NORMAN — Jordan Thomas didn’t take many Advanced Placement tests at the end of his senior year of high school.
“I was afraid of the unknown,” Thomas said.
Did the Oklahoma freshman cornerback fear failure? Was he unprepared for those tests?
No, Thomas was worried that he would pass them.
“Having to balance academics as well as football, I didn’t want to take my AP Calc test and place into Calc 2 or Calc 3, and then be struggling in that,” Thomas said. “I just took a precaution and started with the stuff I have a nice base in so I could grow from there.”
Thomas, from the Houston suburb Klein, Texas, quickly jumped past several more experienced cornerbacks on the OU depth chart during fall camp, and a lot of that is due to his high intelligence. The freshman wants to be an engineer and is already enrolled in classes like calculus and chemistry his first semester.
Early, unexpected playing time isn’t anything Thomas isn’t used to. As a 14-year-old freshman at Klein Collins High, he started nine games at cornerback for an 11-1 varsity team.
He spent time playing virtually every non-lineman position on both sides of the ball throughout his high-school career, but for most of his junior and senior seasons, he played offense.
“I think deep down inside, he really loves defense,” said Klein Collins coach Drew Svoboda. “I think that’s where he sees his identity. He’s a long cornerback who’s got good hands and he’s very intelligent. He’s not one of those guys who’s playing cornerback because he’s not tall enough and can’t catch.”
Thomas’ parents, though, never let him lose sight of what was really important.
Any grade below a “B” was unacceptable in the Thomas household, and there were consequences. Curley Thomas, Jordan’s dad, remembers making him miss an important sixth-grade football game because of grades.
“It was to prove a point that school is the vehicle, not sports,” Curley Thomas said.
Curley still takes issue with the popular star ratings used to grade prospects by major recruiting services. Jordan Thomas was considered a three-star prospect, but Curley said that’s only because “we didn’t do the circuit.”
Thomas’ sophomore year, he attended camps at LSU, Texas and Stanford. Scholarship offers started rolling in, and his parents decided that was enough.
“We felt like, ‘OK, the rest of your audition will be school. We’re not gonna run you around the country to all these camps,’” Curley Thomas said.
Jordan Thomas was originally committed to play football at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., which is ranked as one of the nation’s elite academic universities. But when he realized he could still study engineering while staying closer to home at Oklahoma, he flipped his commitment in late January.
The Sooners lost several veteran leaders in last season’s secondary, including All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, so there were plenty of opportunities for young defensive backs to earn playing time.
Still, Thomas was expected to start the season behind sophomores Dakota Austin and Stanvon Taylor, as well as junior Cortez Johnson. By the time last weekend’s season opener against Louisian Tech rolled around, he’d leap-frogged all of them.
That’s because, Thomas said, he soaked up information and instruction like a sponge once he arrived on campus. Thomas made notes even when coaches were correcting other cornerbacks’ mistakes.
“He’s gone by a few guys pretty fast,” said cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright, referring to the depth chart.
“He may not know how to play something the first time, but after the first time, he’ll learn from it. He’s got a good mixture of athletic ability, size and he is a smart guy.”
Still, that level of commitment to football might not have been possible if he had taken that AP Calculus test months earlier.
His dad, Curley Thomas, had already paid for the test and Jordan had been studying for it.
“His goal was to make an impact this year,” Curley Thomas said. “He thought that if he was put in Calc 2 or some statistics class, then he’d really have to focus on that. He didn't want to do bad in school.”
Jordan Thomas said balancing his tough courseload with football has been a challenge three weeks into the semester, but that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Asked when he has fun, Thomas replied, “I have fun when I sleep. You’ve got to rest your brain and rest your body from all the work you have to do mentally and physically. That’s it.”