It’s been awhile, but this is the 10th installment of our 20 part Better Know A Buckeye series. Yep: 10. That’s the halfway mark, homeslice. That said, these are probably still as rambling as ever, but we continue. In this feature, I take a look at the recruitment of athlete Lamaar Thomas, beginning with his recruitment to his commitment to the University of Ohio State. The 2008 class is full of neat stories and little surprises here and there. Yet, when recruiting is understood as a function of probability theory, the commitment of Lamaar Thomas was probably the biggest surprise in all of the 2008 class.
His Recruitment: Lamaar Thomas appeared on the Buckeyes’ radar in early 2007 as one of the must-get tiny speed demons that can compliment a team in a variety of ways (return game, cornerback, wide receiver). An offer eventually came in late February, joining a host of other schools, such as Tennessee, Florida, Boston College, Illinois and Maryland (among many others). However, the first few months following the offer, there was not a lot of interest coming from Thomas in the Buckeyes. As more and more schools threw in their hat, the more Buckeyes seemed to get lost in the shuffle.
This would change, though, as Thomas decided to attend a football camp hosted by Ohio State in June. Although admitting that he had no idea what to expect from a program that’s relatively foreign to Marylanders, Thomas came away from the camp blown away. Before too long, Ohio State was the leader for Thomas. Understanding why this developed leads me to conjecture about two different things. First, the camp in question featured most of the Brew Crew, and the group made Thomas feel very welcome as he entered camp unaware of what to expect. Second, while I have seen this scarcely sourced — but sourced nonetheless — Darrell Hazell went all out on Thomas and gave him red carpet treatment in Columbus. In other words, for Wide Receiver Coach Darrell Hazell, Thomas was probably priority no. 1. If we wanted to express this in terms of recruiting in EA Sports’ NCAA Football series, Hazell put in most if not all of his available recruiting points on Thomas, and it paid off. The Buckeyes became the team to beat for Thomas’ services and Thomas himself would begin talking with the Brew Crew on just about a daily basis.
However, there were two lingering concerns that I’ve identified. First, Thomas is essentially a running back by trade, or at least felt he was most comfortable at that position. If my understanding is correct, Thomas got his first looks in early 2007 as a possible defensive back before Hazell stepped insisting that he be recruited as a wide receiver (I’m guessing in the slot, but don’t quote me). Most other schools in the running for Thomas were telling him he could play running back. Throughout the summer, and even leading up to his official visits, Thomas would consistently say that the WR/RB choice was troubling for him, and that he was very much unsure about the transition to wide receiver. Meanwhile, other schools kept pitching tailback to Thomas. It’s worth noting, though, that much of Ohio State’s WR pitch could also be attributed to the promise made to Devoe Torrence about not taking another tailback in the class (Torrence was a very early commit). I don’t know what has changed here, but through the course of his recruitment, it might account for why Ohio State wasn’t telling him that he projected at running back.
Related to this point, the two schools that were actively pitching the tailback role to Thomas were two schools that, for Buckeye recruitniks, were the biggest hurdles to Lamaar Thomas that greatly reduced the probability of drawing Thomas out of Maryland. The Buckeyes have never fared well in the talent rich DC/Maryland area, and had lost out rather ignominiously on AJ Wallace and Rico McCoy in the near past1. To make matters worse, Illinois and Maryland had set themselves apart from the pack as the clear challengers for Ohio State for Thomas’ services. Understanding why should be obvious. Maryland is the in-state school, is about 20 miles from his home, and Thomas’ family admitted to being a Terrapin family, though would definitely defer to Thomas’ choice and allow him to make his own decisions. Further, Illinois/Ron Zook has had enormous success in the DC/Maryland area, and the presence of Mike Locksley in the area is a factor that had most Buckeye recruitniks biting their nails. For those unaware, Mike Locksley is currently an assistant coach for the Illini and former recruiting coordinator for Florida and Maryland who is very much responsible for feeding the local talent to Zook-coached teams. Other schools appeared on the radar in miscellaneous stages in Thomas’ recruitment — such as Florida2, North Carolina and Tennessee — but Illinois and Maryland emerged as the two serious competitors for OSU.
