Perhaps the most intriguing part about Thomas is the mixture of humor and assuredness that come across naturally no matter what setting he seems to be in.
Just this past week, during the Hokies’ initial press conference ahead of the Appalachian State game, Thomas told reporters this team can “follow me through hell and back.” Then he was making jokes about wide receivers Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts complaining that his short passes were jamming their fingers.
“Suck it up,” a smiling Thomas said of his response to them. “They’re supposed to catch the ball, right?”
But no matter how at ease Thomas seems with this new spotlight, nobody, including Thomas, is quite sure how it will all come together on the field this weekend, or throughout the season. So what should we expect from Thomas?
When I sat down with him earlier this month, Thomas said his goals for the year were 2,500 total yards and 15 to 18 touchdowns, “just because it’s the first season and you want to get a good feel.”
That, though, would actually rank as one of the better seasons in recent memory for a first-year starter at Virginia Tech. Take a look:
1995 Jim Druckenmiller 2,160 total yards, 14 TDs, 11 INTs
1997 Al Clark 1,820 total yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs
1999 Michael Vick 2,425 total yards 20 TDs, 5 INTs
2001 Grant Noel 1,812 total yards, 16 TDs, 11 INTs
2003 Bryan Randall 2,400 total yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs
2005 Marcus Vick 2,723 total yards, 23 TDs, 10 INTs
2006 Sean Glennon 2,110 total yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs
2008 Tyrod Taylor 1,774 total yards 9 TDs, 7 INTs
Perhaps the most intriguing part in all this is just how much Thomas will end up running the ball. Virginia Tech’s offensive coaches have hinted that they’ve already installed packages to take advantage of Thomas’s athleticism.
The way his old coach at Brookville High, Jeff Woody, explains it, maybe Thomas’s best assets are his feet.
“He’s got tap-dancing abilities. He’ll make you miss and out run you,” Woody said. “He’s a better runner than everybody is giving him credit for. I’m not sure Virginia Tech wants him doing a whole lot of running but he can flat get it. He can fly. He runs a [4.5-second 40-yard dash], but to be honest with you, it’s a 4.5 because he gets out of the blocks so slow because he’s a giraffe.”
At this point, though, Thomas isn’t even certain just how much he’ll run the ball this year, or even this weekend.
“I hope it’s a fair amount just to keep the defense on its toes,” Thomas said. “You can’t just key on David [Wilson] and you can’t just key on our passing game, they’ve got to worry about something else as well. I guess we’ll see Saturday.”
Regardless of what the game plan looks like, Thomas is going to make mistakes. It’s just inevitable for a first-year starter, especially one who really only has one legitimate collegiate snap behind center (last year’s Miami game) to his credit.
Thomas threw two interceptions during training camp scrimmages this month, but offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring told me he was excited with how his new quarterback reacted to them.
“If he throws an incomplete pass or turns it over, obviously there are gonna be people who ask how’s the young quarterback gonna respond, but I’m very comfortable in the fact that that’s not gonna be his mind-set,” Stinespring said. “I think he’ll be a right back to the next play kind of guy and I think his supporting cast knows that, too.”
Thomas said earlier this month that his on-field demeanor is a little more complicated than that. He’s always tried to stay cool, calm and collected but he’s aware that once he hits the field, his competitive side tends to take over.
“If I get mad, I probably won’t say anything. But I tend to run my mouth a little bit on the field. That happens just because of the intensity,” Thomas said. “I will show a lot of emotion just because that’s the type of player that I am, that’s the type of person I am. Not quite as much as Tyrod. I’m not Tyrod. But I’ll still show some.”
And if the hype heading into this season is any indication, all eyes will be focused on Thomas no matter what he does on the field.