Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
Thomas makes most of chanceBy PAT DOOLEY Sun sports writer Birmingham, Ala. He thought he had it all planned out. He'd get his grades in shape at Perry (Ga.) High and head to Statesboro where he would walk on to play for the Division I-A Eagles.
So how in the world did Dontarrious Thomas end up here, one the elite players in the SEC and one of two all-stars representing Auburn at Media Days?
Basically, he got lucky. Then, he took advantage of his luck. As a result, Thomas enters his junior season as the defending champion for total tackles in the conference. He had 122 as a sophomore, not bad for a football player nobody wanted.
Except a desperate Tommy Tuberville. "We got on the job late and we were looking under rocks," Tuberville said.
It was his first recruiting class after moving from Ole Miss to Auburn. Tuberville sent assistant coach Hugh Nall on a recruiting trip and he came back with a skinny cornerback nicknamed "Reindeer" who was a better athlete than he was a football player.
Thomas excelled in track and was a solid basketball player, good enough in South Carolina's camp that the coaches said they'd offer him a scholarship. But Thomas wanted to play football.
"I thought I'd just be a walk-on," he said. "I love football and I figured there are a lot of 6-foot-3 basketball players. I was OK, but I wasn't that good. When Auburn offered me a scholarship, I was real surprised."
Even Tuberville admits it was a reach, one that has certainly paid off.
"He wasn't that good a football player," Tuberville said. "He couldn't carry any weight. He was tall and skinny and nobody wanted to take a chance on him."
Coming out of high school, Thomas weighed 183 pounds. After a year in the weight room and with a nutrionist, he was ready to play, making 62 tackles and starting three games as a freshman.
Today, he is up to 230 pounds and is a preseason All-American.
"He had to learn how to lift weights," Tuberville said. "He had to realize it took more than 30 minutes in the weight room to get bigger. You have to spend two or three hours at a time.
"He just made himself an outstanding player. He is a unique player."
Tuberville compared him to Jesse Armstead, who played for Tuberville at Miami and is now with the Washington Redskins, except that Thomas "has more range."
You have to have range to make 122 tackles, including six games with double-figure totals. This season, he moves from being an inside linebacker to the outside.
That will allow Thomas to blitz more. Who knows how many tackles he'll make this season?
"I never thought I'd be a linebacker coming out of high school," he said. "Being a cornerback in high school, I'm not scared of covering receivers or tight ends this season. I'm comfortable with the position."
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.
The Associated Press Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville - shown at Media Days Wednesday - compared Dontarrious Thomas to Jesse Armstead, who played for Tuberville at Miami and is now with the Washington Redskins, except that Thomas "has more range."

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