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Monday, June 24, 2013
Focus leads to Texas pledge for Thomas

By William Wilkerson

John Thomas (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley Community College) should be at LSU right now, entrenched in SEC mania with a bucket full of Mad Hatter memories.

But he’s not because of academic troubles and, to a lesser degree, knee injuries that sidelined him his entire senior season at Bossier City (La.) Airline High School in 2011.

With his grades in check and his right knee feeling “100 percent,” Thomas is now set to embark on a new journey as a Texas Longhorn, and he couldn’t be happier.

Thomas became a commitment about as fast as he publicly became known as a legitimate target for the Longhorns. He visited Texas on June 14 and became the Longhorns’ 19 commit for the Class of 2014 a day later.

"I'm very excited," said Thomas, who is 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds. "It's actually my favorite college when I was younger."

Thomas said he remembers sending the Longhorns his information as a junior but that he never heard back from them.

“After that, once I started playing juco and I started getting recognized, they got in contact with me a couple of days after that,” he said.

Academics could have been a reason why Texas didn’t look at him long. He certainly had the talent, rated as the No. 16 tight end in the country in 2012 and the No. 10 prospect in Louisiana. He missed his entire senior season with a torn ACL, meniscus and cartilage in his right knee. If the Longhorns were hoping to view more of him before extending an offer, they never had the chance.

Thomas originally committed to LSU in March of his junior year but did not sign his letter of intent because he didn’t qualify academically, which is why he went to TVCC.

Thomas rededicated himself to his studies, which allowed him to become an intriguing target to not only the Longhorns but also Auburn, Baylor, Florida and Ole Miss, which are schools he said he has offers from.

“Academics were a big focus,” said Thomas, who now carries a 3.2 grade-point average. “I didn’t want that mistake to happen again. I didn’t want my grades to affect me as far as getting to a D-I, so I dedicated myself more in the classroom as well.”

Thomas said his knee is 100 percent healthy as well. He just didn’t get much of an opportunity to show it last season.

Trinity Valley CC wasn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut in 2012, going 3-6 and averaging 328.1 yards per game, which was 37th overall in the National Junior College Athletic Association. The offense gained 164.2 passing yards per game.

Thomas was the youngest of a three-man rotation at tight end that totaled eight catches and a long of six yards. He accounted for two receptions for 14 yards but vows for bigger numbers in his future, especially when he gets to Texas.

While he might not have put up huge statistics as a freshman, Thomas said his first year spent at TVCC made him a better player all around.

“My junior year of high school I was more of a vertical guy that could block OK, but not good enough,” said Thomas, who started the last three games. “So once I got to juco I dedicated myself to be more of a dual guy. I got better with my technique and my discipline in blocking.”

That should allow Texas to do plenty of different things with him.

“They want to use me all over the place,” Thomas said. “They want me to split out wide, put my head down as a fullback, an H-back, as a tight end. They want to use me all over the place. As long as I am making plays.”

He was actually up the road from Austin in Georgetown working at an Offense-Defense Football Camp when he got in contact with Texas’ coaches the week of his visit.

“They wanted me to come take a visit,” he said. “So I went on an unofficial visit and everything just happened from there.

“They showed me around Moncrief-Neuhaus Complex. They showed me around the weight room, the All-American walls, the Hall of Fame  walls. It was pretty good. They have five tight ends in the NFL right now.”

Thomas loved what he saw from Texas tight ends coach Bruce Chambers, who made a huge impact on his quick decision.

“Coach Chambers is known for putting players in the NFL, and teaching them about life and football,” he said. “He said that they needed a tight end like me. They are looking for someone like me to produce right away.”

Thomas will join a roster that will feature three senior tight ends (Greg Daniels, Geoff Swaim and Miles Onyegbule) and a junior in M.J. McFarland.

“They were excited with my decision,” Thomas said of Texas’ coaches. “They told me if I am committed to them, then they are going to be 100 percent committed to me.”