INDIANAPOLIS — Tavion Thomas showed up at the NFL Scouting Combine with a simple mission.
The Dunbar grad just wants to show NFL teams he can do everything they might ask of a running back, including catch the ball out of the backfield and block.
They already know he can tote the rock after the power back picked up almost 2,000 yards in two seasons at Utah.
“I’m just gonna run through you,” he said Saturday morning. “I can do a little bit of everything, but I’m gonna try to run through you. I’ve got a lot in the bag, man, and I’m gonna release it. Y’all are gonna see it at the next level.”
Getting to this point — the brink of a pro football career — was no easy task for Thomas.
He was a star in multiple sports for the Wolverines and had more than a dozen scholarship offers, including Oklahoma and Alabama, before eventually settling on Cincinnati in February 2018.
He left the Bearcats after two years, though, and ended up at Utah in late summer 2021, but not before a stop at Independence Community College in Kansas during the pandemic season of 2020 and a period of homelessness back in Dayton.
“Sometimes I try to look back and reflect on things I don’t want to look back to, but I know you can’t be stuck in the past because you could miss your opportunity in the future,” he said. “I try to just take everything one day at a time and pray and talk to the ones close to me and keep my mentals and stuff right.”
Thomas emerged as a star for the Utes in 2021 when the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder ran for 1,108 yards and a school record 21 touchdowns en route to being named First Team All-Pac 12.
The criminology major ran for 687 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games in 2022, though his season was cut short by a toe injury and the Salt Lake City Tribune reported he faced internal team discipline for an unspecified incident during the season following a return trip to Dayton for the funeral of a relative last fall.
Thomas said his toe is all healed up and he is looking forward to doing every drill at the combine, something that could boost his status in what is reportedly a deep class of running backs.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m ready to go to war, put everything on the line.”
During his 15 minutes with reporters Saturday, Thomas described himself as the most underrated back in the draft.
While playing up the underdog role is something almost everyone in sports seems to do these days no matter how many (if any) people actually express doubts about them, there may be something to it for Thomas.
NFL.com ranked 27 backs heading into the combine, and he was at the bottom of the list.
“To be in this position, I’m just so grateful to have this opportunity to showcase my talent and my ability,” he said. “Being one of the 300 people that came, you’ve gotta take advantage of it.
“You’ve got your highs and lows, but I just want to prove myself. Being the most underrated back in the class, I just want to prove myself that I’m the top back in the class.”
He said he maintains an important relationship with former Dunbar coach Darran Powell and relies on his mother, Rena, for support as well.
“They keep me grounded, keep me humble and let me know I’m right there and to keep my confidence high,” Thomas said. “They tell me every day, ‘You’ve got it man. Just you gotta work for it. It ain’t gonna be given to you. You’ve gotta put your best foot forward and get it.’”
Thomas grew up a Steelers fan but is prepared to play for any team that wants him this spring.
Wherever he lands, he would also like to give back to his hometown if he gets the opportunity.
“I really don’t want to say all my plans for the city, but I want to have camps and bring awareness to my city because it’s very small,” he said. “They talk about Cali, Texas and Florida but we got some ball players in the Midwest, up north. So if I can help bring my platform to the city more in Dayton, Ohio, I want to be able to do that so people can come work.”
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