By Jean DePlacido
---- — The waiting is over. St. John’s Prep junior running back Johnathan Thomas has verbally committed to play football at the University of Maryland. Thomas, who is from Peabody, sat down with his family on Wednesday night to talk about his many scholarship offers. After deciding he wanted to be a Terrapin he informed Prep coach Jim O’Leary yesterday.
“I loved Maryland’s location, and I definitely loved the coaching staff there,” said Thomas. “The environment, the campus, and being right outside Baltimore all seemed perfect. I have family in Virginia and also in Philadelphia and New York. They can come to see me play.
“Maryland was one of the first schools interested in me. They recruited me heavily, and I definitely felt the love. The first time I visited back in January they offered me right away.”
Thomas led the Eagles to the Division 1 Super Bowl championship last fall when he ran for over 1800 yards with 15 touchdowns as well as three TD receptions. After he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 at the Under Armour Combine in Florida in January offers began pouring in.
“Boston College, Maryland, and Arkansas were his final three,” said O’Leary. “If he wanted to Johnny could have collected 50 scholarship offers, but that’s not what he was looking for. Some kids love the recruiting process, but Johnny didn’t enjoy the pressure. He and his family were looking for a good academic school first. Playing Division 1 football was also important to him.
“He can only make a verbal commitment and won’t be able to sign until February, but at St. John’s we try to impress athletes that they are giving their word. It’s not something to be taken lightly. People will still keep in contact with me, but they will move on to other athletes. We’ll still see a lot of college scouts around though because we have five other juniors who will have lots of opportunities.”
Thomas had said he wanted to make a decision before preseason practice began. He just returned from a visit to Arkansas last Sunday and Monday. Playing in the SEC was a great opportunity, but the school was too far away from home for Thomas.
“Originally Johnny set his perimeter anywhere from the Carolinas up and no further west than Ohio,” said O’Leary. “He has been receiving mail from Alabama, Cincinnati, and Wisconsin. Penn State was in again on Wednesday, but (head coach and former St. John’s Prep player) Billy O’Brien only has 15 scholarships to offer.
“I know he had a great visit to Arkansas, and they ran a four minute feature clip about him on the local nightly news. That would be like channel 4 or 5 doing it here which would never happen when a recruit came to see BC. Football is very important down there, and they did his visit up first class. Going to Maryland means he’ll be away, but it’s close to Baltimore and a plane ride home any time he wants. They were looking for a power running back, and he fits the bill. Every college is looking to line up their running backs early.”
Veteran head coach Randy Edsall was previously the head man at UConn and also worked as an assistant under Tom Coughlin for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
“They were looking for another running back, and when I told them I made my decision to accept their offer they were very glad,” said Thomas. “Maryland was one of the schools that didn’t pressure me to commit, and I liked that. Some others kept telling me they wanted to know right away which was stressful. I really liked the way the program was run at Maryland.”
O’Leary said it was interesting how the Terps first became interested in Thomas. The family was going to a birthday party in the area, and Thomas intended to visit Virginia while they were there. He told O’Leary he’d like to stop at Maryland, too.
“It was his grandfather’s birthday, and he told me they would be driving through Maryland on a Saturday. I know Edsall, but it was a last minute thing so I contacted the recruiting coordinator. I told him I’ve got this kid, who is a really good player, and he told me nobody would be in the office on Saturday. I sent him a link to Johnny’s highlight tape, and got a call back 10 minutes later. He told me coach Edsall would be there at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning to meet with Johnny.
“After that initial meeting he went back and stayed overnight. He felt it was the right fit for him, and was comfortable about everything. He knew what he wanted and made a thoughtful decision. His older brother Nate is at Brown, and I really think Johnny’s mother wanted him to choose Yale. We’ve been blessed at our school with people like Brian St. Pierre (BC), Nick Borsetti (Notre Dame), and Rob Konrad (Syracuse), who all made thoughtful decisions while being heavily recruited. They all went about it the right way, and that’s what Johnny is doing, too.”
With most of the recruiting process settled, Thomas is ready to focus on summer workouts and getting back on the field next fall.
“I feel great now; I feel free,” said Thomas. “I am very happy with my decision. I couldn’t go wrong wherever I decided to go, but I wanted to get the recruiting process over with. It was really stressful for me. I called several schools that had offered me scholarships to tell them I decided to go to Maryland.”