Five minutes into an interview with Michigan senior running back
Anthony Thomas, a reporter is almost out of questions and thinks,
not for the first time, This isn't going well. Thomas's numbers
tell quite a story, a good thing, because the man known as the
A-Train does not. "He's not a guy who talks a lot," says
Wolverines guard Steve Hutchinson. "He doesn't say anything."
Looking through his notes the reporter thinks, Wait--here's
something. Thomas says the drive from Ann Arbor to his hometown
of Winnfield, La., takes 18 hours. Says he likes to push through,
no breaking it into a two-day trip. "I like to get where I'm
going," he says.
His running style is similarly direct. "He's not a dancing kind
of back," says Hutchinson. The 6'2", 223-pound Thomas can cut
around would-be tacklers, but he'd rather make them pay. The most
memorable of his 175 yards in Michigan's 14-0 win over Michigan
State last Saturday came on his second touchdown run, a 30-yard,
three-act gem, in which he broke a tackle at the left sideline,
eluded another with a spin move and bowled over two Spartans
before falling into the end zone.
Thomas is a power back with a knack for YAC (yards after
contact). Listen to Michigan tackle Jeff Backus recall the second
of the A-Train's three touchdowns against Indiana on Oct. 14. "I
looked up, and he's carrying three guys into the end zone."
Quietly, and we mean quietly--"The guy can go all day without
saying two words," says Backus--Thomas has amassed amazing
numbers. With his first touchdown last Saturday he broke the
Michigan record for most rushing touchdowns in a career, set by
Tyrone Wheatley (47, from 1991 through '94). Thomas has rushed
for 1,121 yards this season and 3,858 as a Wolverine; with three
regular-season games left, he needs 535 yards to surpass the
career rushing mark of Jamie Morris (1984 to '87).
But don't bother asking Thomas about these records, or even how
many yards he has gained this year. "I have no idea," he says.
"No clue." And don't ask if you can talk to his mother, Helen
Gilbert, who has moved from Winnfield to spend the season in Ann
Arbor. "I don't let her talk to the media," says Thomas of
protecting his mother from overzealous intruders. When he was
deciding whether to enter the NFL draft after last season,
Gilbert was deluged with phone calls from agents, reporters and
Thomas returned to Michigan for the best of reasons. Last March
he married the former Hayley Herrero, whom he had met at an Ann
Arbor art fair his freshman year. They have a three-year-old
daughter, Alexia. If he'd left college without the degree toward
which he is working, in sports management and communication, and
then been hurt in his first NFL season, "What would I do then?"
he wonders aloud. "I've got to think for the long run."
Are his NFL ambitions realistic? Absolutely, says Ron Hughes,
vice president of player personnel for the Detroit Lions. "The
thing you like about him is his consistency," says Hughes. "He
may not be the fastest guy in the world, but he's had some long
runs." Of equal importance, says Hughes, are his skills as a
receiver and blocker.
Next season he should be doing all that on Sundays. In the
meantime, the A-Train has games to win and records to break. Just
don't ask him what they are.