Sports has a long tradition of comparison; whenever a young player comes along, fans and the media immediately want to find a legend from a bygone era, and anoint this kid the "next whomever". More often than not, those comparisons don't pan out; Jerry Stackhouse, believe it or not, did not end up being the next Michael Jordan. But that doesn't stop us from looking for the next Jordan, Montana, or Mays. And even on a smaller scale, legacy is important; during Oregon verbal commit Royce Freeman's three touchdown performance in the Army All-American game, he drew comparisons to Jonathan Stewart, just like Thomas Tyner did the year before. And any smaller, speedier back that Oregon gets will be compared to LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. But I don't think there has been, or will ever be, a player quite like De'Anthony Thomas.
His arrival to the Oregon football program was as abrupt and surprising as anything gets in recruiting; a solid USC commit for almost a year, a late visit to Eugene sparked rumors that Thomas would flip his allegiance to the Ducks, and it became official on signing day. He arrived in Eugene behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner on the RB depth chart, and many people, myself included, saw him as a potential redshirt candidate just based on the guys above him. Many people, myself included, are dumb. His true freshman season was arguably the most amazing season by any Duck true freshman, ever.
|Receiving Yards||Receiving TDs||Return Yards||Return TDs|
That season included: this touchdown vs. Nevada, this kickoff return vs. Washington State, this catch vs. Washington State, this catch vs. Stanford, this kickoff return vs. USC, this run in the Rose Bowl, and this run in the Rose Bowl. Of my eight favorite touchdowns in 2011 (that doesn't include the Rose Bowl, btw), he was a part of five of them. Add in the Rose Bowl, and De'Anthony owns seven of the top 10 touchdowns of a Rose Bowl championship season. If that had been Thomas' only season in Eugene, he'd still be a Duck legend. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that he'd be even more revered now had he stopped after one season. Because after that Rose Bowl win, his potential had no ceiling as a Duck athlete. Heisman trophies, becoming Oregon's first 2000 yard rusher, juking a defender so harshly they exploded on the field; everything was at least a little bit believable. It didn't turn out that way, as that first season was his best season in an Oregon uniform.
2012 was a growth year, as teams were no longer surprised by his straight line speed and he had to work a little harder in a more featured role. He still averaged over 8.3 yards per offensive touch and scored 17 times, but it wan't the leap to immortality that we were all hoping for. But the highlights were still there: this run vs. Arkansas State, this run vs. Fresno State, this punt return vs. Colorado, and this kickoff return vs. Kansas State. And that gave Ducks fans hope for 2013, which set up to be his year to take over as "the guy".
And 2013 started off well enough: 336 yards rushing and six touchdowns in his first three games is very good, competition notwithstanding. Then he sprained his ankle on the opening kickoff amidst Tropical Storm Autzen, missed four games, and wasn't the same player when he came back. Crow all you want about Momba being disinterested, lost, or checked out from the team, but a guy whose game is predicated upon on-a-dime jukes and accelerating out of direction changes sprained the hell out of the joint he uses for those jukes. He wasn't productive because his body wouldn't let him be. A disappointing end to his career, but he's still one of the greatest Ducks of all time.
And now the beautiful unique snowflake that is The Black Momba moves on to the NFL, where he will try to carve his own path to success. He certainly has the tools to succeed at the next level; multi-faceted players like Tavon Austin and Dexter McCluster are being effectively used by teams, and he's shown the hands and route-running necessary to play receiver in the NFL. His success will hinge on the situation at which he lands. If he ends up with a team that either doesn't know or is unwilling to feature speed guys (like San Francisco, Dallas, or Chicago), he might struggle. But put DAT in a more open offense like New England, Denver, New Orleans, or (God help us) Philly, and he can thrive. And as for his Oregon legacy? It's already cemented as one of the all-time greats, and will only get better as the ineffective 2013 fades away, and the otherworldly highlights return to the front of our brains. Here's to you, De'Anthony Thomas, and here's hoping you end up in an NFL town with a creative offensive focus and some good fishing.
Thanks to madmike1951 for the YouTube-age. Good luck with the inevitable 40 minute long De'Anthony Thomas career highlights video.