He doesn’t want his big break to come at the expense of teammates, but the understands the bounces of a football – and opportunity could be bouncing Thomas’ way.
A fourth-year junior from San Antonio, Thomas was part of the 2008 recruiting class, Houston Nutt’s first at Ole Miss, that included tailbacks Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis.
As their careers played out, Bolden and Davis passed Thomas on the depth chart. Bolden narrowly missed 1,000 rushing yards last season, and Davis has been his steady backup.
Now Bolden is out for an indefinite period of time with a stress fracture in his ankle, and Davis, who has a knee injury, also is expected miss Saturday’s game against FCS foe Southern Illinois.
The injuries will test the Rebels’ running back depth and thrust Thomas into the spotlight.
“I see it as my chance … I don’t want B.B. and Enrique to get hurt. They came in when I came in, and I want their senior year to be successful,” he said. “But I have been waiting for an opportunity. Hopefully I’ll get that chance to go out and do what I have to do and show what I’ve got.”
Most opportunities to shine until now have been in the spring games.
Rated the No. 1 prospect in South Texas, Thomas rushed for almost 1,500 yards in six games before a broken ankle abruptly ended his senior season.
He saw brief action in five games as a freshman and was redshirted as a sophomore in 2009. He played on special teams in 2010.
“He knows what to do. I trust him,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee said. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of carries, but he’ll definitely play in this ballgame a good deal.”
Speed was a big part of Thomas’ game in high school, but he’s added 14 pounds to his frame and now stands 5-foot-9, 201 pounds.
Last season the speed part of the Ole Miss run game was freshman Jeff Scott. That was the plan for Scott again this season, but now he’ll shoulder more of a load.
Like Bolden and Davis, Scott left the BYU game with an injury, but he returned to play a key role. He finished with 17 yards on five carries, two catches for 25 yards and a 44-yard punt return.
“I’m hoping he’s going to be durable,” Lee said. “I watched Dexter McCluster when I was down with the Dolphins. He lasted the whole year and did awesome. I’m not comparing him to McCluster, but you hope he’s got some durability.”
Thomas was inserted more against BYU after Bolden went out in the second quarter. He figured prominently – good and bad – on the Rebels’ scoring drive for a field goal just before the half.
He caught a pass for a 5-yard gain. He also missed a block on third-and-goal that led to quarterback Zack Stoudt throwing the ball away.
Thomas carried just once for 3 yards.
With Bolden out and Davis likely to join him, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt moved wide receiver – and former running back – Korvic Neat to the backfield this week along with freshman defensive back Chief Brown.
Senior wide receiver Derrick Herman, who has played some running back in his career, could also be used Saturday, but a rotation of Scott, Thomas and Neat appears to be shaping up.
“I was shocked that I played so much. It was a different feel, because I’ve never played this much,” he said. “My pass protection wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I have to work in that area. When I got the ball I held on to it and got some yards. Hopefully I’ll get more chances with that.”