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Why We Watch: De'Anthony Thomas and Breaking Limits

De'Anthony Thomas is not just a football player, or a human highlight reel, or even one of the fastest players in college football. Thomas is a person who is pushing the limits of what people think is possible on a football field.

Harry How

De'Anthony Thomas came to the University of Oregon with a lot of hype.  Snoop Dogg was once his coach and named him "The Black Mamba" before Kobe had the nickname, allegedly.  I distinctly remember Twitter blowing up when he committed to Oregon and thinking to myself, "Is this guy really worthy of all the attention he's getting?"  I'm all for people getting the respect and attention they deserve, but recruiting for college sports has become so over the top a lot of these recruits become rock stars before they can smoke cigarettes and sit on the bench for a few years.  It would only take one game before we all saw how good Thomas actually was.

It was the first half of the LSU game when I saw that De'Anthony Thomas could compete right away in college.  Despite his lack of size he had the speed to beat anyone.  Against the Tigers he was one of the few players getting any separation from the LSU defensive backs.  The only criticism was that he made mistakes a freshman is going to make.  For example, Thomas probably was never caught from behind in high school ever, so he was used to carrying the ball loose but open to people punching it our from behind.

De'Anthony Thomas 2011 Highlights (via madmike1951)

There is a one rule that is constant in sports: speed kills.  When De'Anthony Thomas hits the open field is death by a thousand wounds for the defense.  However, his straight-line speed isn't his most impressive skill.  There are plenty of people in college football as fast as Thomas.  Thomas' ability to make sharp cuts at full speed and not slowing down is his biggest asset that separates him from everyone else.

One of the most striking parts of watching De'Anthony Thomas play also isn't necessarily how fast he is, but how easy he makes it look.  On a lot of plays you need to see someone sprinting as fast as possible and still falling behind Thomas to realize just how fast Thomas is running.  For example, if you watch the Rose Bowl run where he takes an inside handoff to the house he looks calm as a Hindu cow while separating himself from one of the faster safeties in the country.   As Brent Musberger said, "Too much speed!"

After watching De'Anthony Thomas for a full season an eight-yard rush seems anti-climactic.  If he's not doing something absolutely amazing it is kind of a disappointment, which is a terribly high standard to hit every time you touch the ball.  "I guess that play where Thomas caught the ball in the backfield, shaked a linebacker, and ran over a safety was a good 9-yard play, if you're in to that type of thing."

In a way, De'Anthony Thomas really pushes the boundaries of what college football fans thought were possible on the field.  Who knew that a player who barely weighs 180 could run through a Fresno State safety and then pull away from linebackers who are already in pursuit at a full sprint?  Who knew that a player could run ten yards behind where he fielded a punt, criss-cross in-between would-be tacklers, come to a full stop and then go again en route to a touchdown?

If you took a college football fan from the 1950's and showed them a cell phone and took them to a game at Autzen Stadium to see De'Anthony Thomas, which do you think would surprise him more?

Thomas averaged 10.8 yards a carry his freshman season and 7.6 yards a carry his sophomore season.  The most entertaining statistic is the 2.3 "holy shit" moments a game.  The best example is the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl where De'Anthony Thomas took a kickoff to the house.  As someone who was sitting on the divider between the Oregon students and the Kansas State students it was plainly obvious what they were all thinking after the return.  "Holy hell is he fast.  We haven't seen anyone this fast all year.  This is a type of speed that we are not ready for."

De'Anthony Thomas 2012 Highlights (via madmike1951)

There are plenty of other things in this life that push the boundaries of what we thought were possible.  Sure, everyone can imagine a future where warp speed is a real thing and not just a way to make travel between galaxies realistic in Star Trek. I'm sure everyone who has played NCAA football has created a player at one point that weighs 150 but runs through everyone, or a 245-pound fullback who has 99 speed and 99 acceleration, but that isn't realistic.  De'Anthony Thomas is a video game player in real life.  His freshman year he had speed, quickness, and acceleration.  His sophomore year we saw him take his game to the next level with more weight by not being brought down by arm tackles and sometimes running over opponents.  This year if Thomas gets any better he might essentially be to college football what warp drive is to our current idea of travel throughout the universe.

Its great that a player like De'Anthony Thomas found his way to Oregon over other schools, especially USC.  While if he wanted to go to USC that would've been fine and I'm sure he would've done well, but the offense here is such a perfect fit.  He's more of an offensive weapon, a human highlight reel, a touchdown waiting to happen (Good one SI), than a running back or a receiver.  The traditional position titles really don't do De'Anthony Thomas justice in describing what he brings.  He's closer to Reggie Bush than any other player since.  He creates matchup issues against every single defender he lines up across.  Thomas can line up anywhere, catch the ball, run with it, and draw the attention of the defense.

There's a familiar sound whenever De'Anthony Thomas touches the ball and it's a rush of air as everyone inhales.  If Thomas touches the ball at all everyone in the stadium inhales and looks at the twenty yards in front of him to see who's in the way.  If you're sitting in the season ticket holder section with seatbacks you can hear the tidal wave of everyone standing up and their seats flipping up.  That is the sound of speed killing.  I love watching De'Anthony Thomas because his fast.  I love watching De'Anthony Thomas because he is really good at running with the football and avoiding getting tackled.  On a deeper level, I love watching De'Anthony Thomas play football because it is a visual reminder that things are not stagnant.  What people thought was possible was not the limit.  Limits, like rules, are meant to be broken and pushed passed.  We watch Oregon football and De'Anthony Thomas because he hasn't yet reached his own limit and still can push what we thought was possible in college football even further.