Benny Snell Jr. set the standard for freshman football players at the University of Kentucky. Just a year later the running back might have some competition, from a wide receiver.
Clevan Thomas Jr. has only been on campus for two months and participated in four practices, but Eddie Gran likes what he sees.
“He’s pretty good. I’ll tell you what he does, he battles. He’s understanding it. He reminds me a little bit of Benny in terms of his mentality and how he’s going about it as a freshman,” Gran said after today’s practice. “Now, lot of time left and all that, but I sure do like where he’s at.”
When the slot receiver first heard what his offensive coordinator said, Clevan was stunned.
“It’s a shock,” he said after taking a few seconds to collect himself. “For him to compare us two, it’s really showing me that hey, I really got a chance to do something for Kentucky.”
They play different positions, but they share a lot in common. They’re both big bodies from a football background that bring a discipline to the training facility.
Thomas Jr. was so big, he didn’t get to play wide receiver until he was in high school. “I was chunky. I was really chunky. It was to the point where I couldn’t even run,” Thomas Jr. said with a chuckle.
His father, Clevan Sr., told him his future as an offensive lineman wouldn’t work. He’d have to shape up to be a receiver. Clevan Sr. knows a thing or two about football. A National Championship-winning cornerback for Florida State in the late 90’s, Clevan Sr. only recently hung up his Arena Football cleats. Not coincidentally, Snell’s father also played extensively after college. Benny Sr. was featured in the XFL’s 30 for 30.
Growing up in a household of professional football players is probably a little different than most. I’m sure they learned many things, but one thing stands out to coach Gran: discipline. Everybody saw Snell’s ability to break tackles, but they didn’t see his daily workmanlike mentality, something Gran holds in high regard.
“I do like his toughness,” Gran said of Thomas Jr. “He’s got a mental toughness about him.”
But Lamar Thomas’ takes it one step further than Gran. Clevan is a quick learner who doesn’t hesitate to ask questions.
“That’s a good thing,” LT said. “Most kids let their pride and ego get in the way of maybe not knowing what to do, but he’ll stand on the side and he’ll ask, ‘Hey, what was that play again?’ He’s always inquisitive about what’s going on and very aware of his surroundings. He’s doing a really good job.”
Lamar Thomas has heard his players talk plenty of trash in his day, but Thomas Jr. appears to be less boisterous. There’s still talking, but he’s backing it up.
“Freshmen, a lot of times they come in and talk big game about learning stuff, and they don’t follow through, but he’s on point,” LT said.
Through four practices they’ve already extended his range, allowing him to receive reps at both slot positions. Clevan welcomes the challenge. For him, it’s just another opportunity to see the field.
“I came here early for a purpose. I just don’t want to come here early and just not play.”
Benny Snell will miss Boom Williams in his backfield, but if Clevan Thomas can continue to develop at this rate, we’ll likely see another No. 18 making plays at Commonwealth Stadium this fall.