Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas returned to the track after a lengthy absence.
Turns out he’s been busy with his other vocation: that of a Heisman Trophy contender preparing for the 2013 football season.
Thomas was in town Saturday as a member of Oregon’s 400-meter relay team, which qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a 10th-place showing at Myers Stadium.
“It was good to be out there,” he said. “This was my first meet back.”
Of course, no conversation with the West Coast’s other Black Mamba would be worth its weight in salt if there wasn’t a little football talk.
The last time we saw Thomas, he was returning the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl 94 yards for a touchdown against Kansas State, setting the tone for a 35-17 blowout win to end the season. Thomas looked to be in fine sprinting form on the anchor leg Saturday, leading his team to a time of 39.96, the sixth fastest in school history. He was one of three Duck football players on the relay. Cornerback Dior Mathis ran leadoff, and wideout B.J. Kelley was third. Second leg Arthur Delaney was the only full-time track man on the team.
Thomas wishes the football season could start tomorrow, but since he’s 97 days away from the opener against Nicholls State, he’s using track to keep those competitive juices flowing.
You would think the way he ran that last straightaway that he’s been involved with this team for the entire season, but that’s not the case. He has only run competitively in two meets, the last coming in early April. He would have run more meets, but got a little banged at the end of the spring football season and needed to heal.
Thomas said he enjoyed his spring football experience. Expect the most exciting player in college football not named Johnny Manziel to take on added responsibilities this season with the departure of 2012 leading rusher Kenjon Varner to the NFL.
“We’re all out there trying to improve and get ready for the season,” he said. “I just want to stay healthy and keep doing what I’m doing out there. If it’s playing running back, slot receiver or the outside receiver, I’m ready. I want to be a momentum builder and a game changer.”
At Oregon, they refer to Thomas’ role as the “tazer”, a term created by former head coach Chip Kelly to describe a player that can play running back and wide receiver, kind of like what Seattle wideout Percy Harvin did during his college days at Florida. Thomas is ready for an increased workload in the run game — he carried the ball only 92 times last season — even if the coaching staff is exercising caution in overdoing it with his 5-foot-9, 173-pound frame.
“I don’t want to beat De’Anthony up a lot,” running backs coach Gary Campbell told reporters during spring football earlier this year. “I want to give him 15, 20, maybe more reps in a game.”
That would mean that Thomas, arguably the most dangerous open-field runner in the country, will continue to thrive in all areas. He’s a triple threat, after all, able to beat you as a rusher, receiver, and a return man. He led the Pac-12 in yards per rush at 7.6 last season and figures to do the same in 2013.
Thomas and Southern Cal receiver Marquise Lee, who failed to qualify for the long jump nationals Thursday, made for a talented group of two-sport athletes competing this weekend. Baylor guard Desmine Hilliard qualified for nationals with a 10th-place finish in the discus.
Thomas is also undergoing a change from his first two years on campus. He will still be under the tutelage of Mark Helfrich, but the former offensive coordinator is now wearing the big whistle, having taken over for the departed Kelly, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper has listed Thomas as the top running back in the 2014 draft class, but the the same durability questions that followed former Oregon running back LaMichael James are sure to follow Thomas, who says he plans to play the 2013 season at 185 pounds. He’s not worried about his size.
“I’m a football player,” he said. “I’m just going to play every game like I always have, by being myself out there.”