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Southern Miss Surprise Adalius Thomas is the Golden Eagles' best player since Brett Favre

Nov. 15, 1999
Nov. 15, 1999

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Nov. 15, 1999

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College Basketball 1999

Southern Miss Surprise Adalius Thomas is the Golden Eagles' best player since Brett Favre

Adalius Thomas's life used to revolve around basketball. Growing
up in Nixburg, Ala., a small town 35 miles from Montgomery, he
practiced for hours on a dirt court and dreamed of playing
big-time college ball. He was named Alabama's Class 4A player of
the year as a senior in 1995 after averaging 20 points a game and
leading Central Coosa High to the state title. So it's easy to
understand why Alabamans were surprised when Thomas went to
Southern Mississippi on a football scholarship.

This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1999 issue Original Layout

"Our football team was never better than .500, and I just looked
at football as something fun to do until basketball season," says
Thomas, who was a Class 4A All-State linebacker in high school.
"But I was a 6'4" center, and I wasn't going to grow any more. In
basketball my size would always be a problem. I figured that if I
got stronger and worked hard, I could become a good college
football player."

Not even Southern Miss, the only school to offer Thomas a
football scholarship, could have predicted he would be this
good. After spending his redshirt freshman season as a
scout-team tight end, Thomas was moved to bandit, a rush
defensive end, and he has been dominant ever since. Now beefed
up to 252 pounds, he has used a combination of strength (405 in
the bench press), speed (4.55 in the 40) and athleticism
(40-inch vertical leap) to become the best player the Golden
Eagles have had since Brett Favre, who left as the school's
alltime leading passer in 1990. Thomas had a breakout season in
'98, making 71 tackles, among them a school-record 12 1/2 sacks,
and was Conference USA defensive player of the year. Through
nine games this season he has 30 1/2 career sacks, 12 1/2 more
than any other Southern Miss player ever. "There are times when
I'm watching film and I say to myself, There's no way a guy can
make a play like that," says Golden Eagles defensive coordinator
Dave Wommack. "But he's so strong and so athletic that he makes
plays most players can't."

Although Thomas has been double-teamed more this season, his
stats haven't suffered. He has 61 tackles, including 12 for
losses, second most on the team. He also has two fumble
recoveries and an amazing four blocked field-goal attempts. "He
has such great instincts and a nose for the ball," says Southern
Miss coach Jeff Bower. "He's as dominating a defensive player as
I've seen in a while."

Despite Thomas's success on the gridiron, he remains prouder of
some of his basketball exploits. He loves describing the high
school tournament game in which he dunked over current Auburn
star Chris Porter, and he cracks a big smile when he relates
that some people in Nixburg still refer to him as Baby Shaq.
Thomas played 1 1/2 seasons for the Golden Eagles basketball
team, averaging 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds as a reserve power
forward, but quit when he realized playing both sports was
taking a toll on him physically. "My body couldn't take it, and
playing basketball was hurting my preparation for football,"
says Thomas, who earned a B.S. in sports administration last
spring and is now taking courses toward a master's degree in the
same subject. "It really hurt to give up basketball; it's my
first love. But as much as I miss the game, football is now my
priority."

--B.J. Schecter

COLOR PHOTO: DARRELL MCALISTER