Duke Thomas seemed destined to be a college athlete.
Thomas’ father played basketball for the LSU Tigers. He has an uncle that starred on the gridiron and track team at Southern University. His grandfather played for the Kansas City Chiefs. With bloodlines like that, suiting up in college must have felt like a formality.
Longhorn fans are hoping Thomas is destined to be the next great corner for a school that has routinely turned out NFL-ready secondary talent.
The junior from Copperas Cove started to turn heads last offseason. Coaches noticed how talented Thomas was on both sides of the ball. Major Applewhite experimented with working Thomas in on a few offensive series as a receiver. Ultimately, he remained on the defensive side of the ball. It proved to be a smart move.
Thomas made 10 starts last season. With all the spread offenses in the Big 12, Texas needed a third corner to compliment Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. The 5-foot-11 Thomas provided the size secondary coach Duane Akina needed on the boundary. It was definitely on-the-job-training for Thomas. He had his ups and downs, including giving up a 97-yard touchdown pass in a tight game against the Iowa State Cyclones. Akina recognized that Thomas had the ball skills to play in the secondary; he just needed the experience. Thomas ended up leading the Longhorns with three interceptions.
Fast forward to 2014. Carrington is gone, opening the door for Thomas to team up with Diggs to give Texas plenty of experience in the secondary. The duo will have their hands full this season. The Baylor Bears, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Oklahoma Sooners, and Oklahoma State Cowboys have wide-open offenses that like to flood the secondary with receivers.
A new coaching staff means a new scheme to learn. This should be no problem for Thomas, who is a two-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
Texas will get tested early in the season. The Longhorns face the UCLA Bruins, Baylor and Oklahoma in the team’s first six games. The coaching staff will learn early if Thomas has improved from 2013.
Based on his lineage, Texas coaches and fans should have nothing to worry about.