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MANHATTAN, KAN. (AP) - Out of the corner of his eye, Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman saw something that made him gulp.
An unblocked Iowa State safety was flashing into the backfield, taking dead aim at Daniel Thomas just as he was getting the ball.
“I thought I’d seen just about every move he has,” Coffman said of his humble running back. “Pretty sweet.”
Football always came easy to this easygoing son of a Georgia pastor. It was all that other stuff that led him through three different junior colleges and at least one crisis of confidence before he finally landed safely at Kansas State.
Now he’s averaging 157 yards per game for the unbeaten Wildcats (4-0), excelling at a position he never played until last year. NFL scouts are also taking notice of a remarkably fast, fluid and elusive 238-pounder.
“He is a great running back,” said Central Florida coach George O'Leary. “He will be playing on Sunday.”
For a couple of worrisome years, it looked like Thomas would never reach his potential. He was in peril of joining a mostly unseen army of unfortunate young people who never meet minimum NCAA academic standards and drop back into the crowd, their athletic talents forever untapped.
An option quarterback at Hilliard, Fla., high school, he was offered a scholarship by Ole Miss. But he failed to qualify. So it was on to Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he rushed for 618 yards and six TDs and passed for 450 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Florida and Oklahoma came calling. The Sooners wanted to turn him into a safety. Florida foresaw him as a quarterback.
But still the grades were not up to snuff. He began to wonder if the struggle was worth it.
“I think I was pretty distracted,” he said. “I had just never thought studying and going to class was important.”
At the Elm Grove Baptist Church across the state line in Florida, Pastor Jerald Thomas asked the congregation to pray for his son, who enrolled at Butler Community College in Kansas. Then, finally, he got his academics in line with a couple of classes at Manhattan (Kan.) Christian and enrolled at Kansas State.
“What a journey,” he said. “I could probably write a book about it.”
To that point, he had played quarterback, linebacker and safety. But when he reported for his first meeting at Kansas State, he was told to report to the running backs’ meeting.
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