"I don't want to go to LSU anymore," Thomas told Jones soon after that. "I'm a quarterback."
Chip Kelly agreed. Kelly, Oregon's offensive coordinator at the time, had earlier told Jones, "We love that kid."
"He's solid LSU," came the reply. But upon hearing from Jones that Thomas had soured on the Tigers and was interested in Oregon, Kelly was succinct: "I'll be there tomorrow."
The kid was a natural playmaker, but Kelly also liked his resolve, his discipline. Determined to graduate early from high school so that he could take part in spring drills in 2008, Thomas took night classes during the fall of his senior year. He would rush from football practice to a nearby Target, where Latina worked and where he had a job wrangling shopping carts in the parking lot. From there he'd go to night school.
When Masoli was knocked out of the Boise State game two years ago, then Ducks coach Mike Bellotti burned Thomas's redshirt. It nearly paid off, as the 18-year-old completed 13 of 25 passes for three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes of a 37--32 loss. "Honestly, when he came off the bench against Boise," says Kelly, "he didn't know what he didn't know. He was just throwing the ball right and left...."
Redshirted a year ago, Thomas went into camp in August locked in competition for the starting job with senior Nate Costa. Based on Thomas's improved passing and grasp of the zone-read option, his ability to escape the rush and make something out of nothing, plus his knack for taking care of the ball, the Texan got the nod.
"He doesn't get rattled," says Kelly. Thomas was imperturbable in Oregon's come-from-behind 48--13 rout of Tennessee, its come-from-behind win over Arizona State and its rally on Saturday. Following his second interception—a diving pick by Stanford free safety Delano Howell in the second quarter—Thomas went to the sideline and simply told Kelly, "I need to read the safety."
"Yeah, you do," came the reply. End of conversation.
What would Thomas's focus be following the win? "Making sure the team's not overwhelmed by this big victory," he replied. "Coming in Monday, going to work."
He's young, talented, resilient and a leader. Since Thomas uncommitted to LSU three years ago, "Les Miles and I have never talked about it," says Jones. "But I gotta believe they wish they had him there at LSU. Playing quarterback."