SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Inside one of the amazing plays he routinely makes, there is room for something more for Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas, perhaps the fastest player in all of college football.
There is room for a boast or a brag, for a moment where he just drops the ball in the end zone, pounds his chest and says, “Look at me. Look at what I can do.”
“It’s amazing when you have a kid like De’Anthony, who was arguably the best high school player in the country, and he’s like he is,” Oregon running back Kenjon Barner said. “He could be a little cocky, a little arrogant and it would be understandable ... but he is humble all of the time. He works hard all of the time. He is amazing.”
Thomas, a 5-foot-9, 176-pound sophomore from Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, has spent the last two seasons putting up big numbers for the Ducks. He had 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman in 2011 and 1,562 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns this season headed into Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl against No. 7 Kansas State.
Thomas earned the nickname “Black Mamba” when he was 12 and playing for the Crenshaw Bears, a Los Angeles-area youth team coached by rapper Snoop Dogg.
“(Thomas) is a guy that teams have to account for, and you see that by how they have to adjust their alignments when he steps on the field,” Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “We’re always trying to expand his role, always trying to find new ways to get the ball in his hands.”
In last January’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, Thomas racked up 314 all-purpose yards and set the Rose Bowl record for longest run from scrimmage on a 91-yard touchdown with the Ducks trailing 14-7 in the first quarter.
“I love winning championships, and to do it in front of all of my family and friends was something I’ll never forget,” Thomas said. “Just to be out there, representing Oregon, was great.”
He’s listed as Barner’s backup at running back on Oregon’s depth chart, but Thomas really has no position — he also catches passes and returns kicks and punts.
“I just like to have fun out there, and I like winning,” Thomas said. “I go out there with aggression, trying to score touchdowns so I can go back and celebrate with my teammates. That’s what’s fun to me.”
K-State is well aware of what Thomas can do on the field — and how he could hurt the Wildcats.
“(Thomas) changes the game when he steps on the field,” K-State safety Ty Zimmerman said. “You see guys that think they have the angle on him, then he hits that second burst of speed and he’s gone.”