GRIFFIN, Ga. — Adarius Thomas saw a familiar scene beginning to play out in front of his eyes Tuesday evening at the Spalding High padded camp.
After Thomas took an inside shotgun handoff from quarterback Neal Howard, and after shaking free of the initial gaggle of defenders trying to bring him down, the diminutive Newton running back had one man — a Spalding defender — separating him from the goaline.
No need for a multiple choice-style test question for Thomas to determine what he was going to do, although if that defender had seen Thomas’ film, he was probably the one left guessing.
“When defenders come at me, they don’t know if I’m gonna shake you or run you over,” Thomas said.
In the aforementioned scenario, Thomas chose the latter as he lowered his shoulder and rammed his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame into the would-be tackler while bulldozing him into the end zone.
Did we mention that Thomas is generously listed at 5-foot-8? Lately he hasn’t been playing like it. Consult the film of last month’s spring game at Salem for proof.
Against the highly regarded Seminoles, Thomas executed a similar display of brute strength as he pushed back a tackler in drastic fashion on his way to the game’s first touchdown.
“You know, it’s just a mentality,” he said. “It’s a mindset. I’m not the biggest back, but I’m gonna run through your soul if I have to.”
Each time Thomas or similarly small slotback Jerrol Hines trucks someone or violently stiff arms a player, it elicits gasps from fans and shrieks of celebration from teammates watching on the sidelines.
Don’t look for that kind of reaction from people like head coach Terrance Banks and assistant Josh Skelton, though.
“When he runs them over, I don’t get excited,” Skelton said. “I just say ‘Run your butt back to the sideline.’ It’s the expectation for those guys to run a guy over.”
Banks agreed and credited the work players like Thomas and Hines, who stands about 5-foot-6 and 151 pounds, do with Skelton in the weight room to why the little guys are playing big.
“I believe physical teams are made in the weight room,” Banks said. “You’ve been to our weight room, so you see that Coach Skelt takes what he does in there very seriously. In there, those guys get a chance to get physical, and when it comes out here on the field, it should translate.”
Hines in particular attributes his noticeable uptick in physicality and explosiveness he’s displayed on the field during spring and summer workouts to his weight room grind.
He’s always been a bit of a jitterbug, but after the 2017 season he said he wanted to make a concerted effort to be more of a physical force.
“Last year at the end of the season I weighed 138 pounds,” Hinds said. “This spring I came in weighing 151 pounds. My bench went up, my hang clean and power clean, it all went up, and it’s showing.”
Hines has typically been utilized as a weapon in Newton’s short passing game, particularly in bubble screen and jailbreak action. He’s also had impressive moments on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
A rising junior, Hines caught 23 passes for 201 yards and a score last season. He also had a rushing touchdown and averaged 18.6 yards per punt return on 12 chances. Several of his returns were instrumental in flipping field position for Newton in crucial situations.
But already this year he’s running with more authority after he catches the ball. Much of that comes from his work to get bigger, faster and stronger. But a lot of it derives from his resolve to bust a big play more times than not in 2018.
“This year, I want more touchdowns,” he said. “I want to score every time I touch the ball this year. I’m looking for the big plays. Twenty-five-plus yards after the catch. Getting in the end zone as much as possible.”
And running through someone if he ever gets into a situation where he can’t run around them.
“That’s that juice right there,” he said. “When you run over someone. When you see that happen, everything gets turned up. Big plays get the team excited, and then you can really see what happens in a game when a team gets excited.”
Both players say that while they appreciate the competitive nature found in 7v7s, they prefer padded camps like the two-day ordeal at Spalding this week, because of the opportunity it brings for them to test their brawn.
“With 7-on-7s, it’s more passing and more conservative,” Thomas said. “But in these padded camps, we’ve got the shells on and the helmets and pads and we’re trying to get real physical out here. We’re trying to score. We’re out trying to win, no matter what the setting.”
Said Hines: “If you’re going in the weight room and you’re working, working, working, you’ve gotta show that somehow, and you do that on the field. You don’t do all that working out to go out there and play pitty-pat on the field. Especially with me. I know I’m a smaller guy, so that means I’ve gotta bring more dog out of me when I get the ball.”
Hines said he believes that dog mentality has manifested itself in greater quantities this year on a team that looks to have less star power than in recent years.
“That just makes everybody work,” Hines said. “You can’t skip the work. Everybody’s out here grinding. We may not have the JJ Hollomans or a Darnell Jefferies out here, but that just means everybody’s gotta work like Holloman or Jefferies so we can be that much better.”
Ultimately Thomas said such a mentality works in the team’s overall favor, because the increased work ethic makes for an edgier squad.
“With the kind of work we’re doing it definitely creates a mindset,” Thomas said. “When I see that guy on a one-on-one, I’m running up to him thinking, ‘I’m gonna win. I’m coming out on top. There’s no way he’s out here working out harder than me.’ So when we win those kinds of collisions, it’s not a surprise.”