Michael Thomas wasn’t ready.
It’s not that he wasn’t big enough, fast enough, strong enough or good enough — the now-redshirt-sophomore wide receiver just hadn’t earned the trust of the coaching staff.
After Thomas caught three passes for 22 yards in 11 games as a freshman and starred in consecutive Spring Games for the Buckeyes, coach Urban Meyer made the decision to redshirt him for his sophomore season. Thomas sat out in 2013 before exploding back onto the scene for OSU as its top receiving threat five games into the 2014 season.
“We always knew he had it, it was just a matter of could he be consistent enough to be trusted to put on the field on a regular basis,” OSU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said after the team’s 52-24 win against Maryland on Saturday. “He continues to show that, so he’s getting rewarded.”
That reward took the form of a starting spot for Thomas, as he moved ahead of senior wide receiver Devin Smith on the Buckeyes’ depth chart before the matchup with the Terrapins. The Los Angeles-native responded with a team-high 75 receiving yards and tied for the team lead with four receptions, one of which went for a 25-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone.
“During the week we work on plays like that,” Thomas said of the touchdown catch. “We go over these plays, and coach always says go up at the highest point and get the ball and pull it to the back of your neck, so I just did it.”
It wasn’t the first big play Thomas has made this season, as he leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, while he is tied for the team-high in receiving touchdowns. His 17 receptions have averaged 18.9 yards and his 322 total yards comes out to 64.4 per game.
Thomas’ five touchdowns — which put him in a tie with Smith — have gone for an average of 32.8 yards.
While his numbers have been consistently strong throughout the season, Herman said Thomas has improved from game to game since earning a bigger role in the Buckeyes’ game plan.
“He’s a guy that continues to earn trust in us, and that’s obviously really big in this program,” Herman said. “He continues to do that, and so I don’t know if (he’s) coming into his own, I don’t know what all that means … the kid is continually earning our trust and a product of that, is seeing more and more playing time.”
As he earns even more time on the field, Thomas has had a chance to show off his skillset in front of the Buckeye faithful. Against Maryland, he had a chance to do it in front of his family as well.
Thomas’ uncle — former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson — was one of those family members in attendance, and the William Howard Taft Charter High School product said he wanted to impress in front of his relatives.
“I knew my family was here to watch me and I just wanted to make as many plays as possible and help the team,” Thomas said after the game.
He said his priority was to reach the team’s goal of a victory, but he still wanted to put on a performance of his own.
“My main goal is just get out of here on the road with a win, and then if the play came to me, I’d make it and just catch the ball and get what I can get,” Thomas said.
While making plays in games — no matter who is watching — is something Thomas hasn’t had a chance to do much before this season, that doesn’t mean his teammates are surprised by his performances.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott said Thomas was showing off his natural talent last season, even though he wasn’t able to do it on the field for the Buckeyes.
“It’s just crazy. Mike, he makes some freaky catches in practice,” Elliott said after the Maryland game. “We saw it all last year, even though he redshirted, but I’m happy to see him doing that in the games this year.”
Thomas and the rest of the Buckeyes are scheduled for a bye week before taking the field again. OSU is set to play Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.