Throughout the history of American Football, there have been many a Cinderella story about players that lacked something tangible (size, strength, speed, etc.), yet somehow found a way to compete. Players like Doug Flutie, Darren Sproles, Steve Largent, Ronde Barber, and even Ray Lewis were all considered “undersized” for their respective positions, but each one was able to achieve some level of success; both on the college and pro level.
It is these types of stories that show us that no amount of physicality or natural talent can ever replace intangible factors like passion, drive and dedication to hard work.
It is what separates great players from the good ones, and it is what elevates them to the modern-day lore one will see in sports history books or museums.
Standing at just 5-8 but weighing a staggering 206 pounds, Rice rewrote the record books during his time with the Scarlet Knights. An all-time career leader in rushing yards and touchdowns for Rutgers, Rice helped re-establish Rutgers as a prominent football program from 2005 to 2007; even becoming a potential Heisman candidate during his last year there.
Since Rice left, Rutgers’ running game has not been the same, only producing one 1,000-yard rusher in 2012 (Jawan Jamison, 1,054-yards).
If Rutgers cannot find the next Ray Rice on their current roster, they might not
need to look far in the 2019 recruiting class, as one candidate might already be emerging in California’s own Jake Thomas.
The tangibles are not exactly ideal for Thomas; a 5’9”, 185-pounder that racked up 520 total offensive yards and six total touchdowns in 2017 does not exactly scream “Ray Rice” in the eyes of football pundits and Rutgers football fans alike.
But taking a closer look at the Santa Margarita High School product on his Hudl.com page, one cannot help but see the similarities between Rice and Thomas.
There is no denying that Thomas is one heck of an athlete. His small stature and light weight allow him to garner enough speed to escape the clutches of any would-be tackler. For much of the tape you can see Thomas gunning it for the open hole, and once he gets through, good luck trying to catch him.
However, one thing I did not expect to see was Thomas’s ability to hurdle. When he jumps, Thomas is able to get over opponents like a track star, showing just how competitive he can get for just one more yard.
Like Rice, Thomas has shown to be capable of running tacklers over and dragging defenders along with him. His strong legs and high motor make Thomas a nightmare to take down, and if you get in his way . . . well, good luck to you.
Ballerina in cleats
While Thomas gets most of his yardage from his breakaway speed and ability to break tackles, he is impressively agile. I have seen Thomas spin move his way out of a crowded line of scrimmage, as well as juke a player out of his cleats.
Thanks to his low center of gravity, Thomas possesses a good amount of balance and stability, so getting him to the ground might require more than just an arm wrap tackle.
What Thomas can work on
The only thing I believe Thomas needs to work on is to put on more muscle. At 185 pounds, Thomas puts himself at risk of getting knocked down very easily at the college level. Sure, he can break tackles and run defenders over now, but once he makes it into the collegiate level, he will be faced with guys twice, maybe even three-times his size.
If he can bulk up just a little bit more, as well as garner more experience as a feature back (was not a starter this year), He will be unstoppable.
So, could Thomas become the next Ray Rice for the Scarlet Knights? Could he be just as prolific as number 27, or even just as good? Thomas has one more year of high school left to prove himself. Whether he is the second coming of Ray Rice remains to be seen, but I, for one, am optimistic about it.