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By LARRY VAUGHT
Because he wanted to be able to focus on helping his team win a Florida state high school championship, Khalid Thomas decided there was no reason to keep looking for a college because of the way he felt about the University of Kentucky. The Tallahassee running back had a host of scholarship offers, including Ohio State, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.).
“But I loved the coaching staff at Kentucky. It’s a group of good guys. I felt at home up there,” said Thomas.
One reason is that his older brother, Kadeem, will be a freshman linebacker at UK this season.
“I’m used to playing with him. I’m actually kind of happy that we’re going to be able to play again in college. He kept it real at ease with me, but he told me Kentucky was a place he was really enjoying even if he was a little homesick,” Thomas said. “Nobody at Kentucky tried to force me to make a decision and my family was the same way. My mother is kind of happy we are going to be together. She’s even talked about purchasing a Kentucky license plate. Everybody here was pretty happy with my decision.
Thomas says he grew up “loving and watching” football, in part because his dad “was a pretty good player” and in part because of the rivalry with his brother.
“We helped each other a lot. We would play until we could not play any more. We went back and forth a lot because we are both very competitive,” Thomas, who was recruited by UK offensive line coach Mike Summer, said. “He is one to set a goal and accomplish that goal. He makes sure everything is right and he always knows what to do. He just makes play and is a great player. Myself, I am a playmaker. I feel like I am always in a position to make a play. I have the mindset to take it easy, be patient and just play ball.”
Thomas was Godby High School’s leading rusher and receiver last year. This will be his fourth season to start at running back — a rarity at the Florida High School that is used to producing college players.
“We’ve have a lot of great running backs here, but he is just a complete player,” Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell, a former assistant coach at Alabama, said. “He plays both sides of the ball, too. I have not seen anything he cannot do as a football player. The University of Kentucky is getting a tremendous player.
“He is extremely productive. He makes plays when there is not a play. He has exceptional ball skills. He’s able to catch the ball and will fit very well into what system UK is using right now.”
Cottrell says he could be a “premier” defensive back.
“I just started playing defense for us last year, and had a good time,” Thomas said. “It was my idea to try and help the team. I did it in middle school and was a good safety. The coaches gave me a chance and I was just able to make plays. The coaches said they wondered why they didn’t let me play defense a long time ago.”
Cottrell said he was surprised when Thomas made a mid-July decision about his college choice so he could concentrate on his senior season.
“I was a bit surprised it was Kentucky, but I knew it could happen. Mike Summers and Joker Phillips did a tremendous job recruiting Kadeem, who was one of the leading tacklers in Florida and an all-state selection,” Cottrell said. “As Kadeem was making visits and things were going on, Khalid was paying close attention. He told me if felt like if he committed now, he could do a better job for Godby High School this season. He’s the consummate team player like that.
“When Khalid made his unofficial visit to Kentucky, it just changed everything. He was so impressed with Joker Phillips, and I am very impressed with the job Joker is doing. My players feel like it is really going to be a strong situation at Kentucky in the next few years. I expect Kadeem to be a big part of the team for Kentucky and I expect Khalid to have a major impact. They are a big part of what Godby football is all about and they will both be that way at Kentucky.”
Cottrell says there is little doubt that Kadeem Thomas, a linebacker, can help the Wildcats.
“He is an inside linebacker who is very physical. He was one of the best run stoppers coming out of Florida,” Cottrell said. “He’s just a very intelligent player who picks things up very quickly. I think he will do things (defensive coordinator) Rick Minter wants from his inside linebackers. He just has a knack for being around the ball, which is why he makes so many tackles. I think he could be very big on special teams and make an impact on their team this year.”
Cottrell knows Khalid Thomas could be the same way next year and also knows other recruiters won’t back off because of his verbal commitment to UK.
“On the day he committed, we still got all kinds of calls trying to get him. The recruiting won’t stop,” Cottrell said. “But I do know the type of person he is, and the kind of family he has, and I think he is committed to Kentucky and will be a big part of coach Phillips’ recruiting class. Kentucky is doing a good job recruiting in Florida and they are still on a couple of other guys here and we have several juniors that are really good, too.”