Print and Go Back ESPN.com: On The Trail: Southeast Region [Print without images]

Thursday, May 2, 2013
Four-star RB ready to check out the SEC

By Jared Shanker

Four-star running back Johnathan Thomas (Danvers, Mass./Saint John’s Prep) is expecting to see something he’s not been accustomed to growing up in the Northeast.

The No. 1 prospect in the state of Massachusetts is visiting Arkansas beginning Sunday, and he believes it will be an eye-opening trip south, where college football reigns supreme.

“It’s a whole new experience,” Thomas said. “It’s all about football down there; it’s life. Being up from Boston, people like football, but people down there love it. That’s something that really interests me.”

The Razorbacks offered the 5-foot-11, 196-pound running back a few weeks ago, and Thomas quickly set up a trip to Fayetteville. Thomas heard from the coaches for the first time last month, and Bret Bielema’s staff was not recruiting Thomas while at Wisconsin. Thomas first heard from new Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas, who said he wanted to offer right away. He needed Bielema to sign off on it, and when the new Arkansas coach saw Thomas’ tape, he quickly gave the OK.

Now that Arkansas tendered a scholarship, Thomas, who tips the scales at almost 200 pounds but still boasts 4.4 speed, is high on the possibility of playing at Arkansas and in the SEC.

“First of all, Arkansas is in the SEC and the SEC is a great conference. It’s top-notch football,” Thomas said. “It’s like a semi-pro league for the NFL, my friends say. There’s so much talent in the SEC, and to be a part of any team in the SEC is amazing and you’d be playing against the best.”

That does not mean Arkansas has an inherent advantage over the remaining six programs to offer. The fact that Arkansas is nearly a full-day’s drive from Boston doesn’t give the more local programs a step up either, too.

“Going away from family, it’s not going to be something that’s going to affect my decision,” he said. “It’s going to be what’s right for me. I’m doing this for me.”

Boston College is still recruiting Thomas hard despite already having a four-star running back committed. Marcus Outlow (Norwich, Conn./Norwich Free Academy) committed back in February, but the coaching staff is telling Thomas there is room for him at BC. The coaches have a handful of scholarships out to uncommitted running backs, but Thomas said the coaches are making him a priority.

Thomas is not afraid of coming in at the same time as Outlow either. He is embracing it.

“He’s a great kid and it’d be great sharing the backfield with him,” Thomas said, “because every team is going to have a one-two punch. One player won’t be on the field the whole game.”

While Bielema was not recruiting Thomas when he was at Wisconsin, the new coaching staff under Gary Andersen is. Thomas said he speaks with Badgers running backs coach Thomas Hammock every day. Wisconsin has not offered, but one could be coming soon. Hammock told Thomas to be patient.

Wisconsin has a long history of recruiting 200-pound running backs and turning them into All-Big Ten performers.

“He says when he sees me run that I can move the chains and he says I have a great skill set,” Thomas said. “He was talking about Montee Ball and how he went in the second round and I have the skill set to do better.”