Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thomas Erases Doubts; Gators Freshman Is Now Reaping the Benefits from His Hard Work

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thomas Erases Doubts; Gators Freshman Is Now Reaping the Benefits from His Hard Work

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, The Times-Union

GAINESVILLE -- Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas understands the doubts.

He is 6-foot-4 and he weighs, depending on the week, anywhere from 289 to 300 pounds, so it's hard to believe he can do a standing backflip.

Even though Florida coach Ron Zook, defensive line coach Red Anderson and Mandarin High School coach Richard Burnoski admit to having seen Thomas do it, there's still a bit of disbelief.

"He did it when they came in the stadium during recruiting," Zook said. "He's an athletic guy. It's amazing how athletic he is."

Athletic is throwing aside an offensive lineman and chasing a running back down from behind. Doing a back flip at that size borders on the surreal.

That athletic ability is a big part of why Thomas struggled early this season. Like many freshmen, Thomas had to adjust to the speed and intensity of the college game, but he was further held back by his insistent belief that he would be able to make that adjustment by simply relying on his athletic ability.

"He's like most of these guys that come out of high school. They don't realize the intensity level, the speed of the game and the amount of work that goes into preparing them," Anderson said. "In high school, he was bigger, stronger, faster than most of the people he played against. Then all of a sudden, you come to a level of competition where the guys are bigger than you are and just as fast and stronger."

Thomas believed he'd still be able to do what he did at Mandarin -- use his quickness to shoot the gap between the linemen and nail the ballcarrier in the backfield or sack the quarterback. He tried that, but could only get as far as a step or two before he was hammered by a guard or cut by the center.

That went on for the first six games of the season. He finally figured that wasn't working against Ole Miss, which rushed for 223 yards in a 20-17 victory in Gainesville.

"When I came in [to Florida], I was trying to go back to high school and trying to shoot the gap," Thomas said. …

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