By Charles Renning
Jake Lacey/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman wide receiver Mike Thomas made a big impression on head football coach Mike Stoops during the UA's opening-game 27-24 loss to Utah. Thomas caught seven catches for 92 yards, tallying his first career touchdown.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 8, 2005
Speedster Thomas makes mark on receiving corps
Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops might have a good reason for closing the Wildcats' daily practices from now on.
Stoops could have a secret weapon in freshman receiver Mike Thomas, and if opponents want to get a head start on containing the DeSoto, Texas, native, the practice field would be the place to start.
"He plays exactly how he practices - full speed," said Arizona wide receivers coach Charlie Williams. "He's very confident in what he does. He listens. He learns. He works to get better every day."
Thomas opened his Arizona career with a seven-catch, 92-yard performance in the Wildcats' 27-24 loss to Utah. He also grabbed a touchdown in the third quarter, tying the game at 10.
"It's not surprising to me," said Stoops about the speedster's debut. "He made plays in camp. Why wouldn't he make them in the game?"
"It's football. I'm kind of used to it," Thomas said. "I expected myself to go out there and rise to the occasion."
Although neither Stoops nor Thomas was surprised by the latter's effort, it is a rarity to have a true freshman make such an impact in his first collegiate contest.
Arizona's top three career receivers didn't top more than two catches in their first games. Only Vance Johnson in 1981 equaled Thomas' performance with nine catches for 96 yards.
"I can't remember a freshman I've coached that has stepped on the field as a freshman and played how he played," said Williams, who's been a receiver's coach at Miami and South Carolina and spent six seasons with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "You have to be somebody special (to contribute as a true freshman). He knew what he wanted to do when he came here. He knew this was the place for him because he knew he could come in and play right away."
Thomas especially caught the eye of his quarterback.
"Mike's going to be good for a while, so I'm pretty happy with the way he played and I'm confident in throwing him the ball," said redshirt sophomore Richard Kovalcheck.
For any Wildcat fan who didn't see Thomas in his debut at Utah - or in the team's final fall scrimmage Aug. 21, when he caught four passes for 107 yards and ran in a touchdown - he might remind people of junior wideout Syndric Steptoe, except with even more speed. Thomas has been clocked running the 40-yard dash in around 4.3 seconds.
Thomas has said that it's teammates like Steptoe, junior Michael Jefferson and sophomore Anthony Johnson that have made the adjustment from high school to college more immediate.
"All of them have guided me through this learning experience and took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. All of them have been a tremendous help," Thomas said.
After one game, it doesn't appear that Thomas is struggling at all to make the on-field adjustment to the faster-paced college game.
Thomas said the first two weeks of balancing football practice and school have challenged him the most.
"That's been my biggest adjustment," he said. "It's pretty tough, but it's doable."
How about a duplication of last week's performance in Saturday's home opener against NAU?
"Whenever my number is called, I'm going to try to be there and make plays," Thomas said. "God gave me some talent, and I'm just going to use that talent I was given."