Learning from Uncle Keyshawn
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — Michael Thomas doesn’t want to be remembered as another spring game star at Ohio State.
His aspirations are much larger.
Photo by Dan Harker
He wants to leave his mark on the game of football, the way his uncle did – first at USC, and then in the NFL for 10 seasons with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers.
“He’s my dad’s brother,” Thomas said of his uncle, 3-time NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson.
“I talk to him a lot. He's always giving me pointers and things to work on. Just stay humble, and things like that.”
Uncle Keyshawn was a star receiver for the USC Trojans from 1994-95. In just two seasons, he made 168 catches for 2,796 yards and was twice recognized as a consensus first-team All-America selection.
He was the MVP of the 1995 Cotton Bowl and set a Rose Bowl record with 12 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown in USC’s 41–32 victory over Northwestern the following season.
Those numbers are quite similar to the ones posted by Thomas this past spring, when he grabbed 12 passes for 131 yards in front of Urban Meyer and more than 80 thousand screaming fans inside Ohio Stadium.
Now he’s ready to do it for real, when it counts, just like uncle Keyshawn.
“The Spring Game was just kind of a warm up,” said Thomas, an Under Armour All-American from Woodland Hills Taft High School in Los Angeles.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Like his uncle Keyshawn, who spent two seasons at West Los Angeles College before he enrolled at USC, Thomas spent last season at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
That’s where he met fellow OSU freshman Cardale Jones, but it was his appearance at the Under Armour game in St. Petersburg, Fla. in 2011 where Thomas first started thinking about Ohio State.
He had formed a relationship with quarterback Braxton Miller, who was going to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback of the future. Miller convinced Thomas he could be the next great star at wide receiver if he was willing to come all the way to Columbus.
“That’s one of the main reasons I came here,” Thomas recently told The-Ozone.
“I just need to keep on working and making plays.”
Although he flashed in the spring game with a huge performance in front of the crowd, Thomas has dealt with his fair share of bumps in the road since he enrolled at Ohio State back in January.
His year at the military academy helped prepare him for the responsibility of being a student-athlete at Ohio State, where he had to learn to balance football and school. He also had to learn a new playbook, which gave everyone – even the older guys – fits at the beginning of spring.
“I have it down now,” he said with youthful hubris.
“You understand it. But they don't want me to learn one position, they want me to learn all positions.”
They also wanted Thomas to get stronger after a less-than-impressive showing of strength during the winter conditioning months.
“I basically handed myself over to coach Mick Marotti in the weight room. That guy can do wonders for you,” Thomas said.
“When I finished bench (press) reps after winter, I did 10 reps and in the summer I did 15 reps. All of my numbers went up.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
At 6-2 and nearly 200 pounds, Thomas presents an interesting option for Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Junior Corey “Philly” Brown and sophomore Devin Smith have emerged as the top two receivers this fall, but Thomas is right in the mix with guys like Evan Spencer, Chris Fields, Tyrone Williams and Verlon Reed for playing time at wide receiver.
“Camp's been going great. I've been doing really well,” he said.
“I've been trying to stay in the playbook and stay with a hungry mentality. Stay working, stay working, stay working and get ready for a big season this year.”
That’s something he learned from uncle Keyshawn.
“He's told me to be a man amongst boys and always be very competitive,” Thomas said.
“Just compete every day. Just stay working.”
That, and catch “the damn ball.”
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