BLACKSBURG, Va. | No.
Logan Thomas said “no” to the NFL. After he did that, he returned to his Virginia Tech teammates and said “never again.”
Never again would he stay quiet if he saw someone lollygagging. Never again would he take it easy in the weight room. Never again would he rely on someone else to organize offseason workouts.
Most of all, never again would he allow his name to be attached to a 7-6 team.
“I’m coming back,” Thomas said in January when he decided to forego the NFL for his senior season.
The 6-6, 254-pound senior is back in Blacksburg to restore a program’s tarnished image. He’s back because he, too, needs a little polish. Most of all, he is back because the honorable thing to do is finish what he started.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Thomas said this month. “It’s time to step up.”
Receiver D.J. Coles saw the change in Thomas’ demeanor during the very next weight-room session following the return announcement.
“He was more vocal,” Coles said. “He was more of a vocal leader on offense and defense, making sure that every player knows what their responsibilities are. He held everyone accountable. He was the leader of 7-on-7 and organized all of it. You could see it.”
Being vocal is good. Holding players accountable is good. Being organized is good. But if Thomas punches the clock with an empty toolbox, the bandwagon cannot be repaired. To that end, Hokies coach Frank Beamer performed his own overhaul, turning the offense over to former Michigan, Florida and Auburn assistant Scot Loeffler.
If Thomas was looking for a fiery role model, Loeffler was his Yoda. Emphatic and emotional, Loeffler poured himself into every film session, practice and drill with the same intensity that spurred the growth of past quarterback charges, such as Chad Henne and Tim Tebow.
So understand when Loeffler speaks highly of Thomas, it is worthy praise, considering a 17-year coaching career that also witnessed the arrival of Tom Brady.
“I wish to goodness I could coach him the rest of my career, to say the least,” Loeffler said. “I love being around him. He’s competitive. I think his leadership has really, really improved. He’s fun in the meeting rooms, he knows when it’s business.”
Upon his arrival, Loeffler installed an offense that emphasizes higher-percentage pass plays and placed a premium on limiting turnovers. It was an offense that demanded much-improved decision-making from Thomas and asked him to improvise less.
“It doesn’t mean he needs to go outside the box and be Superman,” Loeffler said. “The minute you try to be Superman is when you press and mistakes occur. He needs to do his job and that’s what we are focusing on.”
In 2012, Thomas indeed found himself trying to do too much and accomplishing far too little. As a second-year starter, he had the knowledge to see where the team was breaking down. As a junior, he felt it wasn’t his place to usurp the leadership of the senior class.
While Thomas deferred, the Hokies declined. On Oct. 20, the Hokies suffered a 38-17 loss at Clemson that made a 10-win season doubtful. The following week, a 30-12 loss at Miami made it a reality.
A streak of eight consecutive 10-win seasons ended that night in South Florida. Then came a third consecutive defeat at Florida State and suddenly the best the Hokies could hope for was a seven-win season, which the program hadn’t experienced since 1997. In fact, it had been 20 years since a Beamer team lost as many as six games (2-8-1 in 1992).
Through it all, Thomas showed enough flashes for ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper to say he remained in the first-round discussion.
But being in the discussion wasn’t enough for Thomas. He wanted to lead the discussion. In the end, that made his return to Virginia Tech inevitable.
Even an average 2013 by Thomas’ standards would imprint his name atop most of Virginia Tech’s career quarterback charts. As much as he has toiled in the shadows of other luminary Hokies quarterbacks, Thomas already owns more passing yards (6,096) than the combined totals of Michael and Marcus Vick (5,941). He needs another 922 to surpass his predecessor Tyrod Taylor’s 7,017 and become the school’s all-time leader.
He already owns two of the three best single-season passing totals in school history and the best marks since Don Strock’s 3,243-yard campaign in 1972.
But average in 2013 will not be good enough. It won’t rocket him to the top of the NFL draft. It won’t guarantee Virginia Tech’s return to a 10-win season. It does not assure the Hokies of a spot in the ACC championship game.
“He didn’t want to leave with having an average season,” said Zack McCray, a junior tight end who also happens to be Thomas’ cousin. “Logan never wanted to be average. That makes him step it up in every aspect.”
During the ACC Kickoff in July, Thomas said as much.
He reiterated his desire to lead and his goal of putting Virginia Tech back in the place where he found it. The task is not a simple one for a team that begins its season Saturday against two-time defending national champion Alabama.
Thomas still does not know who his starting wide receivers will be. Two true freshmen reside atop the depth chart at left tackle. The situation at running back is sketchy.
Is Thomas the man for the job? Does he have enough tools to work with? Affable and easy-going at most times, those two questions scrubbed the smile from his face and hardened his gaze.
“Yes,” he said. “We can’t be 7-6 again. Never again.”