Zidane Thomas’ brief move to Tampa, Fla., may cost the Peoria Centennial running back the first five games of his senior football season.
“I’m scared I’m going to have to sit out,” Thomas said.
Thomas will be the top returning running back in the state next season, after rushing for 2,329 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the Coyotes to the 5A Conference championship game.
But now he finds himself in a bigger, off-field battle.
Between now and August, Thomas, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, will have to build a hardship case with the Arizona Interscholastic Association to prove the move was out of his control.
In January, Thomas moved to Florida to live with his mom after his sister moved to Connecticut. Thomas has been attending Centennial since his freshman year, when he moved here from Florida and was living with his sister.
But with her sudden move during the holidays, he couldn’t stay.
Thomas withdrew from Centennial and enrolled at Hillsborough High in Tampa. Centennial coach Richard Taylor said that Thomas spent five school days there, before returning to Centennial.
“I was homesick and I felt I wasn’t going to graduate on time,” Thomas said. “My mom said it was probably a smart idea to go back.”
Thomas is currently living with a man who had brought in Thomas and his sister when they made the first move from Florida.
The AIA transfer rule, which went into effect at the end of the last school year, requires student-athletes to miss the first half of the season after transferring, unless they are able to prove hardship. Those have become harder to obtain though the AIA, which has gotten stricter under the new bylaw.
“Now he has to go through the big, long thing and hope they say yes,” Taylor said. “It’s a good rule. But there’s always an exception. This is definitely an exception.”
Taylor said that Thomas is an academic qualifier and picked up his first football scholarship offer Monday night from Iowa State.
Thomas said he was surprised by the Iowa State offer.
“I hadn’t even been talking to them,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he has been in contact with Arizona, South Florida and Colorado.
Taylor said after the Iowa State offer, he got a text from an Arizona State coach, inquiring about Thomas.
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“ASU texted, and said, ‘What is Zidane’s grades? We’re interested in him,’ ” Taylor said. “I told him, ‘We’ve had good running backs. This is the best running back we’ve ever had.’
“For everything he’s been through, he’s such a nice kid. A really humble kid.”
If you have a human interest story, contact Richard Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow Obert on Twitter at azc_obert