One of the top uncommitted prospects in the nation, Matthew Thomas is revered as a ferocious linebacker and pass rusher. As a junior, Thomas recorded 117 tackles and 13 sacks.
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Matthew Thomas is not the first major Division-I prospect to emerge from Booker T. Washington High School in Overtown Miami, but he might be the best. Spectators knew they saw something different at the end of last year's state semifinal.
Booker T. Washington was up 20-14 over Cocoa (Fla) in overtime with one play left in the game. The Tornado coaches were hollering at Thomas.
"Matt! Matt! Line up at defensive end!"
Thomas approached the line and bent into his three-point stance. On the snap, Thomas bolted off the line, charged toward Cocoa quarterback Jaelon Knowles, and put a blistering hit on Knowles to force a fumble and end the game. Thomas laid an NFL-quality hit on the most important play of the season. It looked like greatness.
That's a familiar feeling in Overtown. Every year they see potential superstars take the field; rarely do they develop into the players they could become.
Miami-Dade County is one of the most fertile areas for football talent in the nation, but players often don't meet the lofty expectations of them. The strength and conditioning programs are seldom strong, and discipline problems are inevitable in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.
"We've had a lot of guys come through this program who had the abilities on the football field, but mentally they didn't have what it took to push themselves over the top," assistant head coach Tim Harris Jr. says. "Matthew has done a great job pushing himself, motivating himself, and using the coaching staff and his mentors to get to the next level."
While plenty of Miami products have gone onto highly successful NFL careers, Booker T. Washington has yet to produce one. Thomas has to pick a college before dreaming too big, but the five-star defensive end/linebacker has the size, speed and natural athletic gifts to give Booker T. Washington High School its first major star. More importantly, however, his coaches feel he has the head to make it unlike some of his predecessors.
"We've had guys go to the next level and be successful," Harris says. "But we have had many who have gone on and haven't survived because they didn't listen to the right people. They end up falling off of the ledge. Matthew has done a very good job up to this point of staying steady.
On the field, Thomas has college recruiters salivating. He will play linebacker in college, but his speed and length allow him to line up at defensive end for the Tornadoes. Right now, Thomas will need to add plenty of muscle and improve his fundamentals before he is ready to play at the next level, but his speed and intangibles make him one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation.
Harris lauds Thomas's abilities to make plays in the open field and his coverage skills as a linebacker. He's the type of player that can put anybody, even the coaches, into "spectator mode" according to Harris.
Thomas holds a whole host of offers, but he is said to favor Alabama, Florida State and Miami (FL). He could be the first Tornado to see stardom.