BLACKSBURG, Va. — When Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas thinks about the day he became a big-time college football recruit, his mind drifts to the University of Virginia football camp he attended with his high school team in the summer of 2007.
Then an up-and-coming tight end prospect, Thomas said former coach Al Groh and his staff had him throw a few passes and run some routes as a receiver that day. A week later the Cavaliers gave the Lynchburg, Va., native his first scholarship offer, telling him that as a tight end, “I was number one on their board,” Thomas recalled recently.
That Thomas will return to Charlottesville on Saturday as perhaps the hottest first-year starting quarterback in the country is proof to just how talented the 6-foot-6, 254-pound player is. But his performance of late has left Virginia Tech’s players and coaches wondering if there are any limits to what their signal-caller can accomplish.
“The growth rate he’s taken this year is really amazing to all of us,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said of Thomas, a redshirt sophomore who is on pace to break Virginia Tech’s record for total offense set by Tyrod Taylor last year and could become the second quarterback in school history to eclipse 3,000 passing yards in a season if the Hokies play 14 games this year.
Since the Hokies’ lone loss of the season to Clemson on Oct. 1, Thomas has accounted for 20 touchdowns and thrown just two interceptions, emerging as not only one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks but one of the best in the nation.
During that time period, only five quarterbacks in the country — Houston’s Case Keenum, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Kansas State’s Collin Klein — have more touchdowns and two of them played one additional game than Thomas. Among starting quarterbacks on top 25 teams, only Keenum and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins have thrown fewer interceptions.
No quarterback nationally, however, has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s scoring output than Thomas has over the past seven weeks. His 12 passing touchdowns and eight rushing scores mean Thomas has played a direct role in 120 of the Hokies’ last 181 points.
“His [progress] wasn’t gradual. It was like day and night. It switched over and he was just like an all-American quarterback against Miami and the weeks we’ve been playing since Clemson,” running back David Wilson said Tuesday. “He’s going to be one of the greatest players, I think, to come through Virginia Tech.
He was far from it when this season began, throwing five interceptions and just four touchdowns in his first five games. But Coach Frank Beamer cautioned against drawing too much into his inconsistent play, emphasizing that Thomas had all the tools to be an NFL quarterback except experience.
In particular, Thomas’s combination of poise, command in the huddle and gamesmanship have impressed coaches since he arrived on campus. Though Thomas has some bad throws to his credit, quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said only one of his pupil’s interceptions this year has been the result of a bad decision.
But what separates Thomas from his peers is his ferocious running style, which led Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid to refer to him as a “massive giant” earlier this week. Thomas has had dramatic runs, like the 19-yard fourth-quarter quarterback sneak to beat Miami last month, and plenty of punishing ones in which he runs over an opposing defensive back or linebacker.
His greatest asset, though, might be his success in short-yardage situations. Thomas is 20 for 21 converting third and three or less into a first down, and it’s no coincidence the Hokies’ one loss this year came in a game in which the coaching staff shied away from calling designed runs for Thomas because he was nursing a sore shoulder.
“I look at other guys trying to hit him every week and I’m like, ‘Why are they even trying to hit him up high,’ ” Virginia Tech linebacker Tariq Edwards said. “He’s like 270 [pounds]. I think the only way to bring him down is by trying to hit his legs. And most people, even when they try to do that, they bounce right off him.”
O’Cain said the coaching staff also spoon-fed Thomas early on, not giving him many audibles and emphasizing the running game to start the year because “we didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him and have him thinking too much,” O’Cain said.
“But I thought he’d be able to handle it. That’s one of the reasons we liked him as quarterback when we moved him over there [from tight end], when he was still throwing the ball all over the place. The way he handled things, the way he learned the offense so quickly, the way he managed the game, all of that led to our belief in what he could do.”
Thomas is now delivering on that promise, and on Tuesday spoke of how he has patterned his game after Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.
The 6-6, 248-pound Kansas State product is mobile and doesn’t look to scramble when throws are available downfield, Thomas said, “but obviously he’s making a lot of money doing it. . . . He’s a first-round pick, so I’ve got a long way to go.”
Thomas is, however, a lot closer than many expected at this point.