When De’Anthony Thomas would step onto the field for Oregon, he accomplished one of the most important goals of a special teams player. He struck fear into the opponents, simply by going back to return a kick. Every time he touched the ball, no matter how far away the end zone was, you knew there was a chance he could take it all the way. And so, as a result, the Black Mamba has found himself a spot on our list of the 20 greatest Oregon football players in the last 20 years.
From the moment he committed to Oregon over his hometown school, USC, the Ducks knew they had just acquired some sort of secret weapon into their arsenal. Thomas was a 5-star recruit out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, California and was one of the nation’s most prized recruits from the 2011 class.
As a freshman with Oregon in 2011, Thomas became a valuable all-purpose player immediately. Thomas ran the ball 55 times for 595 yards (an astonishing 10.8 yards per carry), scoring seven touchdowns. Through the air, Thomas caught 46 passes for 605 yards and scored another nine touchdowns. Thomas also racked up 983 kick return yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Against USC, Thomas’ 96-yard kick return in the third quarter sparked a near miraculous comeback as Oregon was trailing 38-14 with 3:28 to go in the third quarter at that point. Without a doubt, Thomas’ biggest contribution of the season, and possibly his career, was his Rose Bowl performance against Wisconsin. His 91-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter was the longest in Rose Bowl history. Thomas’ only other carry was a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put Oregon in the lead. Two touches, 155 yards, two touchdowns. Decent, in my opinion.
In 2012, Thomas had the best rushing year of his career with 92 carries for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thomas also caught 45 passes for 445 yards and five touchdowns. On special teams, his kick return numbers weren’t quite as high, but Thomas fielded 13 punts for 222 yards and a touchdown. Twice in 2012, Thomas went over 100 rushing yards (against Fresno State and Oregon State), and once again, when the lights were brightest at the BCS, Thomas shone once again. In the 2013 Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, Thomas fielded the opening kickoff for the Ducks. A seam opened, Thomas found it, and there was nothing between him and the end zone except for a wide-open field. That play, the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in Fiesta Bowl history, set the tone for Oregon. While Kansas State had its moments where they kept the game competitive, it felt as if Thomas and the Ducks had grabbed a stranglehold on the game from the opening play.
2013 started out as an incredibly promising year for Thomas. In Oregon’s first two games against Nicholls State and Virginia, Thomas went over 100 yards in both games and scored a combined five touchdowns. After rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown the following week against Tennessee, it looked as if Thomas was poised for a true breakout year where he could go well over 1,000 rushing yards. However, on the opening kickoff against California, Thomas slipped on the wet field and injured his right ankle and would not return to the field for the next month. When he did return, Thomas struggled, rushing for just 72 yards in his next three games. Thomas finished the year with 594 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 246 yards and one touchdown. Not half bad numbers considering he missed a third of the season with the ankle injury.
Despite the injury-shortened 2013 season, Thomas chose to skip out on his senior year at Oregon, a decision many people initially criticized. The Kansas City Chiefs, who know a thing or two about special teams weapons (See: Dante Hall), drafted Thomas in the 4th round at this year’s NFL draft. It will be interesting to see if they use him exclusively as a kick returner, or if they’ll try and see if he fits better as a slot receiver.
Now, sit back and enjoy some of De’Anthony Thomas’ best moments as a Duck.
September 10, 2011: The Black Mamba strikes again
October 29, 2011: Thomas makes the Cougs look silly
November 19, 2011: Thomas sparks near miracle comeback vs Trojans
January 2, 2012: Thomas delivers record-breaking Rose Bowl performance with just two touches
October 27, 2012: Thomas outruns the Buffaloes
January 3, 2013: Thomas starts Fiesta Bowl with a bang