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Defensive back commits to Lions

May 13, 2008

If Penn State’s latest football recruit turns out to be half the player his namesake was, the Nittany Lions have come up with a major addition.

Derrick Thomas — a cornerback/receiver from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Va., not the former Alabama All-American Kansas City Chiefs all-pro linebacker — is the latest in a recent surge of defensive back recruits to make verbal commitments to the Nittany Lions.

‘‘I knew about him,’’ the Washington, D.C. area high school junior, who committed to Penn State Sunday, said of the older Derrick Thomas. ‘‘One day when I was very young — I must have been 10 years old — I was googling my own name, and all these articles came up about him. So I started reading.’’

This Derrick Thomas, though, seems to have the potential to make a name for himself, or, at least, to carry on the tradition.

‘‘He’s a difference-maker in so many areas,’’ said Rick Houchens, Thomas’ coach with the Raiders until he took a job at Archbishop Carroll in January. ‘‘He hasn’t even begun to touch a piece of his talent potential.

‘‘His biggest advantage is he is so multi-talented. Penn State is getting three guys for the price of one.’’

As a junior, Thomas scored 11 touchdowns, including four on returns, and picked off three passes. Six-foot-one and 173 pounds with sub-4.5-second speed, many project Thomas as a cornerback — new Roosevelt coach Tom Green said he reminds him a bit of Justin King in his build and style. Houchens raves over Thomas’ ability to make plays with the ball in his hands and recounts watching him dodge and weave through defenses for long touchdowns.

‘‘It just comes naturally. It seems like I can see the whole field,’’ Thomas said.

Penn State seems to be of the mind that they are going to try to take advantage of everything Thomas can bring to the table.

‘‘They recruited me as an athlete,’’ Thomas, who reportedly averaged 20 yards per catch as a receiver last season, said. ‘‘Wherever they put me, I’ll do my best.’’

Thomas had additional offers from Illinois, Maryland and Pitt.

‘‘I was just talking around the family. My grandma, my mom, my aunt, my dad all liked my decision,’’ Thomas said.

Thomas made his first visit to Penn State on Saturday for the Nike Training Camp, but he said he had been considering making a commitment the whole week leading up to that event. While Thomas hadn’t seen Penn State, he was familiar with the school, because Nittany Lion wide receiver Derrick Williams, a Roosevelt graduate, had told him all about it.

‘‘Derrick came back here for two weeks last summer. We worked out together,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘He told me they were interested in me. He told me I should look into it.’’

Williams wasn’t the only one. After the Nike camp, Thomas was seen talking and shaking hands with Malcolm Willis and Darrell Givens, two other D.C. area defensive backs that had committed to Penn State.

‘‘Me and Darrell are close friends. He told me that he was decommitting from Ohio State and coming to Penn State, and I should come, too. He was recruiting me,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘I didn’t tell him then that I was going to commit.’’

Thomas’ choice gives Penn State six recruits for 2009. Willis committed a couple of weeks ago and helped convince Givens and New York’s Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to join him.

Now Thomas seems to be following suit. He said he has been talking to his friends Stephen Morris and Devon Smith about becoming Nittany Lions. Morris is a cornerback from Eleanor Roosevelt. Smith is an athlete from Westlake, Va.

‘‘Coach [Larry] Johnson is visiting Devon Smith [today],’’ Thomas said. ‘‘Devon told me, if he gets an offer, he’s going to commit. I think he might get an offer.

‘‘We’re trying to get the best people here so we can win a national championship.’’

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