Brooks: Jeffrey Thomas, Troy Walters Reunited At CU
BOULDER -- Troy Walters' recollections of Jeffrey Thomas were a couple of years old, but ever so slowly Thursday afternoon on the Colorado practice field the memories came trickling back. Walters remembered them, liked them. A lot.
In 2011 when he was an assistant coach on Mike Sherman's Texas A&M staff, Walters was dispatched to Duncanville, Texas to form an opinion on Thomas, a lanky, wiry receiver with a hard-to-ignore upside.
A consensus All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner at Stanford in 1999, Walters knows a little bit of what to look for in a wideout. And what he saw in Thomas impressed him: "I noticed he was fundamentally and technically sound in high school. He was well-coached . . . I knew wherever he went he would be ready to play immediately."
A&M had the 6-3, 180-pound Thomas on its ready list, that is, Walters was ready to offer him a scholarship if the recruitment of another pair of receiving prospects fizzled. But former CU receivers coach Bobby Kennedy had made the first move toward Thomas, and even if an A&M scholarship had become available it was doubtful that Thomas would have reached for it. But there was an unknown silver lining: Thomas formed a relationship with a guy, Walters, who would become his position coach.
After signing with CU two winters ago, Thomas last August appeared ready to make good on Walters' projection of being ready to play immediately anywhere he went. Only a couple of days into CU camp former defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown made this observation: "I don't have anybody who can cover him."
Told of Brown's comment about a month before spring drills opened, new CU coach Mike MacIntyre grinned and pondered it as good and bad news. The good was obvious: Thomas can make an impact. The bad became just as obvious as the 2012 season unfolded: The Buffs had problems covering anybody.
On a sunny, mild early April afternoon, MacIntyre was treated to several glimpses of what CU's defensive coaches saw last August. After being sidelined with a hamstring injury, Thomas made his first appearance of the spring on Thursday. It was difficult for MacIntyre, Walters and anyone else paying attention not to do a double take or two.
Said MacIntyre: "He made a lot of plays . . . he's tall and athletic. We'll look at the film, but I would have to say I was definitely pleased with what I saw."
For Thomas, the pleasure came in simply being on campus, in uniform, running routes and doing what he had hoped to do last season. But his freshman year never materialized. He returned home for personal reasons, vowed to enroll in January and kept his word, even after the postseason coaching change that brought MacIntyre to Boulder.
The 6-3 Thomas came back bigger (he's up to 197 pounds), more mature and more committed than he was last summer. His fall without football "helped me mature a lot," he said. "In a lot of ways it helped me to value being up here and not taking anything for granted. It just made me focus more on school, football. . .those are my two main priorities instead of all the extra stuff I was doing."
He admitted to being not up to speed in the offense or in running his routes on his first day back: "I wasn't normal, I wasn't on top of things. I was definitely rusty. . .not getting out of my breaks, my releases. I'm just getting my feel back under me and all that will come. But I didn't have a problem with my hamstring so that's a positive."
Walters saw more positives than Thomas' sound hamstring. "He's still learning the offense so he was a little slow in his routes," Walters said. "But once he learns the offense and gets comfortable he's going to be a guy we can definitely count on. He made some plays, and a lot of those were him just going off athletic ability. I had to kind of stand behind him and let him know what route to run . . . it was his first day and things were going fast."
Although an inch or so shorter and maybe 10 pounds lighter, Thomas bears a resemblance to former CU receiver Michael Westbrook. Even that comparison wouldn't have been possible when Thomas was at Duncanville High School, where he averaged 15.2 yards on 59 catches (12 touchdowns) as a senior.
Walters said one of A&M's concerns in offering a scholarship was that Thomas "was so wiry and thin . . . but now he's put on weight and filled out. He looks like a legitimate Pac-12 receiver."
Could the Buffs have used him last season in the Pac-12? Don't even ask. Thomas isn't going to stew over what never transpired, but he said, "I feel like I could (have helped) in ways doing whatever. Coaches told me I could have helped, but I guess it just wasn't meant for me to be there."
Now that Thomas is here, Walters wants him to relax, learn the offense and his assignments, and maybe ease up just a little in his self-critiquing. "He's almost too hard on himself," Walters said. "I noticed (Thursday) that he caught a difficult pass . . . I guess he wanted to catch it and continue to run with it. (But) he caught it and got tackled; it was a great catch, but he got up and was like, "Man, I'm down." I said, "Why are you down?" and he said, "I need to do more, I need to do more."
"He has a purpose, he's driven. He loves football. When you have those combinations, he's going to be easy to coach because he wants to be great."
Once again, a second opportunity is before him and he seems intent on seizing it. "This is the place I was meant to be," Thomas said. "After all I've been through and I'm still here, it has to be."
BUFF BITS: MacIntyre called Thursday afternoon "our best practice of the whole spring, as far as the flow. We finished it three minutes ahead of time, so that was good." . . . . The spring's third scrimmage is scheduled for Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Folsom Field. MacIntyre said some individual drills and special teams work would precede the scrimmage. "We'll put the ball down in different places and play," he said, adding the afternoon will feature red zone, goal line, short yardage, third down and two-minute work . . . . "Sudden change" situations also will be addressed, as will potential game-winning final plays "so there's no panic in it," MacIntyre said . . . . For the spring game (Saturday, April 13, 10:30 a.m.), the Buffs seniors are scheduled to " choose sides and play a game," MacIntyre said. But that plan might be disrupted by a low body count (10) on the offensive line. "If one gets hurt we might have to change that format," MacIntyre said. "But that's the best way to see competition and people playing hard. It's a lot of fun for them to stay involved."