Thomas Gave Meyer What He was Looking For
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State needs playmakers. They may have found one Saturday.
The Spring Game has been, at times, a great proving ground for young players looking to make an impression on OSU fans, not to mention their own coaches.
It has also been a bastion of false hope for playmakers like Bam Childress, Ray Small and Taurian Washington—all of whom proved spring success is not a guaranteed indicator of fall triumph.
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Thomas isn’t worrying about any of that.
The freshman wideout has been making plays all spring for the Buckeyes, so his 12-catch performance in Saturday’s LiFE Sports Spring Game inside Ohio Stadium did not come as a surprise to head coach Urban Meyer.
“The first scrimmage he kind of did (stand out),” Meyer responded when asked the first time he remembers taking notice of his young freshman receiver.
“Unfortunately he's going the wrong direction some of the time still, but he's a very talented person who still should be getting ready for the high school prom, graduation and all that.”
Actually, Thomas went through all of that a year ago.
He was a senior at Woodland Hills Taft High School in California’s San Fernando Valley. That’s where he caught 86 passes for a state-leading 1,756 yards and 21 touchdowns, which earned him an invitation to the 2011 Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field.
Thomas, the nephew of former NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson, was undecided about his future at the time. He would eventually spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy, where he roomed with fellow OSU freshman Cardale Jones.
That certainly had an impact on Thomas’ decision to attend Ohio State—one he made long before Meyer was even named the head coach in Columbus—but Thomas had already developed a friendship with another OSU quarterback by then.
“Last year we played in an All-American game together in Florida and we connected,” said Ohio State sophomore Braxton Miller, the team’s starting quarterback.
“He said he wanted to come (to Ohio State and) play with me.”
After a season in Virginia with Jones, a Glenville product who was originally in the same recruiting class as Miller, Thomas enrolled at Ohio State in January. He came in with Jones, and a few other players, including tailback Bri’onte Dunn, linebacker Joshua Perry and offensive lineman Jacoby Boren.
Thomas hit it off immediately with Miller, who had made the same decision to enroll early a year ago, right after the two of them spent time together down in St. Petersburg.
“We work out all the time in the weight room,” Miller said after Saturday’s Spring Game.
Photo by JIm Davidson
“I'll pick him up and we go in and work out, watch film and catch balls. He's just trying to grow up and become a good receiver.”
Thomas has had a lot on his plate this spring as a true freshman trying to learn Tom Herman’s new hurry-up, no-huddle offense, which asks the receivers to be in peak physical condition.
Meyer wanted to see who would respond, which is one reason he had his team throw the ball 55 times on Saturday. Twelve of those passes ended up in the hands of Thomas, who totaled 131 yards in his first Spring Game.
He was also inches away from catching a touchdown pass from Miller in the closing seconds of Saturday’s scrimmage in front of more than 80,000 fans inside the Horseshoe.
“I wanted to see someone reach up and make a play, like a Michael Thomas, like Braxton Miller, and just force him to throw the ball,” Meyer said.
“Most of the time you're going to pound it and get the first down, but I wanted to see Braxton Miller make a play, I wanted to see (tight end) Nick Vannett make a play. Some guys did, some guys didn't.”
Thomas was one of the guys who did.
Meyer has been so impressed with him this spring, he mentioned the 6-2, 193-pounder as one of the top-two playmakers at the wide receiver position heading into summer conditioning.
“Right now him and Philly (Brown) are kind of separating,” Meyer said.
“(They) are kind of our top-two guys, and Devin (Smith) is probably third.”
That is high praise for a kid who wasn’t on the roster when Meyer took the job back in November. He hadn’t recruited Thomas, or even seen him play a single down of football, but none of that matters after the work Thomas has put in since he got to Ohio State in January.
“He's very talented,” Meyer said.
“He's a kid that goes non-stop. We have a JUGS machine and he goes in on his own. He asked me if it was open and I said, 'Yeah, it's open all the time.' He works on the JUGS machine non-stop.
“He's our most dedicated receiver right now and he's a true freshman.”
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