Humble Thomas Making Lots of Noise for Canes
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Jeff Thomas is a man of few words.
The quiet and humble sophomore prefers to let his play speak for him and Thomas has made plenty of noise so far in 2018.He leads the Hurricanes in receptions (11) and receiving yards (304) and ranks first in the nation in yards-per-reception at 27.64,
“I am really happy with how the season has gone so far,” Thomas said. “I have just been in the weight room. I’m attacking that more than I did last year, and this is what happens this year.”
Thomas’ success goes well beyond additional work in the weight room or just being “more comfortable now” because of added familiarity with Miami’s playbook. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown credits Thomas’ giant leap from his first year to his second to a total maturation, especially when it comes to consistency in practice.
“It is a direct result between what he does at practice and what he does on game day,” Brown said. “If you watch the phenomenal catches he makes on game day. If you watch Tuesday’s practice or Wednesday, he does it every single day out here. He has matured a lot being under [co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers] coach [Ron] Dugans, and taking coaching from him. On how to be a better practice player and the correlation between how well he practices to how well he plays. No question, he has become a much more mature player.”
Thomas has had at least 170 all-purpose yards in every game this season, including 171 at Toledo last Saturday. The explosive and versatile receiver has also been a major factor in special teams, helping amass a team-best 536 all-purpose yards on the season that are nearly 300 more than DeeJay Dallas’ second-best 240 all-purpose yards.
“I like punt returning more than kickoff returning,” Thomas said. “It gives me more space. The defense will be all over the field, so they give me options to go left or right.”
A native of East St. Louis, Ill., Thomas was a consensus four-star recruit that starred I the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game by totaling 148 receiving yards and hauling in a pair of touchdowns. The big performance was a sign of things to come at Miami, as Thomas has three 100-yard receiving games and has caught four touchdowns in 16 career games with the Canes.
“We all knew he could do it,” redshirt junior wide receiver Lawrence Cager said. “It is just a matter of his opportunities. You are only going to play so much when Braxton [Berrios] is in front of you. So once he got his opportunity, he seized the moment. That is all Coach [Todd] Hartley says. ‘Seize the moment when your opportunity comes.’ He always preaches that, every day, and that is what he has been doing. We all saw it coming.”
Everyone at Miami raved about Thomas throughout fall camp as the 5-foot-10, 175 lb. receiver used his speed, quickness, explosiveness and elusiveness to continually make plays as the Hurricanes prepared for the 2018 season.
He opened the year with a career-high 132 receiving yards on just five catches against LSU. Thomas followed that with 183 all-purpose yards against Savannah State, including a 67-yard receiving touchdown, a career-high 90 punt return yards and 26 kick return yards. His latest gem was a five-catch, 105-yard performance with a 41-yard touchdown at Toledo.
Thomas credits part of his success to some extra drill work he has been doing after watching for Canes standout and current New England Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett work on over the shoulder catches.
“I just practice, like, the over ball, throwing it over my head,” Thomas said. “I have been practicing that a lot with a tennis ball. So, like, that came in good for me in that game.”
It seems like every week, Thomas makes a highlight reel-worthy play and those game-changing reps seem to always uplift the Hurricanes. While fans in the stands may “ooh” and “ahh” at Thomas’ plays, they have become expected by those on the Miami sideline.
“It fires us up, but sometimes I’m hard on him,” Cager said of Thomas’ big plays. “Like against Savannah State, he got ran down and you’re not supposed to get ran down when you’re that fast. Some of the plays he makes, in practice they’re routine plays [for him]. So we get fired up, but you guys have never seen them before so you might get very fired up. A lot of the spectacular plays he makes on the field are routine plays that he makes in practice.”
Thomas will look to have another big performance this Saturday, as the Hurricanes host FIU at Hard Rock Stadium at 3:30 p.m. The Illinois native may not have the local ties that many of his teammates do with players on FIU’s roster, but he is still excited to compete against a team filled with south Florida athletes.
“I heard that they compete good,” Thomas said. “I know they are not going to lay down for us, just because we are Miami. So we are going to have to come out and just play them like any other big team for us.”
Thomas has led a productive group of receivers for the Hurricanes. Seven different Hurricanes have recorded a catch in 2018, while Thomas and Cager each have two touchdowns and freshman Brian Hightower has one. The group of pass catchers entered the season expecting to make a major impact and is hungry to do more every week.
“I think we stayed the same since we got to camp,” Cager said. “We came out of camp with a ‘dominate’ mentality. I think that we have been doing that. We have been getting opportunities to show that we probably are the best receiving corps in the country.”