West Orange-Stark HS
National Rank at CB: 11
Overall State Rank: 22
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An Inside Texas conversation with West Orange-Stark defensive line coach Ed Dyer and wide receiver coach Toby Foreman on Earl Thomas:
IT: What are Earls strengths as a football player that made him such a desirable prospect for Texas, Texas A&M, LSU and other schools?
Dyer: There's probably two things where Earl's strengths are; he didn't take off but two or three plays per game, playing DB and playing tailback and receiver, playing quarterback some; and his mobility. I saw him one time, 'officially' got tackled, the guy caught him on the hip and gave him a hip pointer, and that's the only time I've seen him have a banged up injury-type deal since he's been here. The athletic ability that Earl has is very comparable to Deon (Beasley's) and it's amazing to watch him. It looks like everyone else is in glue and they're in fast water. [Laughs] We practice every day in full pads. You play in full pads and you (should) practice in full pads, they get used to it, and he plays every play in practice. It's an everyday preparation-type deal.
IT: You mentioned Earl played multiple spots for you, which sounds similar to what Deon did last year. Talk about his versatility...
Dyer: Being versatile like that, the mental part of it has to be pretty well (established). He has to have knowledge of the football game. He's got to know what a receiver does, what a quarterback does, what a tailback does, so really he was four or five people in one. I mean, you look up, he's at receiver, you look up, he's at tailback, he's at quarterback. We limited some of the things we did with him at quarterback and at tailback; there were certain plays that we did for him, we scaled it down some. For example, during the springtime last year, he was learning those multiple positions, during the spring, during seven-on-seven, during the summer time, and I think that grasp of it helped him understand. And, two, he's been playing on the varsity since he was a sophomore, so he's got the knowledge of the game.
IT: What did the Texas coaches like about Earl?
Dyer: They're always looking for skill guys, secondary guys, receiver guys, and they always look for guys that play multiple positions... So I think the multiple positions is the thing that (they) look for. Plus speed, strength, quickness.
IT: What is it about his ability that makes the Texas coaches believe he can be a top level defensive back?
Foreman: Recovery speed on defense.
IT: What about hips, and feet?
Dyer: Very good.
Foreman: Good instincts, too. Comparing him to where Beasley was right now, he is twice as far, at least, because Beasley didn't play a lot of defense. That's why I was surprised Deon played as a freshman.
Dyer: Now if you had told me he'd play slot receiver, I'd say, 'Yeah!'
IT: When we talked last year to (offensive coordinator Randy) Crouch and to you, Coach Foreman, it sounded like to me Deon was going to end up playing on the offensive side of the ball just because of that great ability and explosiveness on that side of the ball, but they certainly needed him on the defensive side of the ball, and I think that's why Earl has a great shot at playing because they need guys back there in the secondary...
Foreman: They're thin. You look at last year, they had (Michael Griffin), (Aaron) Ross and (Tarell) Brown, three seniors, and they were still hurting, and you look at this year, they're really going to be hurting...
IT: That's what's interesting to me about Earl's possibility for coming in right away. It would probably help if he were in right now (for spring) but still, they're going to need bodies out there.
Dyer: He is going to summer school (in Austin), he'll be on campus in summertime, and he needs to get acclimated. The atmosphere is so much different from college to high school and you try to tell 'em and you try to tell 'em but they just don't understand... That's the biggest thing. You go from being 'big man' for three years to the last man on the totem pole. That's one thing they have to understand as a freshman.
IT: What's Earl's maturity level like in terms of being able to handle that change?
Dyer: That's a hard question to answer...
Foreman: He's got a very good structured family. I played college ball with his uncle. Very structured. Most of the time, a kid like that, most of the time....
Dyer: ... won't stray too far....
Foreman: ...but sometimes they're wild but I don't think that's the case here. Deon came back with more tattoos [Laughs], but I don't think this guy right here is going to be like that.
IT: What's Earl working on in the off-season?
Dyer: Playing basketball right now and he will participate in track, and then baseball. He does everything. And weight room-wise and strength-wise, he'll gain so much in a year at Texas it won't even be funny.
Dyer: He can grow.
IT: What kind of weight can he put on that frame?
Dyer: He can hold 20 pounds more.
Foreman: Yeah. He's going to be able to carry his weight good. He's (going to be) fast and strong.
IT: What does he run for you guys in track?
Foreman: Last year, he ran in the state track meet in the 4x200 relay. He runs the 4x1, the 4x2 and the open 200. And he long jumps. He should be at the state meet in Austin (again).
IT: What did Earl mean to your football program?
Foreman: He's always a dependable guy. I'm thinking from an offensive standpoint, but my dad was the secondary coach...
Dyer: Defensively, we put him on the best receiver they had, and he would take them out. That was one aspect (of the game) we'd never have to worry about.
Foreman: In three years, I can maybe think of a handful of times that he did not perform. He was real dependable. And most of those were when he was young. He could take over the game. He was a lot like Beasley this year, even though he didn't touch the ball every down, he could take the game over. He would go games where he would touch it five times and score four.
Dyer: Kickoff returns, he ran three back and brought one to the one yardline. Those hidden yards, people didn't punt to us. They would punt it out of bounds, or go for it. He changed people's thinking.
IT: So he was just a game-changer...
Foreman: A lot like Beasley.
