Recruiting these days has become more dramatic than one of those cheesy daytime soap operas. Top recruits do tons of interviews with reporters, hype up the upcoming releases of their top-17 lists and send out a bunch of cryptic tweets that get the fan bases all worked up in a tizzy. They’ll commit to a school, decommit several months later, take a million unofficial visits and end up signing with the school that they originally committed to.
Signing Day ceremonies have evolved from the days of putting three hats on a table and picking up one. Now, players will wear five different T-shirts and rip them off one by one until their choice is revealed. Or, they’ll film Hollywood-style commitment videos. The ceremonies take two hours, and the decision isn’t announced until seemingly everybody in the school has appeared on stage at some point. Basically, elite high school football players are celebrities before they turn 18.
That’s what makes UF early enrollee defensive tackle Chris Thomas a throwback to a bygone era. He committed to the Gators early in his junior year and never wavered. He rarely did interviews. If you Google him, you won’t find much that’s been written about him. He quietly goes about his business instead of making a production out of everything.
“Real mild mannered, laid back,” said Sam Brown, his head coach at Dunbar High School. “He’s like a gentle giant. I know people say that cliché all the time, but that’s really who Chris Thomas is. He’s a kid that’s always looking out for his siblings, and that’s all he wants to do is go watch his brother play Pop Warner, watch his sister cheer. So, he’s a ‘we’ guy, not a ‘me’ guy. He’s a guy that’s all about ‘we’ and the team.
“Who wants all the hoopla? When you’re good, you don’t have to tell people you’re good. They’ll tell you. You don’t have to get out there and do a ton of interviews and say, ‘Hey, look at me.’ That’s not who he is. He’s a guy [that] at seven o’clock, when they blow the whistle, you’ll know Chris Thomas is on the field. That’s the way he carries himself.”
While it’s nice to think that a player is evaluated purely based on his athletic abilities, that probably isn’t true when it comes to Thomas. He was ranked 443rd overall in the 247Sports composite. He made 88 tackles, nine sacks and 31 tackles-for-loss from his defensive tackle spot as a senior. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 314 pounds. I don’t pretend to be a recruiting expert, but those numbers don’t add up to being only the 443rd best football player in America to me.
Unfortunately, it looks like Thomas was a victim of the “out of sight, out of mind” mantra. Because he wasn’t in the public spotlight as often as other recruits and committed so early, the people in charge of the rankings overlooked him.
Brown doesn’t care about the rankings, and he doesn’t think Thomas does either. All that matters now is he’s at a Power Five program and going through spring practice. It’s a level playing field from here. If he fails in college, it’ll because of his own actions and not because of where someone ranked him in high school.
Brown is confident that Thomas will succeed with the Gators. He plays with a high motor and uses his hands well. He’s also diligent in the film room and is eager to learn more.
“It’s mindset, the way he prepares for a game,” Brown said. “He’s college-ready. He’s a plug-and-play guy, I think. He’s a student of the game. He gets in the playbook. He gets in the scouting report. He understands what they can do to you by formation and down-and-distance and what they try to do to get the first down or [when] they’re trying to take a shot at the end zone. All those little things give you the advantage.”
Brown is also impressed with Thomas’ commitment to improving his body. When he transferred into Dunbar prior to his junior year, he was out of shape and didn’t have much strength. He’s made tremendous gains since then, which should bode well for his future at UF under Nick Savage’s watch.
“He really applied himself in the weight room and in the conditioning phase of the football program, and it showed,” Brown said. “If you look at him now, I’m not sure if you see him now, but I hear good things about Chris being in decent shape and having decent strength on him up at UF.”
While Brown believes Thomas has the skillset to succeed at UF, he acknowledged that Thomas will need to play with lower pad level more frequently and adjust to the new defensive schemes to maximize his potential at UF.
“I think it’s going to be a process of where he’s having to mature and learning all of the calls and things of that nature,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the curve for him. Just getting in the playbook and understanding when you guys are changing and switching up and when the guy’s moving or what have you. But, I mean, just flying off the rock and engaging a guy, I think he’s got it.”
There will be adversity throughout Thomas’ college career. He may not play as much as he thinks he should, have a bad game, get banged up or see some of his coaches leave. Through it all, Brown expects Thomas to stay loyal and dedicated to the Orange and Blue. Just like he’s done for the past 17 months.
Gator fans should appreciate Thomas’ loyalty, even if the recruiting services don’t.
“I know Chris Thomas is a very loyal kid,” Brown said. “You’re not going to have a guy jumping around in the portal. You don’t have that kind of guy. You’ve got the guy that, when things get tough, he’s going to buckle down. He ain’t going to lay down; he’s going to buckle down.
“You get a diamond in the rough, and that’s what you’ve got. Sometimes, you don’t get to go to all of the camps, and this year was totally no camps available. So, I think had he been to some camps, he would’ve been the rising star. It would’ve been, ‘Hey, keep an eye on this guy,’ that kind of thing. UF got a steal. They know it. You know it. I know it, and, come next year, the whole country’s going to know it.”