Job change turns Thomas into a star at Kansas State

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - CEDRIC GOLDEN

IRV­ING — As a young­ster grow­ing up in tiny Hil­liard, Fla., Daniel Thomas grew to love col­lege foot­ball.

And as Hil­liard High’s all-state quar­ter­back, Thomas would just as soon run over you as throw a pass to a wait­ing re­ceiver, not un­like one of his idols, Michael Bishop. A tough-run­ning quar­ter­back from Wil­lis, Bishop ar­rived at Kansas State from Blinn Col­lege in 1997, and he left Man­hat­tan af­ter fin­ish­ing as the Heis­man Tro­phy run­ner-up to Longhorn Ricky Wil­liams in 1998.

The thing about Bishop was that he could beat you in more than one way. Com­plete quar­ter­back that he was — big arm in­cluded — Bishop scared the you-know-what out of op­pos­ing de­fenses with his run­ning abil­ity. The re­sult was a great col­lege

ca­reer that ended with a 22-3 record at K-State and in­cluded a vic­tory over Syra­cuse in the 1997 Fi­esta Bowl.

So it came as no sur­prise that Thomas, a ju­nior col­lege quar­ter­back in Mis­sis­sippi, ended up at K-State just more than a decade later play­ing for Bill Sny­der, the same coach who molded Bishop into one of the most dan­ger­ous col­lege quar­ter­backs of his gen­er­a­tion.

Here’s the dif­fer­ence: Thomas ar­rived at Kansas State as a quar­ter­back, but he won’t be leav­ing that way. Sny­der pulled him aside be­fore the 2009 sea­son and asked how he would feel about switch­ing to run­ning back. The young­ster had al­ways been the guy who touched the ball on ev­ery play. Now he was be­ing moved to a new po­si­tion.

“I was all for it be­cause I felt I could help the team more as a run­ning back,’’ Thomas said. “I’m not the throw­ing type of quar­ter­back so I thought it would work out for me.”

And work out it did. Thomas led the Big 12 with 1,265 rush­ing yards and added 11 touch­downs last sea­son. He av­er­aged 5.1 yards per rush and gained more than 100 yards in five games for the Wild­cats, who were 6-6 in Sny­der’s re­turn to coach­ing. In the process, the Cats snapped a two-year slide of los­ing sea­sons.

With the ad­vent of spread of­fenses and the move to the back­field-by-com­mit­tee ap­proach, there aren’t as many grand ground-gain­ers in the Big 12 these days. Thomas was one of only four run­ning backs to top 1,000 yards in the con­fer­ence in 2009, and even if 1,000 yards is an ar­bi­trary bench­mark, it rep­re­sents a rea­son­able stan­dard for a run­ning back. In the past two sea­sons com­bined, though, only eight Big 12 backs have gone for a grand.

As for the Wild­cats, Sny­der be­lieves of­fen­sive bal­ance will be crit­i­cal if he is to re­turn this pro­gram to na­tional promi­nence, and Thomas fig­ures to be a huge part of that bal­ance. Whether or not he gets more than the 247 hand­offs he took in 2009 will be up to Sny­der, who said he wasn’t sur­prised at how well Thomas took to his new gig.

“He’s a good-sized run­ning back who is durable,” the coach said. “He’s a fluid run­ner with the traits you look for in the back­field.”

And at 6 feet, 2 inches and 228 pounds, he’s a load to bring down. “He can move as good as any small, shifty guy,’’ said Wild­cats safety Tysyn Hart­man, “but when you talk about hav­ing to wrap up a guy that size in prac­tice, it’s tough.”

Thomas’ po­si­tion switch isn’t the only ad­just­ment he’s made. He also had to ad­just from life in a town of fewer than 3,000 just be­low the Florida-Ge­or­gia line to life in the Lit­tle Ap­ple, which has a boom­ing pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 by com­par­i­son. Daily trips to his aunt’s soul food res­tau­rant in Hil­liard have been re­placed by Sub­way sand­wiches in Man­hat­tan.

In any case, Sny­der raved about how well Thomas has ad­justed on the field and off, and with one good sea­son un­der his belt, he is ready to take it up an­other notch in 2010.

“I’m sure de­fenses will fo­cus on me this sea­son be­cause of the suc­cess I had,’’ he said. “I’m ready for that. This will be the year of the run­ning back in the Big 12.”

Dave Weaver

Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas moved from quar­ter­back to run­ning back be­fore last sea­son and pro­duced 1,265 rush­ing yards.

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