The plan was to sit Mark Thomas for a year. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, the quiet kid from Brunswick, Ga., was a bit lean for defensive end, his position on The Citadel’s football team.
“You’d love to redshirt him and get him bigger and stronger and have him for a full four years,” said coach Kevin Higgins.
There was only one problem with the Mark Thomas plan — Mark Thomas.
As the Bulldogs prepared for their Sept. 8 game with Georgia Southern and the Eagles’ famed triple-option offense, Thomas was on the scout team and “wreaking havoc” in practice, according to Higgins.
So much so that defensive coordinator Denny Doornbos told Higgins, “I think we need Mark to win the game on Saturday.”
Thomas played in the Bulldogs’ 23-21 upset of Georgia Southern, with a key sack among his two tackles. He followed that up the next two games with sacks against Appalachian State and North Carolina State.
With three sacks in three games, Thomas ranks second in the Southern Conference despite limited snaps as a backup.
“He’s got great speed and at an early age understands how to use his hands,” Higgins said. “But the main thing is that he’s just relentless. He’s got a great motor.”
That much has been evident since Thomas’ senior year at Glynn Academy, when he had 75 tackles and 15 sacks. Georgia Southern offered him a scholarship, but Thomas chose The Citadel, in part because he wanted to major in electrical engineering.
“I liked the coaches and the whole place,” he said. “It just felt like the right fit for me.”
Thomas impressed Citadel coaches during two-a-day practices in fall camp. Between practices one day, he stopped in the weight room and, like it was no big deal, set the school’s freshman record for the power-clean lift at 340 pounds.
Said Thomas: “I kept looking at the record on the board, and I just said, ‘I’m going to go ahead and beat this right now.’ ”
That combination of speed and strength has Citadel coaches dreaming of what Thomas might be like if he can pack on 20 or 30 pounds by his senior year. For now, he will get increasing snaps as a pass-rush specialist.
“He reminds me of Erik Clanton when Erik was coming in,” Higgins said, comparing Thomas to the Bulldogs’ former All-SoCon defensive end. “We thought Erik might be a 265-pound All-America by his senior year. He never gained that weight, but he turned into a very good player.
“Mark has a good frame. I don’t know how much weight he can gain, but I can see him as a 245-pound guy who’s very effective on the edge.”
Now that sounds like a plan.
The Citadel will honor the newest members of its Athletic Hall of Fame at Saturday’s game: former basketball coach and athletic director Les Robinson; football star Travis Jervey; track and field’s Mike Cason; and former All-SoCon pitchers Jim Scott and Brian Wiley.