Dyer: If he intercepted the ball, he may take it to the house. He's, 'I'm taking it to the house every time I touch it.'
IT: Is there a defining moment for you that exemplifies Earl's ability as a football player?
Foreman: From the second half of our first round playoff game (as a junior) he was just lights out. Since that half -- he struggled a little bit in the first half; a guy caught a ball and ran up the sideline -- he's been lights out. The rest of those playoff games, and the 12 games we played this year, he's been lights out. Literally lights out.
Dyer: The next game, Palestine...
Foreman: ...they had a wideout named Mickens that went to Blinn...
Dyer: ...he'd been killing people all year...
Foreman: ...and they were going to throw to him about 10 times a game. And he caught a little fade route on Earl early but after that (Earl) had more interceptions than the other guy had catches. He just locked him straight down.
IT: Was Earl a leader for you guys, and if so, how did he lead?
Foreman: I think he was a leader in the secondary for sure. He really doesn't talk a whole lot. He's not shy, but when the game starts and something starts happening he'll get them up in the huddle, but as far as being the man, the biggest difference between him and Beasley is that. Beasley was natural. Of course, he talked a lot. You couldn't get him to shut up. This one, he just goes and plays. He doesn't mess with nothing else. He just goes and plays. Literally. He just wants to play. You can go watch him in a basketball game, you go watch in a track meet, you go watch him in a baseball game, he's as intense and focused as anybody I've ever coached or been around. He's always focused. When a game's going on, there could be bombs going off around him, it wouldn't matter. Nothing fazes him... We were in some big games and some tight games, and he was always one of those guys, 'Coach, give me the ball.' He had a good chance always to make a play on the ball. Didn't matter who we were playing. We were playing Dayton this year, first game of the season, and it's 9-6 we're losing in the fourth, and he comes over -- we had him a lot at wideout this year -- he says, 'Coach, I'm not telling you what to do, but I can beat that guy right there.' We really hadn't thrown it deep to him, so I said, 'Let's try it.' Sure enough, we throw a jump ball, and he goes up, (grabs it) and gets tackled on about the eight. 'OK, that was a good deal. Next time you feel like that, come tell me.' He's just one of those guys, 'Yes sir, no sir.' His grandfather's a pastor, his family is real religious, a very good structured family... the flipside of that is sometime you have people that are so structured here they go crazy, but I don't see him doing that. He's a very, very well mannered guy, and his family would be up there beating him if he did that... They're just real good people. You don't find kids like that. If all the kids were like (Earl), my hairline would not be back here. [Laughs] They don't give you any problems.
IT: He sounds like he fits the type of kid that Texas typically pursues...
Foreman: Yeah, no doubt. He will ask questions, but other than that.
IT: But he's got the confidence on the field?
Foreman: No doubt. He's got the swagger... We played 7-on-7 against Foswhitt Whittaker and people like that, where he had to cover, and he just said, 'I'm going to Texas and you're not going to catch the ball.'
Dyer: He did the same thing defensively. We put him in situations where, 'Hey, you're going to cover their best guy.'
Foreman: The best thing you can do with him is say, 'You got him.' And that's it.
IT: Earl told us he thinks one of his strengths is he's very physical with receivers...
Foreman: He is.
Dyer: And coach Foreman talked about his closing speed. It is phenomenal.
Foreman: The difference between him and (Nathan) Vasher, and (Aaron) Ross, he's going to be a lot more physical than those guys. He's going to be a lot stronger because of his body build. It'll be hard to get off the line (against him) because he's going to end up being the size of a safety and being able to play corner. And those guys go first or second round on draft day.
Also see: Thomas: Enjoys Hangin’ with the DBs
UT Signing Day Bio: An all-state selection and three-year starter at DB, RB and WR … versatile athlete who was a four-sport letterman and an honor roll student … recorded 112 career tackles with 11 interceptions, two kickoff return TDs and two punt return TDs … also had 1,850 rushing yards and 2,140 receiving yards in his career … helped his team to a 24-2 record over his final two seasons … tabbed second- team 3A all-state by The Associated Press and third-team all-state by the Texas Sports Writers Association at receiver as a senior … named the district 21-3A MVP … had 42 tackles and five INTs on defense … recorded more than 1,200 all- purpose yards and 25 TDs (13 rushing, 12 receiving) on offense … helped West Orange Stark to an 11-1 record and the 3A regional finals … tabbed second-team 3A all-state by The Associated Press as a junior … rushed for almost 900 yards and 12 TDs with over 300 yards receiving and two TDs … helped West Orange Stark to a 13-1 record in advancing to the 3A state semifinals … also letters in basketball, baseball and track and field … reached the playoffs in all four sports as a junior … a two-time letterman in basketball who averaged 10 ppg … a two-time letterman in baseball playing centerfield and short stop and hit over .300 … a three-time letterman in track and field, participating in relays and long jump … part of a 4x200m relay team that reached the state finals as a junior … a member of the honor roll … a very active member of his church in which his grandfather, Earl Thomas, is the pastor … was part of a rebuilding project following Hurricane Katrina … involved in school leadership … plays piano in church and played tenor saxophone in the band when he was younger … his uncle, Anthony Thomas, was a linebacker at Stephen F. Austin from 1997-99 … full name is Earl V Thomas III … born 5/7/89 in Orange, Texas.
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All photos: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas