Thomas hungry to make a difference at tight end this fall

Rashard Fant answered the question without much hesitation.

Who is the best Indiana player that no one is talking about?

“Ian Thomas,” said Fant, the Hoosiers’ All-Big Ten cornerback. “Ian Thomas, definitely.”

It’s understandable why Thomas, a senior tight end, is not yet on the Big Ten’s radar. He made only three catches last year during his first season with the program, occupying more of a blocking role than a receiving one inside former coach Kevin Wilson’s offense.

Now, the junior college product is poised to make a deeper impact as a pass-catching threat.

With new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord calling the shots, the Hoosiers are prepared to give their tight ends more responsibility in the passing offense. This year, that starts with Thomas, who says he’s ready to meet the high expectations his teammates have for him under DeBord.

“That’s what I’m hoping for, and that’s what I’m prepared for,” Thomas said. “That’s the goal.”

During IU’s fall camp this month, Thomas had shining moments when he looked like a playmaker. He’s certainly built like one.

At 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, Thomas cuts an imposing figure while running routes. From the time he arrived on campus last summer, he’s added 30 pounds to that frame. But it’s not merely Thomas’ size that stands out. He’s can move, too.

“He’s got everything you want,” IU quarterback Richard Lagow said. “He’s talented. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s hard-working. He’s humble. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

Thomas played in all 13 games for IU in 2016, often to little fanfare. Two of his three catches came during IU’s loss to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl.

For much of last fall, Thomas was playing catch-up. He didn’t join the program until shortly before last year’s camp commenced, spending much of the season adjusting to the size and speed of Big Ten football.

Still, Thomas found his way onto the field. And now, IU wants to make better use of the reps Thomas has fought to earn.

“I think one of the reasons Ian didn’t get to play right away is he came in late,” DeBord said. “I think he supposedly got here a couple weeks before (camp) started. He had to learn everything new and all that and also, too, what they did with their tight ends was totally different from what we’re doing with them. I feel like this offense is very much suited for a tight end that can run. He’s obviously very physical and strong.”

And he’s one of Lagow’s favorite people.

Thomas and Lagow began building a rapport before they both committed to IU in December 2015 through the shared experience of junior college football. Thomas, who began his college career at Nassau (N.Y.) Community College, knew plenty about Lagow, who was considered by ESPN as the top-ranked pocket-passing JuCo quarterback in the nation coming out of Cisco (Texas) Community College.

The two have spent the past year working together behind the scenes, preparing for their final season of eligibility.

Most of all, Lagow says, he respects how much Thomas has endured to get to this point. Thomas’ mother, Martha, died on his eighth birthday after an abcess tooth led to kidney and liver failure. His father, Earl, suffered a fatal heart attack approximately a year later.

An orphan in Baltimore at 9 years old, Thomas was raised by his siblings. Coming out of high school, he didn’t have the grades to pursue an opportunity to play at local Football Championship Subdivision program Towson University, so he turned to Nassau. There, he caught 23 passes for 433 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore, earning praise from ESPN as the No. 2 rated JuCo tight end in the country.

Texas A&M, South Carolina and West Virginia were each interested in landing Thomas. He ultimately chose Indiana.

“The kid’s awesome,” Lagow said. “His story is unbelievable. The junior college process makes it even more so. … The smallest and most insignificant part of his story is junior college football. That kid is unbelievable how humble he is for as talented as he is and for as much as he’s been through. He’s awesome. Really good kid.”

And, it seems, a pretty understated player.

This season, IU could use Thomas in the slot, as well as on the outside. The Hoosiers like his potential as a pass-catching tight end and Thomas is excited to finally tap into it, himself.

It may just get more people talking about him.

“I’ve just tried to approach it like each and every other year,” Thomas said. “I’m just being me. I’m just going out there doing what I have to do and learning as much as I can from the coaches that they have to offer.”

One comment

  1. Thomas may be a player that explodes on the scene this season. He can go from a blocking TE to one of the best pass catching TEs in the country. I would love to see him be our Gronk TE that makes catches people can’t believe and runs over DBs to score TDs.

    I hope he has the kind of season that gets him drafted into the NFL next year. A player that has gone through what he has gone through, deserves to have a shot to show the NFL what he can do and make some really good money as a result.

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