You’ve been hearing a lot about Oregon Ducks star running back De’Anthony Thomas recently.
The University of Oregon sophomore standout is now considered a favorite for the Heisman trophy after USC’s recent loss to Stanford. Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley failed to throw a touchdown pass in his most recent performance, while Thomas suddenly leads the NCAA in overall TD’s on the season.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez basically pleaded with him to enter the NFL before the Wildcats come into town and face him on Saturday. Even former coach and friend of Thomas, famed USC fan Snoop Dogg announced his displeasure that the Trojans were unable to recruit him.
Now, we have learned that the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated will feature De’Anthony Thomas on the cover.
The Sports Illustrated cover says that he’s more than a running back or a receiver or a starter, but a “touchdown waiting to happen” whenever he is given the ball in Chip Kelly's spread offense.
As an Oregon fan, I’m willing to go an entire step further.
I’m willing to say that De’Anthony Thomas is more of an athletic artist than he is a football player.
The term “artist” is historically reserved for only the most elite athletes. After all, it is common knowledge that at the most definitive point in his career, Michael Jordan was pegged by many to be an artist on the basketball court.
Now that Thomas has continued to absolutely pulverize opposing defenses, I’ve realized that the moments when I’m watching Thomas on Saturday feel more like watching breathing art than football.
In 2006, legendary writer David Foster Wallace called seeing Roger Federer in person more of a religious experience than a sporting event. In his New York Times piece, Wallace wrote:
Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty.
The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.
Later in the piece, Wallace explains that time seems to slow down for Federer when he is on the court. The ball appears to inflate, his eyes bigger than that of his opponent, as if he were actually seeing the game differently.
Watching Federer, explains Wallace, is much like watching an athlete defy the basic rules and theories of metaphysics.
It has since struck me that watching De’Anthony Thomas is beginning to feel very similar to that. It is unclear if Thomas is the “best” player in college football, as the season is still young and we have yet to see how he holds up as the year progresses.
But what we have realized thus far is that the young back has become such a sensation it seems like he’s transcending the basic laws of the human body.
Oregon’s offense is often referred to as a “blur” offense, and there is not a single person in the country that can fit that offensive style better than De’Anthony Thomas.
He jumps from the line of scrimmage like a shotgun firing toward the end zone. As a byproduct of his success, I’m also beginning to believe that there is not a single person in the country (including players in the NFL, mind you) that can catch Thomas in the open field.
Watching his improbable twists and awe inducing turns is the highlight of any trip to Autzen Stadium this season. Fans pack the crowd in green and yellow jerseys sporting the number “six” on the back.
There is no such thing as an answer to “when is the first time you noticed that Thomas would be legendary?” or even “when did Thomas transcend into the position of the artist that he has become today?”
That's because he's not doing anything differently than he always has.
Recall last season against, when Thomas out juked roughly nine Washington State players in one maneuver on a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He outran an entire special teams unit—as if he had a premonition of exactly where each defender would fall.
Think about the 91-yard touchdown against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl: Thomas shot out of the backfield like a cannon, tying the game as clock expired in the first quarter.
One second he’s there, the next he's exploded downfield past an entire defense. He’s lost in the blur of the Oregon open field, notching another six points as “touchdown Oregon” is uttered once more.
He outruns opponents like he knows what’s going to happen; no one can catch up to him. The ones that can can't match his momentum and are unable to bring him down. The field feels rigged for his success, as if he were a professional running against high school amateurs.
Perhaps one fan put it best after seeing Thomas play against Tennessee Tech, “Every single time he gets the ball, you expect him to score.”
It makes sense that Sports Illustrated would target the Black Mamba as their featured star. Thomas has been electrifying this season, averaging 15.9 yards per touch and scoring seven touchdowns on only 24 offensive touches.
That’s what makes his season so impressive.
It’s like watching a movie made by one of your favorite directors. I went into Moonrise Kingdom (2012) knowing Wes Anderson’s style. I go into every Oregon game knowing that I get to see Thomas shine.
He’ll usually do the same few things.
You'll see him line up in a slot route ready to run deep, challenge a defender to a foot race, show a spin or a stutter step, and outrun a defender all the way for a score. Almost every touchdown that he has recorded thus far this season has gone something like that.
Like an exceptional artist, however, he does it better than everyone else in the world.
Meanwhile, his popularity has taken off. Thanks to the national attention from Sports Illustrated, his exposure has reached an all-time high.
According to Kristi Dosh of ESPN, De’Anthony Thomas has the best-selling jersey in NCAA College Football this September.Thomas beat out other marketable athletes such as teammate Kenjon Barner, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, USC’s Matt Barkley and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson.
It can’t be stressed enough: De’Anthony Thomas is doing magical things in Oregon this season.
Week in and week out, Thomas seems to defy the metaphysical limitations of the human body and reaching a plateau as an artist.
But let's not forget that Thomas is still a human being. He has room to grow, and has room to improve as a player. It'll be exciting to see where Thomas heads when the Oregon Ducks continue to play this season.
This Saturday, the Ducks “preseason” schedule comes to an end as they face No. 22 Arizona Wildcats.
The Wildcats are their first conference opponent of the season, and the most legitimate defensive test thus far. While some fans may speculate about the alleged “curse” of the Sports Illustrated cover, I’m going to be doing something completely different.
I’m going to be watching De’Anthony Thomas as the athletic artist that he has proven himself to be.
Bryan Kalbrosky is a Featured Columnist for the Oregon Ducks on Bleacher Report. Aside from writing for the Oregon Ducks, he is also a Featured Columnist for the New York Mets and works for the Trends N Topics Breaking News Team at Bleacher Report. He also designed and manages the website for the Oregon Ducks student section, which can be found at uopitcrew.tumblr.com. Reach him on Twitter for more of his thoughts, opinions, stories and new opportunities.