Thomas had always wanted to make a decision early in his senior year, hoping to be done with recruiting by September. To speed matters up, and with a top 3 largely set, Thomas decided to take all his official visits within a three week span. First up was a visit to Maryland on September 15. Thomas came away impressed with the visit, though I’m guessing not with the 31-14 score the Mountaineers hung on the Terps a few days earlier.
Afterwards, Thomas made a September 22 visit to Ohio State for the Northwestern game. If the blitzkrieg that Ohio State receivers put on Northwestern wasn’t enough to win him over, the events following his visit did. Everything I’ve read insinuated that Lamaar Thomas was, again, a priority target for the Brew Crew as Andrew Sweat, Jake Stoneburner, Nic DiLillo, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey, and Michael Brewster were in attendance to pal around with Thomas. Herein, there are several interesting things to note. Nic DiLillo recounted that the Brew Crew lectured Thomas — who I’m guessing was still somewhat in the dark about the Buckeyes as opposed to the exposure he gets to Maryland and Illinois — about what it means to be a Buckeye. After the game, all the recruits and their families went out to dinner together and, according to Thomas, everyone involved treated Lamaar like a son. Ben Buchanan, not entirely the most social person in the class, even did his part as a teammate to make Lamaar Thomas feel at home. The family atmosphere that Ohio State’s staff and incoming players in the class clearly blew him away. However, the visit to Illinois the next week for their (then thought of as) improbable victory over Penn State closed the gap between all schools.
Thomas would take about three weeks to think things over. Once he could finagle a TV announcement, Thomas went public with his decision. Confidence was not particularly high on this one for the obvious reasons. Indeed, while he made his announcement before we started this blog, if we had it in place, I think I would’ve posted something about not getting hopes up.
His Commitment: In what has become one of the most infamous announcements in Buckeye recruiting history, Lamaar Thomas went on national television on October 18, 2007, during a regional college football game, donned a Buckeye cap, and announced his intention on attending the University of Ohio State, where I’m guessing he will be rooming with Terrelle Pryor. I kid, of course. But Thomas would explain in a few other interviews what exactly went on with his decision.
First, as September came into October, Thomas convinced himself that he was actually capable of making the transition to full time wide receiver. The anxiety over leaving his preferred position — running back — behind was no longer an issue. By time he committed to the Buckeyes, he was expressing excitement about how the coaching staff envisioned him as a Teddy Ginn-type of player, who could excel in space and pose fits for defenders with the ability to change direction.
Second, even after the Illinois visit, he was in constant contact with the Brew Crew, speaking almost daily with Brewster. Further, he expressed how the contact wasn’t centered around coercing Thomas into verballing to Ohio State, but rather expressing excitement about what the group, together, could accomplish on the field. We’re guessing Locksley/Zook had huge pull in that regard, but again, Illinois lacked a peer to Thomas that could influence him in this way.
Third, and connected to the former point, the “family” aspect here clearly put OSU over the top. In all aforementioned articles and interviews, Thomas was clearly enamored with the family atmosphere that the staff, the incoming recruits, and the families of the incoming recruits conveyed. It’s the reason why Lamaar Thomas said that, notwithstanding the great visits he had and the relationships he developed elsewhere, Ohio State never fell from his top spot. The delay here, then, was probably largely a way of being absolutely sure about this sentiment for Ohio State before committing.
What this means, though, to the coaching staff’s goals for 2008 is pretty clear. To the best of my knowledge, Lamaar Thomas was the ONLY athlete/speedster type recruit out there to get a scholarship offer in 2008. Sam McGuffie, Johnny Adams and Isiah Pead all are going to BCS schools (Michigan, Michigan State, and Cincy respectively), but none got offers from Ohio State. In other words, Lamaar Thomas was basically priority no. 1 for the coaching staff and the staff may very well have put all its eggs in one basket. This also serves as a significant recruiting victory in a few other aspects as well. Thomas was probably Darrell Hazell’s no. 1 target during the latter stages of 2007 with Posey and Stoneburner secured. Moreover, the Buckeyes secured their first primetime announcement in 2008, and secured their commitment from a part of the country they usually do not fare well in and snatched him away from Zook’s claws. The commitment also gives the Buckeyes another Army All-American in the class and a versatile athlete who is arguably the fastest prospect in the country.
