The first game of Ambry Thomas’ sophomore year, he intercepted a pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown for Detroit King.
“I said ‘OK.’ I wanted to see if that was a fluke or not,” said Tyrone Spencer, the Crusaders’ defensive coordinator then and now their head coach.
“The next week, he was on offense and went for a long touchdown,” Spencer said. “I said this kid is a playmaker. That’s when I knew he was special.”
Now the country knows Thomas is special.
On Thursday, Thomas was honored as an Army All-American and will participate in its all-star Bowl game Jan. 7 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The senior defensive back/wide receiver/punt returner received his jersey in front of all his teammates with Spencer and mom, Carmen Thomas, at his side.
“This is real special,” said Thomas. “I watched Donnie Corley and Lavert Hill get this award last year, so this is something I wanted. It’s an honor to know that people think I’m an elite athlete. This warms my heart.”
Corley now plays for Michigan State, while Hill is at Michigan. Each was a key contributor to King’s winning the Division 2 state title last season.
Kerry Combs, the defensive back coach at Ohio State, told Thomas he’s on their radar before the ceremony.
“He told me they’d be recruiting me a lot harder because they think I’m an elite athlete,” said Thomas.
Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Florida are suitors in touch with Thomas.
“I like the fact that he’s focused on the season,” said Spencer. “He’s the ultimate competitor. I think he can play on offense and defense and special teams. He can run the jet sweeps. You have to monitor how to use him, especially depending on who you are playing. When you need him and you have to unload everything, unload it. Until then you have to take care of his body with the wear and tear.
“He has definitely put on some muscle. That helps.”
Thomas also may be looking at graduating early, which could push his college decision to sometime right after the season.
With a young core around him and a state title defense looming in the picture, Thomas has kept his focus on his teammates and playing in honor of late coach Dale Harvel, who passed away right before this season began.
“We still have some things to improve on, but right now I’m very impressed with the team,” Thomas said. “I didn’t think they’d step up and mature as fast as they have, but they’ve done it. We need to get to the level where we need to keep the switch on and not turn it off and turn it back on, because we don’t have that many older guys on the team.
“We have to play our football. I’ve been stepping up.”