Thomas' versatility to benefit Ducks
Whether at RB or receiver, Thomas ready to lead Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. — De'Anthony Thomas is a man of many surprises.
The speedy running back grew up in the limelight as one of the best prep players in Los Angeles, then graced the cover of a national magazine his sophomore year with the Oregon Ducks.
But he prefers the quiet of fishing on the McKenzie River. Or hanging out with his new pet iguana, Gucci.
There's not a lot of time for that now, however. Thomas opened fall camp this week, vowing a few more surprises for the upcoming season.
"We've added a little more flavor to the offense," he said slyly.
Last season Thomas was a dual threat, running for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns and catching 45 passes for 445 yards and five more scores. He also scored on a kickoff return and a punt return. He was the first Oregon player in 47 years with a touchdown four different ways.
|* Overall champion, as selected by media.|
For every 9.2 times he touched the ball, he scored.
In last season's 35-17 Fiesta Bowl victory against Kansas State, Thomas scored on a 94-yard return of the opening kickoff, the longest ever in an Oregon bowl appearance. In two career bowl games, he has amassed 509 all-purpose yards.
Now a junior, Thomas knows he needs to step up his game. While he's not talking about it, he's already on a number of Heisman Trophy watch lists.
But there's the matter of position. Although he's officially listed at running back, he's obviously adept at receiver also. For the past two seasons, Thomas wasn't pigeonholed into traditional position meetings and instead was tutored directly by former coach Chip Kelly.
Now that Kelly has moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has taken the helm, Thomas says he's going to meetings with the team's running backs.
But don't read too much into that.
"It doesn't really matter," Thomas said about his preference. "I just want to be there for my team, lead by example and contribute. It's time to go to work."
Helfrich has been noncommittal about the specifics of Thomas' role, obviously for strategic reasons.
"To be determined. That's the coach answer, right? It depends. De'Anthony likes that role [in the backfield], he likes to be a moving target that doesn't line up in one position all the time and certainly we like that, too. We have had that anchor for a long time. You go back to LaMichael [James] and other guys, and we need to find more numbers than just that one guy," the first-year coach said. "That's a position where we don't have a ton of depth, but De'Anthony likes the role of wide-out, motion guy, movement guy and we like that, too, to keep him versatile against nickel defenses or whatever defense we happen to be playing against."
Thomas first grabbed attention when he played for Snoop Dogg's youth football league in Los Angeles. The rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, nicknamed the young Thomas the "Black Mamba" because of his ability to change direction and slip through defenses.
At Crenshaw High School, Thomas rushed for 1,299 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also picking off five passes on defense to lead the Cougars to their second consecutive city championship his senior year.
All of the attention that he received as a youngster set him up to handle the spotlight at Oregon, which came from the moment he stepped on the field as a freshman. He was named the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year.
"None of that stuff means anything to me," he said of the accolades. "I feel like I've been through that. I've already experienced all that before. For me, I'm never satisfied. I just want to work hard and get better."
Thomas is such a speedster that he doubles up on the track team. Earlier this year at the Oregon Preview meet at Hayward Field, he won the 100 and 200 meters, and helped the Ducks' 4x100 relay team set a school record.
But he's all football right now. The Ducks open the season at home on Aug. 31 against Nicholls State and Thomas said he's been ready all summer. Just don't ask him whether he'll spend more time at running back or at receiver this year.
"People want to know," he said. "People want to know what's going on, so I try to give them a little bit. But like I said, I just want to contribute."