’ll go to another one,” Grass said. “Last year he didn’t use the stiff arm as much; he was a big spin guy. But he’s got everything you want, the dead leg, the stiff arm, the spin move and he’ll run over you, as well.”
Adding the stiff arm to his list of moves along with natural talent, Thomas rushed for 1,768 yards and 24 touchdowns this season on 186 carries. Yet his statistics could have been much higher had he not sat out a majority of the second half of numerous games due to large leads.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever been on the field with, for sure,” Grass said.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.