COVINGTON, Ga. — He can laugh about it now, but there was a time when Newton running back Adarius Thomas wasn’t too amused at how his football career was going.
Thomas apparently wasn’t cutting it during his seventh grade year at Liberty Middle School, so coach Tommy Gregory, now the current Newton running backs coach and special teams coordinator, cut him.
Today, Thomas acknowledges that there was more to the story than just him being a knucklehead who was trying to be difficult.
“This is a funny story,” Thomas said. “He did cut me. We were doing jumping jacks and I got injured playing on my little league team and couldn’t do the jumping jacks 100 percent. But I didn’t tell him that because I was always taught to fight through and don’t make excuses. So I was just like, ‘I’m gonna come back next year stronger.’”
That’s been Thomas’ routine ever since that time. Last year as a junior, Thomas showed promise while splitting time with now-graduated Nuru Tinch. But you could say his coming out party was in Newton’s overtime loss at Parkview in the Class AAAAAAA playoffs last year.
In that game, Thomas rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, while also catching three passes for 50 yards in place of an injured Tinch.
And now the 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior running back has burst onto the scene as the Rams’ featured back, fresh off of last week’s 180-yard performance in Newton’s loss to Westlake.
Coming into Friday’s game with South Gwinnett, Thomas’ 515 yards has already eclipsed his junior season total, thanks in part to his developed knack for finding a way to bust a big play — 25 yards or more — each time he’s touched the field this season.
“This year is my statement year,” Thomas said. “I wanted to go down as the best to do what I do, so really I’ve just been going harder everyday.”
He means that literally.
Last year, Thomas developed the reputation of being more of a scatback — a guy whose speciality was bouncing a play outside and using his speed to create big yardage, or being used as a receiver out of the backfield.
During the offseason, though, Thomas worked diligently in the weight room to bulk up, and he has noticeably been more intentional about running between the tackles and absorbing — or in some cases, dishing out — contact.
When talking about the latter, think back to Newton’s spring game against Salem. Thomas scored the first touchdown of the contest in punishing fashion as he finished off the scoring run by lowering his shoulder and barreling over a Salem defender.
“That’s for people who say I’m just an outside back,” Thomas said. “I want to prove them wrong by the way I play. But first, I’ve gotta give credit to the o-line for it, even though they don’t always get all the praise.”
Thomas’ big plays in the run game haven’t come in a vacuum. His are just part of a Newton offense that’s specialized in chunk yardage, particularly through a high-powered aerial attack led by quarterback LT Stowers and a trio of talented receivers in Mike Mathison, Robert Lewis and Jerrol Hines.
“It’s a blessing because we push each other so much, you would think we’re enemies out there,” Thomas said. “But that’s how bad we love each other. We go at each other’s necks every day in practice, and that’s why I feel like we’re explosive in games.”
As for Thomas himself, he attributes last week’s success — and just his overall uptick in production — to his development as both a more physical and cerebral player.
“I definitely got bigger, faster and stronger from last year, and I also had to play defense,” he said. “So I had to study a different position and master it to help us out. So I would say my IQ went up, even though I have a good IQ from an offensive standpoint. I had to expand it for defense too. It just made me a more well-rounded player.”