While junior wide receiver Devin Thomas was busy fielding questions from the media about his four catch, 156-yard performance that included a touchdown last Saturday against Bowling Green, senior defensive end Ervin Baldwin made the receiver who was almost impossible to stop do just that.As Baldwin was exiting the press trailer, he exclaimed “showtime,” referring to Thomas’ nickname. The interjection prompted several questions aimed at the Spartans’ new big play threat.
“That nickname, I got it back in little league,” the 6-foot-2, 218-pound wide receiver said. “Making plays, go out there and it’s showtime.”
Even though Thomas bathed in the spotlight as a kid, he had to wait longer than he hoped for “showtime” to premiere.
He waited for Division I scholarship offers to come, but poor grades eliminated that possibility.
He waited for his chance in junior college at Coffeyville Community College, only to be redshirted his freshman year.
Position Wide receiver
Weight 218 pounds
2007 statistics Nine receptions, 262 yards (first in Big Ten), two touchdowns, 408 all-purpose yards (first in Big Ten)
He waited for former MSU head coach John L. Smith to utilize him in the pass-friendly spread offense, but spent most of his time behind the sidelines instead of playing in between them.
Thomas has waited long enough – now, it’s showtime.
Despite the bumps and potholes Thomas had to endure on his road to MSU, he might not have even pursued football were it not for a life-changing decision as a teenager.
Although his father, Dwight Thomas, didn’t see Devin often aside from football and basketball games, the two maintained contact while Devin lived with his mother in Ann Arbor. And while Devin’s mother disagreed with her son chasing a sports dream that so rarely comes to fruition, his father supported Devin’s athletic endeavors.
The relationship Devin and his father developed over sports allowed Devin to see what he had been missing in his life, which prompted him to move in with his father in Canton.
“When he came back in my life, I was eager to be with him,” Thomas said. “So the opportunity came for me to stay with him, and things got a lot better for me.
“We bonded real good, it was like the father-son aspect. It was just good, I needed that around 15, 16 years old.”
Now, it seems that everything has fallen into place for Thomas. But all that sitting, all that waiting – all of that produced a characteristic that has fueled his rise from a junior college redshirt to the Big Ten Conference’s leader in receiving yards.
“I always had a chip on my shoulder because it’s never been easy for me,” Thomas said. “I always take things in stride and be blessed with my opportunities and be thankful for them.”
When the Spartans’ top three receivers graduated after last season, Thomas finally got the opportunity he had been preparing for his whole life. There were vacancies to fill, and Thomas wanted to be first in line.
“In the spring and then going into fall, all of us were fighting for spots, and the jobs were open to anybody,” Thomas said. “I knew it was time for me to step up and do what I can do.”
After a mediocre spring camp, Thomas was determined to add truth to the nickname that is tattooed on his left and right triceps in summer camp.
According to MSU head coach Mark Dantonio, he accomplished that goal – and hasn’t stopped since.
“Where you really start to see him play well was in summer camp,” Dantonio said. “He’s taken that from summer camp and really just built on that throughout the season.”
Dantonio, though, is careful to not inflate his players’ egos early in the season. He warns that Thomas has played well in his first two games but in the end, it’s only the first two games.
That doesn’t mean Dantonio isn’t satisfied.
While Dantonio said he always knew Thomas was a talented player, it’s the intangible qualities of his football demeanor that have elevated his game.
“He’s exceeded my expectations in the way that he’s approached things,” Dantonio said. “His tenacity about making a play, whether that’s running down on the kickoff team, but his tenacity and his way of going about things right now is the most impressive thing to me.”
Junior quarterback Brian Hoyer isn’t as impressed by Thomas’ play. While fans wonder where Thomas came from and why he didn’t play last year, Hoyer has known all along about the Spartans’ secret wide receiver.
“He always knew he had the talent to do what he’s doing now, but he never really got the opportunity,” Hoyer said. “Now that he’s getting those opportunities, he’s excited. You can tell he’s more excited – he comes out ready to practice every day, and he’s just really focused on getting better and better.”
Fans see that Thomas leads the Big Ten in receiving yards. They see his ability to catch the deep ball. They see his speed. They see him scoring touchdowns.
What Dantonio prefers to emphasize, though, is what the fans might overlook. An important block downfield. A crisply run route. Mental preparation. All of that, Dantonio said, is what makes Thomas the player he is.
“If you really watched him throughout the entire game, he’s on our kickoff team, he was on our return team at times, he’s a kickoff returner, he could run down on a punt if we wanted him to,” Dantonio said. “He’s not just a wide receiver, he’s a complete football player.”
Dantonio’s assessment makes it difficult to comprehend why Thomas had to wait so long, as has his performance this season.
Now, the curtains are drawn.
The critics are silent.