Paint Branch’s Thomas Lucas started his first varsity football game midway through his junior season, but the 6-foot-2, 185-pound defensive back/wide receiver didn’t worry about a lack of experience. With each stop on the summer camp circuit, the rising senior became more convinced that he could play Division I football.

“I felt like I could compete with anyone out there,” said Lucas, who attended camps at Penn State, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Towson, among others. “I saw guys who had like 25 offers, and I was outworking them.”

Lucas committed to Connecticut last Monday, immediately accepting Coach Paul Pasqualoni’s scholarship offer over the phone. After months working to gain the attention of recruiters, Lucas — who had 57 tackles and two interceptions at safety last fall — felt comfortable with the first program to extend an offer.

“I was getting noticed, but a lot of schools wanted to wait on me,” Lucas said. “What I liked about U-Conn. was they just gave [a scholarship offer] to me because they didn’t need to wait. They knew that I was good enough to offer.”

Lucas’ transformation into a Division I prospect has taken a circuitous route. He has logged time at all three schools in Montgomery County Public Schools’ Northeast Consortium.

Lucas arrived at Blake as a 5-foot-9, 140-pound freshman. (He said he ran a 5.0 second 40-yard dash back then and can hit 4.4 seconds now.) After playing a season of junior varsity football there, he moved on to Springbrook and spent his sophomore season as the junior varsity quarterback.

Last fall, Lucas debuted for the Panthers, who went 9-2 and earned a Maryland 4A North playoff berth. He played sparingly on offense (two catches) and only became a full-time defensive starter in the second half of the season.

As he continued to grow, Lucas said he became more serious about football. In the spring, he began attending as many recruiting camps as possible.

H.D. Woodson assistant coach Wayne Johnson became a mentor in the recruiting process, and Lucas’ parents helped by driving him up and down the East Coast to maximize his exposure.

When not on the road, Lucas has stayed busy this summer, hitting the weights with the Panthers four times a week. There’s a twist: Paint Branch’s new building will open in August, but the old one has closed. Until the team’s shiny new weight room is ready, players must move the old equipment out of storage and onto a field at Benjamin Banneker Middle School to get in their workouts.

“We’ve seen a lot of kids with his height, size and athleticism, even his toughness, come through here,” Paint Branch Coach Mike Nesmith said. “What separated him was his desire and work ethic. He made it his goal to receive a scholarship.”

Lucas attended camp at U-Conn. last month and stayed in contact with receivers coach Matt Cersosimo in recent weeks.

He had enjoyed the campus, and the school of business and management seemed like a good fit academically. By the time Lucas spoke with Pasqualoni last week, he had already decided with his family that he would commit if an offer came.

Lucas — who will likely play cornerback at the next level — said some of the same schools that continued to hesitate with scholarship offers have contacted him to express interest in the past week. At this point, it’s not mutual.

“A few teams have tried to get at me,” Lucas said, “but I told them that I’m solid with my verbal and that’s it. That’s my home, U-Conn.”