Tampa (Fla.) Gaither High School won't have a shortage of eyes on its defense, especially along the line, in 2021.
Mario Eugenio is coming off of 17 sacks in 2020 and has blossomed into a national recruit while inside big Tawfiq Thomas patrols the middle for the Cowboys.
SI All-American recently saw Thomas and nearly didn't recognize him, though, due to his trimmed frame. The rising-senior recruit says he's down to 325 pounds after being listed at 350-plus pounds as a junior.
Thomas was sporting an Iowa State shirt that day and admitted the Cyclones were one of his top schools. The official list of favorites will soon drop, just before he takes a trio of June official visits.
"Michigan, Iowa State and Kansas," he said. "Kansas is the 4th, Iowa State is the 11th and Michigan is the 18th."
More than a dozen programs have offered the interior talent a scholarship but he will get his first hard look at several before potentially closing in on a verbal commitment ahead of the 2021 football season.
A Team Tampa bus tour will enable him to be seen by programs yet to offer, like Texas A&M, Florida and Ole Miss, among others on the unofficial visit itinerary. In between, he will make the official visits with those he's built strong relationships with.
It's a family courting from the Michigan coaching staff.
"We did the Zoom meetings online and theirs is wonderful, I just love they school," Thomas said. "The facilities are great, coaches are fantastic. Coach (Shaun) Nua, I love him as a person. Me, him and my mom have a great relationship. He checks up on me a lot."
The Jayhawk approach has been steady despite their coaching change. There was continuity with the Tampa talent's potential position coach.
"Kansas talks to me a lot, they show so much love," he said. "I even play a game with one of the coaches, Coach (Kwahn) Drake, online. We play Madden but he's not that good (laughing)."
The official visit with some recent regional rapport is Iowa State. It has recruited the bay area well, including Thomas' close friend Deon Silas in the 2021 cycle.
The former Lutz (Fla.) Steinbrenner running back reports good things of the program to Thomas, who has another friend preparing for college life in Ames.
"Iowa State, their whole coaching staff loves me," he said. "Rocco (Becht), their quarterback commit, is one of my closest friends since middle school. They're just always talking about it and they said I'd love it and want me to come. I'm so excited. Me and Mario are going on the same day and we're going to see it online."
Additional offers could alter his plans, he says, part of the reason he is leaving availability for an additional pair of official visits in the summer or fall in time for college football game weekends.
As a junior, Thomas helped Gaither to an undefeated regular season and deep playoff run with 15 tackles for loss and three sacks in 10 games of action. The Cowboys had one of the top defenses in the Sunshine State, pitching five shutouts on the campaign, including two in the state playoffs.
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