By Jean DePlacido
---- — Johnny Thomas turned more than a few heads while showcasing his talents at the Under Armour Combine in St. Petersburg, Fla., over New Year’s.
The St. John’s Prep junior running back, who was The Salem News Player of the Year and Catholic Conference Offensive Player for 2012, ran the fastest time in the 40-yard dash there. Thomas finished in a blistering 4.47-seconds at the combine that attracted 152 of the best high school football players from all over the country.
“That was the best time recorded,” said Thomas, who was not only fast at the combine but one of the toughest runners to bring down, breaking tackles and gaining extra yards while carrying would-be defenders on his back. “I had a solid all-around performance, including one-on-one drills and 7-on-7.
“Under Armour is one of the best combines in the country for the top high school players. I went to it last year, and my results were much better this time. I don’t think I’ll go to any more (combines).”
The Peabody resident is coming off a spectacular junior season for St. John’s Prep. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound tailback led the North Shore with more than 1,800 yards rushing to power coach Jim O’Leary’s Eagles to the Division 1 Super Bowl championship. He gained over 100 yards rushing in 10 of the 12 games and had over 200 yards rushing three times.
“I’m going to work out and do speed training. I’m like to get my time down to 4.3,” Thomas said. “It will take a while, but that’s the goal I’ve set for myself. I knew what I was in for this time at the combine, so I really didn’t find anything too difficult.”
Thomas ran for 221 yards to spearhead the Eagles’ regular season win over Brockton on the road, then caught a swing pass and outran everyone to get the Eagles off and running against the Boxers in a Super Bowl blowout win.
O’Leary isn’t at all surprised by Thomas’ results.
“I wish I had 10 more just like him,” he said. “Johnny had an outstanding combine with exceptional 40 time, which was best for his position and I believe second fastest overall, as well as a great vertical jump. He’s on a lot of people’s radar for national recruits, and as he matures he’ll get bigger, faster and stronger.
“Under Armour is a big national event, and the advantage of having it down South is the weather. He’s coming off the Super Bowl game a month ago, and with the amount of carries he had this season (220), as well as the wear and tear the long season took on his body, it’s amazing he did so well. He wasn’t able to train outside for the combine like a lot of kids from other parts of the country.”
For the season, Thomas ended up with 20 touchdowns (16 rushing, 3 receiving, 1 on an INT return). He and senior Alex Moore gave St. John’s an unbeatable 1-2 offensive punch out of the backfield.
His finest performance of the season came in the playoffs against Andover, rushing for over 200 yards total and three scores in the second half to give coach Jim O’Leary his 200th career win.
“Alex is really fast, and I’m not sure what he’s doing in the 40 now, but last summer his best time was 4.49,” Thomas said. “I just might be a little bit quicker than him now.”
Thomas had the best time in a 5-10-5 drill (4.36 seconds), a 31-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 9 feet 5 inches.
“The one thing I’m going to work on is bench-pressing. I only did seven (at 185 pounds during the Combine), and last summer I was able to do 10,” Thomas said. “I was stronger then, but I wasn’t able to work out as much during the season. But overall, I’m pretty pleased with the results.”
Owner of a 3.7 grade-point average, Thomas has already had a full scholarship offer from UMass Amherst, and Boston College is very interested. Penn State (with head coach Bill O’Brien a former St. John’s Prep player) is also very interested, along with several other top Division 1 colleges.
“I don’t know where I want to go; I’ll wait to see what comes along,” Thomas said. “I’ve been thinking about going down South. Academics come first, but I would love a strong academic school with a good football program. BC practically offered, but is waiting until signing day, and Penn State has been showing a lot of interest. I went to a camp at Virginia last summer, and they’re very interested.
“I know I’ll be making a lot of visits this summer.”