With the glitz and glamour of winning a state championship and playing in a national all-star game out of the way, it’s time for numerous top-dog college-football prospects to get down to business.
One of the most coveted prospects in Florida, as well as the entire country, is Miami Booker T. Washington’s Matthew Thomas. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound outside linebacker, has his pick of where he wants to go, but right now, he’s not exactly sure to what address he will be forwarding his mail to this summer.
Thomas, a long, lanky, athletic type, finished up his final high-school football game Friday night at the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg. As he walked out of the locker room in the tunnel of Tropicana Field, the exhaustion from the weeklong event showed on his face. But when he was reminded of the long road he still had ahead this month during recruiting trips that will take him to Alabama, Southern Cal, Florida State, Georgia and Miami, Thomas still managed to produce a big smile.
He knows it won’t be over until he unveils his choice on National Signing Day, Feb. 6. It’s not difficult to tell he is already torn in his thought process.
And so these next 29 days until NSD will be extremely important for the gifted star.
“I’ll be going to each university and learning about the programs and seeing what’s best for me and my family,” Thomas said Friday. “I’ll be looking at the educational system, of course, and then I want to play early, so that will be part of it too.”
Thomas had developed a great relationship with former FSU running backs coach Eddie Gran, but Gran has been hired away by Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati to become the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator.
FSU has also lost defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, hired as head coach at Kentucky, and defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot, who is now the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach under Stoops at Kentucky.
But Thomas said those changes are not likely to affect his FSU decision. He remains tight with Florida State offensive coordinator James Coley, and he also has a good relationship with head coach Jimbo Fisher. He has already established a relationship with new FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who comes over from Alabama, another one of the schools courting Thomas.
“I like FSU because I have an opportunity to come in and compete and play early,” Thomas said. “I have a good bond with all of the coaches. Coach Jimbo is real cool and coach Coley, and Pruitt, I’ve talked to him and he just got hired, so I have a good bond with all of them.”
Thomas will also be watching closely as players begin to declare early for the NFL Draft. One player who definitely has his interest is FSU’s Christian Jones, whose decision whether to return for his senior year could have an impact on where the Seminoles stand for Thomas. Jones, who switched to weak-side linebacker this season and still ruled the middle of the ’Noles defense, was FSU’s leading tackler for the second consecutive season with 95 stops (average of seven 7 per game).
It’s a position Thomas can see himself playing, and if Jones leaves, it’s also a position Thomas can see himself playing in eight months.
“Yes, I do look at that and I take that into thought when I’m talking to my mom about it,” Thomas said.
Thomas has a bright future, wherever he decides to go, and that decision may not even clear up for another three weeks as the pieces continue to fall into place.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.