Where He Excels: In space. If you happened to see Thomas at the Army All-American game, you saw proof positive of this3. Thomas changes direction very well, making him very hard to pinpoint and tackle. He has excellent top speed too. Put all these things together and you have the potential for a pretty explosive back at a slot position who will almost certainly help in the return game. Given what I think is a need at the position since the Buckeye return game was rather unimpressive in 2007, I think he could make an immediate impact on special teams. On offense, I’m already imagining the slot reverses/end-arounds now. I’m guessing he settles into the slot, but it should be interesting to see how far in the backfield he lines up. The more space for him to start with, the better.
Must Work On: Everyone makes a big hairy deal about size and I don’t see it. Thomas is around 5’10-11 170ish pounds, but he’s not a pencilneck like I am. For what on paper appears to be a very light frame, Thomas more than compensates for it in muscle. He’s quite built. Further, if Thomas coming in with that height-weight is a problem because it compromises durability, should we be saying the same thing about Percy Harvin (5’11, 178lbs)? Should Ted Ginn (6’0 180lbs) or Terry Glenn (5’11, 185lbs in college) have put on more weight? Thomas will add another 10lbs with no problem; I don’t see where the people saying he needs to get to 200lbs are justified, though.
It should go without saying, though, that Thomas probably needs a LOT of work on route running. Thomas was scarcely used as a wide receiver, but did say that he worked a lot with Anthony Gonzalez on route running at summer camp. I really think he has the kind of explosiveness that Terry Glenn has, but Terry Glenn could make anyone and everyone look stupid on routes. If I’m Darrell Hazell, I’m giving Thomas every game from 1995 and telling him to watch Terry Glenn and take notes.
Oh, and I feel a litle bit reticent to say this, but this is easily my biggest pet peeve among the freshman skillplayers. I’ve seen enough footage of Lamaar Thomas to note that he — like just about everyone coming out of high school — carries the ball like a loaf of bread. You can get away with that in high school but you can’t get away with it in college. I remember my friends looking at me funny when I’d make those comments of Ted Ginn in 2004, but if you don’t put it away, someone will take it away. This is very important for a person who might start 2008 returning kicks and punts.
Redshirt? I don’t think he should. Again: kick/punt return. When we talk about instant impact for any one of the guys in the 2008 class, if Thomas can make any kind of impact on what was otherwise a pedestrian return game in 2007, Thomas could easily become the “instant impact” player of the class.
Highlights: Here’s about 8 minutes of Lamaar Thomas goodness. Enjoy.
Miscellany, mostly relating to speed: From the same high school as the Haden brothers. Joe is playing football for the University of Florida while Josh just signed on to play for Boston College… Excellent track athlete and Tressel has told Thomas he can run track at Ohio State if he keeps his grades up. Best event verified times in the 100 and 200 are 10.30 and 21.40 respectively… Broke a county record running a 10.55 100m in his junior year… Rivals.com “fastest” athlete in all of 2008… The first county athlete to win the 100m and 200m in the same meet since 1974 (did so his junior year). He placed 6th in the long jump at the same event… Was the state 100m champion as a junior, running a 10.63 in what was widely considered an off day for Thomas… Finished second in state in the 200m as a junior, narrowly missing out on a historical feat… Two-time county champion in the 55m dash… Darrell Hazell clocked him once at 10.19 (!!) in the 100 meters.
It’s a shame he’s going to Ohio State just to lose all that speed…
So, absent any real way to close these things off short of the graphic. Lamaar Thomas: consider yourself better known… or something.
- I’m aware that Stan White is from Maryland, but he is a legacy. [↩]
- Thomas would make a trip down to Gainesville in late July where he would say, like Sabino and most everyone else, that he was ignored on the visit by Urban Meyer [↩]
- with Terrelle Pryor giving him the ball and Mike Adams blocking for him… mmmm… [↩]