De’Anthony Thomas is ready to go for the Ducks

De’Anthony Thomas is a man of many surprises.

The speedy running back grew up in the limelight as one of the

best prep players in Los Angeles, then graced the cover of a

national magazine his sophomore year with the Oregon Ducks.

But he prefers the quiet of fishing on the McKenzie River. Or

hanging out with his new pet iguana, Gucci.

There’s not a lot of time for that now, however. Thomas opened

fall camp this week, vowing a few more surprises for the upcoming

season.

”We’ve added a little more flavor to the offense,” he said

slyly.

Last season Thomas was a dual threat, running for 701 yards and

11 touchdowns and catching 45 passes for 445 yards and five more

scores. He also scored on a kickoff return and a punt return. He

was the first Oregon player in 47 years with a touchdown four

different ways.

For every 9.2 times he touched the ball, he scored.

In last season’s 35-17 Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State,

Thomas scored on a 94-yard return of the opening kickoff, the

longest ever in an Oregon bowl appearance. In two career bowl

games, he has amassed 509 all-purpose yards.

Now a junior, Thomas knows he needs to step up his game. While

he’s not talking about it, he’s already on a number of Heisman

Trophy watch lists.

But there’s the matter of position. Although he’s officially

listed at running back, he’s obviously adept at receiver also. For

the past two seasons, Thomas wasn’t pigeonholed into traditional

position meetings and instead was tutored directly by former coach

Chip Kelly.

Now that Kelly has moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles and

offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has taken over as head coach,

Thomas says he’s going to meetings with the team’s running

backs.

But don’t read too much into that.

”It doesn’t really matter,” Thomas said about his preference.

”I just want to be there for my team, lead by example and

contribute. It’s time to go to work.”

Helfrich has been noncommittal about the specifics of Thomas’

role, obviously for strategic reasons.

”To be determined. That’s the coach answer, right? It depends.

De’Anthony likes that role (in the backfield), he likes to be a

moving target that doesn’t line up in one position all the time and

certainly we like that, too. We have had that anchor for a long

time. You go back to LaMichael (James) and other guys, and we need

to find more numbers than just that one guy,” the first-year coach

said. ”That’s a position where we don’t have a ton of depth, but

De’Anthony likes the role of wide-out, motion guy, movement guy and

we like that, too, to keep him versatile against nickel defenses or

whatever defense we happen to be playing against.”

Thomas first grabbed attention when he played for Snoop Dogg’s

youth football league in Los Angeles. The rapper, whose real name

is Calvin Broadus, nicknamed the young Thomas the ”Black Mamba”

because of his ability to change direction and slip through

defenses.

At Crenshaw High School, Thomas rushed for 1,299 yards and 18

touchdowns, while also picking off five passes on defense to lead

the Cougars to their second straight city championship his senior

year.

All of the attention that he received as a youngster set him up

to handle the spotlight at Oregon, which came from the moment he

stepped on the field as a freshman. He was named the Pac-12’s

co-freshman of the year.

”None of that stuff means anything to me,” he said of the

accolades. ”I feel like I’ve been through that. I’ve already

experienced all that before. For me, I’m never satisfied. I just

want to work hard and get better.”

Thomas is such a speedster that he doubles up on the track team.

Earlier this year at the Oregon Preview meet at Hayward Field, he

won the 100 and 200 meters, and helped the Ducks’ 4×100 relay team

set a school record.

But he’s all football right now. The Ducks open the season at

home on Aug. 31 against Nicholls State and Thomas said he’s been

ready all summer. Just don’t ask him whether he’ll spend more time

at running back or at receiver this year.

”People want to know,” he said. ”People want to know what’s

going on, so I try to give them a little bit. But like I said, I

just want to contribute.”