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Football Player of the Week: Thomas helps Buford smash into state championship game

Wolves running back tallies 221 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns in semifinals

POSTED: December 9, 2013 6:48 p.m.
Jared Putnam/The Times

Buford running back Joshua Thomas is tackled by Gainesville High's Jadarius Sosebee and Lewis Cousins earlier this season at City Park Stadium in Gainesville.

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BUFORD — When Buford walked off the field following the first half of last Friday’s semifinal game against Callaway, the Wolves were trailing for the first time all season.

Despite a 14-7 deficit, nobody in the Buford locker room panicked. Instead, the Wolves built a gameplan for the second half and pulled out a 24-14 victory, earning a seventh straight trip to the state championship game.

Part of the second-half gameplan on offense was simple: Give Joshua Thomas the football.

The 6-foot, 200-pound running back carried the Wolves in the second half, especially in their 17-point third quarter. The junior added two touchdowns to go along with his first-quarter score, and finished the game with a season-high 221 yards rushing.

For his efforts, Thomas is The Times’ Player of the Week.

“Credit to (Thomas), I thought he played his best game of the year,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “J.T. is a fine young man, he’s a competitive player and he’s got a chance to be a great player. He really does.

“He’s fun to coach. He’s got a lot of intangibles.”

On a night when the Wolves were challenged by one of the best defensive units they had seen all season, Thomas somehow was able to find the space and lead the Wolves.

His night got kick-started in the first quarter with the Wolves trailing 7-0, when he broke away for a 26-yard score to knot the game at 7-7.

Then after Buford was shut out in the second quarter, Thomas took over the game in the third.

“We were like, ‘You know what? We have to step it up. We like being down. We like the competition,’” Thomas said. “Coach said, ‘We have to pop the cap off.’ We popped the cap off in the second half.”

On the Wolves’ first offensive play of the half, Thomas broke away for a 48-yard run to move Buford into Callaway territory. A few plays later, he was into the end zone for 5-yard touchdown.

Following an interception, Buford took over on a short field. Once again, it was Thomas’ turn.

“It was one of those things where they were stopping our passing game and stopping outside runs, so we needed that power runner to step up,” Wolves senior wide receiver Tre’ Neal said.

“And J.T. is our power back and that is what we needed right then, to grind them and wear them down.”

On first-and-10 from the Cavalier 11, Thomas smashed his way down to the 6 before scoring on the following play, giving Buford its first lead of the night.

“We have the best line in the state, we have the best scout team in the state and we have the best community in the state,” Thomas said following Friday’s game.

“We give it all to them. They kept fueling us and fueling us.”

It was not only Thomas’ ability to find the end zone on Friday night, but also his ability to gain large chunks of yards that was key for the Buford offense. Thomas had rushes of 25 or more yards on three separate occasions, including his 26-yard touchdown in the opening quarter.

While Friday night’s performance was special for Thomas, it wasn’t unexpected. Despite playing on an offense filled with talented runners — four players have at least 400 yards rushing this season — Thomas has been the go-to back for Simpson and the offensive coaches.

“Naturally, he can be a strong leader for us,” Simpson said. “That’s come out here at the end of the year, and certainly going into next year, he is going to be a guy that we lean on as a leader in our program.”

Heading into Friday night’s Class AAA state championship game against Washington County, which is set for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff in the Georgia Dome, Thomas leads Buford with 946 yards rushing this season. He also has 14 rushing touchdowns, second only to senior Thomas Wilson’s 16 rushing scores this season.

And While Thomas has been a major factor on offense for the Wolves, his impact is also felt on the defensive side of the football. He leads the team with four fumble recoveries and a team-high three defensive touchdowns.

Moving forward, Thomas’ main focus is on winning the state title Friday night, and celebrating on the Dome floor with his teammates. Then he wants to repeat as state champion in his senior season, before going on and playing college football.

As for where he might play college ball? Thomas has plenty of options.

He already has offers from Georgia Tech, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin and others according to Rivals.com.

That number will likely increase by the time his career comes to an end at Buford.



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