USA TODAY High School Sports is publishing a series called “The Class of 18,” highlighting 18 members of the Class of 2018 whom we will be watching in the coming year. The athletes were selected by the USA TODAY HSS staff.
Name: Xavier Thomas
Position: Defensive end
MORE CLASS OF ’18: See all the athlete profiles here
It’s unconventional math, but the numbers for Xavier Thomas add up to the top-ranked defensive player in the 2018 class.
Thomas, a senior defensive end, is 6-3 and 265, yet runs a 4.53 40-yard dash. That combination of size, strength and speed is what sets Clemson fans drooling when they think he’ll be on campus next January.
“I work with the offensive line all spring,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said. “Time after time, I show them how quickly they have to be to respond to Xavier. He’s quick, but he’s also a high-energy guy. He’s taken two steps past the offensive line before they can react. It’s really mind boggling that he has that type of explosiveness. He’ll chase guys down from the other side of the field.”
Thomas was dominant last fall at Wilson (Florence, S.C.) with 133 tackles and seven sacks. Though he will face tougher competition while playing for IMG this fall, it will also be more difficult for teams to double-team him.
“He provides a lot of flexibility,” Wright said. “He’s a good enough athlete where he can drop into pass coverage. His total athleticism gives you a lot of flexibility with how you utilize him. He’s hard to block. People struggle to double him because he’s playing next to Taron Vincent.”
Thomas is a solid Clemson commit and recently signed a financial aid agreement to allow him to attend the school next January. At Nike’s The Opening in July, he said he’s prepared for the pressure this season will bring.
“I have high expectations, with me being so highly ranked,” Thomas said “If I don’t level to my expectations, there will be a lot of critics. I like to take it all in, because I like the attention. I just go out there and do what I do.”
IMG assistant Ernie Logan, who played on the defensive line for nine seasons in the NFL, has been working on improving Thomas’ hand and punch technique to better utilize his natural talents.
Off the field, Wright is hoping the laid-back Thomas will become more of a leader. Major Jeremy Tannahill, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, held a team-building camp at IMG last month where Thomas and others were pushed to be better teammates and leaders.
“It was interesting watching Xavier because he doesn’t say a lot,” Wright. “They put him in situations where he had to lead and be vocal. I don’t know how comfortable he is being the center of attention in a group. Given that opportunity, it was great to see him stand up and have to lead and be that type of guy. He’s used to just leading by example.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter: @jimhalley