Having the answer a habit for Thomas
Darron Thomas could have skipped taking precalculus his senior year at Aldine Senior High School.
After all, he was already on pace to graduate a semester early and didn’t need a fourth math class, especially during his final prep football season. But he wanted to sharpen his math skills in preparation for college.
So as a senior, there was Thomas in Ron Van Raemdonck’s honors class whizzing through trigonometry assignments solving right triangles, using cosine to find missing angles and calculating force vectors while mostly racking up As.
Afterward, when his classmates raised their hands for help and Van Raemdonck was busy with other students, Thomas always said the same thing.
“I’ll go get it Mr. Van.”
And with that, Thomas would walk over and start answering his classmates’ questions.
“That doesn’t happen a lot,” Van Raemdonck says, “especially from an athlete.”
Thomas is one who’s beloved at this diverse, north suburban high school of 2,350 students. But he’s still largely anonymous as Oregon’s first-year starting quarterback entering Monday night’s BCS Championship Game against Auburn in Glendale, Ariz.
Directing the Ducks’ high-flying, fast-paced spread offense this season, the dual-threat redshirt sophomore has thrown for 2,518 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions, as well as ran for 492 yards and five touchdowns.
“Everything he has done here, it hasn’t surprised us,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly says. “Darron has done a fantastic job.”
But like those posed to him by classmates at Aldine, there have been questions that Thomas has had to answer at Oregon after some off-the-field incidents.
During his freshman year at Oregon, he was a passenger in a Ford Mustang that was racing at the time it collided with another vehicle, according to The Oregonian. He luckily escaped the wreck with just a bruised elbow, while the Oregon football player driving needed 75 stitches to close a 1-inch gash on his forehead.
In June, Thomas was again a passenger in a vehicle, this time driven by friend and then-fellow Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, when it was pulled over and marijuana cigarettes were found in the glove compartment. Thomas was not arrested nor cited, but Masoli was ticketed for marijuana possession and two traffic offenses.
Already suspended for this season after pleading guilty to breaking into a fraternity house three months earlier, Masoli was kicked off the team by Kelly. His dismissal got the full attention of Thomas, who was distraught about his friend leaving.
“It makes you think about things,” Thomas says.
Like all of the teachers, coaches and students at Aldine living vicariously through Thomas. They remember him as a friendly, hard-working type who once worked at Target rounding up shopping carts and cleaning bathrooms.
For 32 years, Leticia Silva has taught at Aldine. Over the years, she’s become used to athletes being loud and challenging her for control.
But Thomas was so quiet in Silva’s introductory computers class that she didn’t know he was a football player until other students told her.
“It was refreshing,” Silva says.
In Silva’s class, Thomas also answered his fellow classmates’ questions about Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
“He didn’t go up to them,” Silva says. “They’d come to him and say, ‘Can you help me?’ ”
Because Thomas did so well in Van Raemdonck’s class, the two rarely discussed math. Instead, they talked about their common interest of college football.
Over the years, Van Raemdonck has befriended some of his students, but few of them return to visit. He didn’t think he was as close with Thomas as other students when Thomas graduated in December 2007.
That was until there was a knock on his classroom door one day. It was Thomas, who was home visiting after finishing up his first year at Oregon.
Van Raemdonck was surprised to see that his former student had remembered him.
He was even more stunned when Thomas came back the next year.
Now, Van Raemdonck expects it of Thomas.
“I’m appreciative of him doing it,” Van Raemdonck says. “It makes me feel good.”
Just like it does for Silva when she hears her young son brag about seeing Thomas on television and hearing announcers mention Aldine High.
“He was my student,” Silva says. “He wasn’t a star. He was my student. Now, he’s a star and other people are recognizing that.”
Now, they are just waiting to see if Thomas can answer one more question, whether he can win a national championship.