Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
Scoring three touchdowns in one game is a feat that most offensive players only accomplish a handful of times in their career. For a 6-foot 238-pound linebacker to do it, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider linebacker Tavares Thomas did just that in MTSU’s 37-17 win over Florida International this past weekend.
Thomas took over quarterbacking duties in the “wildcat” formation in the absence of injured Richie James and scored three touchdowns on six touches to help the Blue Raiders to their first homecoming win in three years.
“I played running back in high school,” Thomas said. “(Head Coach Rick Stockstill) came to me early in the week and asked me how I would feel about (running the wildcat). I told him I’d get it done.”
Thomas’ high school numbers proved he could do a little bit of everything. Throughout his career, he threw for 174 yards on eight completions, ran for 954 yards on 203 carries, caught three passes for 51 yards, returned seven kicks that averaged 23.7 yards per return and had 78 career tackles in two seasons playing defense.
Originally, Thomas wasn’t even a primary target for the Blue Raiders this past offseason.
“When I went out to Navarro Junior College (in Texas) to recruit (Thomas), I went out there to see (running back) Maurice Gordon, and when I asked the coach if he had anyone he recommended, he said Tavares,” Stockstill said.
Navarro didn’t have any film of Thomas playing linebacker when Stockstill arrived, but they did have film of Thomas playing running back and quarterback at Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenburg, Texas.
“I watched that high school tape while I was at Navarro and was impressed with him,” Stockstill said. “Monday I got on hudl and showed the offensive staff and said, ‘Let’s look at Tavares at being a short-yardage wildcat quarterback because he’s 230 lbs. and runs good.’ We put in three or four plays for him this week, and we called on him, and he did a fantastic job.”
Thomas’ preparation for this new package lasted only a week, but throughout the week his reps as the wildcat quarterback were extremely limited.
“(Thomas had) four plays on Tuesday, four plays on Wednesday, four plays on Thursday, three plays on Friday,” Stockstill said. Add all those figures up and you arrive at just 15 practice reps for Thomas over four days time.
When thrust into the ballgame, each of Thomas’ six carries all came inside the Panthers’ five-yard line, where he was able to recall what it was like to smell the end zone.
“I think very aggressive when I get down (inside the five),” Thomas said. “I was thinking, I’ve got to get in, and the (o-line) did a good job when we got down close (to the end zone) so kudos to them.”
The Blue Raider offensive line had, arguably, their best performance of the year and paved the way for Thomas to get across the goal line all afternoon.
“Anytime the defense knows you’re going to run, and you can still run, that’s when an offensive lineman puts a smile on his face,” Stockstill said. “That’s what makes being an offensive lineman special.”
Fellow running back Brad Anderson noted that Thomas’ physical build brings a whole new element to a Blue Raider ground game that is starting to come into its own.
“He’s a bigger body,” Anderson said. “Most of our backs are not humongous, so I thought it was a great addition for us.”
The addition of Thomas near the goal line could be the weapon Middle Tennessee needs to help the offense find the consistency they’ve been hunting for.
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