UM quarterback N’Kosi Perry talks about WR Jeff Thomas
Rumors swirled for more than 12 hours before Jeff Thomas finally broke his silence. The wide receiver didn’t participate in practice Tuesday as questions about his standing with the Miami Hurricanes persisted. A Miami spokesperson said Thomas was still a part of the program, but a source told the Miami Herald that Thomas left the team earlier in the week and skipped out on meetings Tuesday.
Practices wrapped up and so did the Hurricanes’ opportunity to address the media for the final time before its regular-season finale Saturday against the Pittsburgh Panthers, then Miami finally made the announcement shortly before 3:30 p.m. Thomas, the team announced, had been dismissed from the program with no specific explanation given.
Just after 7 p.m., Thomas finally spoke up with a pair of simultaneous posts on social media. On Twitter and Instagram, Thomas shared a message, recounting his side of whatever had happened in the 24 or so hours prior.
“Regarding the situation with me,” Thomas wrote. “I did not get kicked off the team as of how bad it sounds. I came to a agreement with my Head Coach on leaving the program to better my future life and my family life. I couldn’t thank the program of how much they’ve done for me, and the things I’ve done on the field is my way of respect for the program. Much Love!! #BeatPitt.”
The way his absence will affect the Hurricanes on the field is obvious. Thomas leads Miami in receiving yards and has started nearly every game at wide receiver this season. Without the sophomore, the Hurricanes will have to rely heavily on wide receivers Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, Mike Harley and Dee Wiggins, and maybe dig deeper into the bench with freshmen Brian Hightower, Mark Pope and even Marquez Ezzard, especially with every scholarship tight end expected to sit out Saturday against the Pittsburgh Panthers with a litany of injuries.
Thomas is the single most explosive offensive playmaker on a team severely lacking proven ones. His 51-yard punt-return touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Virginia Tech Hokies effectively sealed Miami’s eventual 38-14 win.
But his departure is clearly also an emotional ones for teammates who already had to deal with the unexpected departure of another potential NFL wide receiver earlier this year when Ahmmon Richards’ career ended because of a neck injury. Unsurprisingly, the wide receivers were some of the first to publicly react to the latest hit to their position group and the feedback seems to be overwhelmingly supportive.
On Twitter, Cager wrote: “4, my brother 4L [for life].” Harley, who joined the Hurricanes in the same recruiting class as Thomas, simply posted a broken heart emoji.
Freshman receivers put out messages in support of their former teammate, too.
“Go get it 4,” Pope wrote, “love you bra.”
Tight end Brevin Jordan’s message was even simpler. The tight end simply wrote: “JT4. #HumbleBeast.”
While Thomas hasn’t made his immediate plans known, he was apparently still in South Florida as of Tuesday afternoon, according to an Instagram Story shared by N’Kosi Perry.
Earlier Tuesday, Perry spoke to reporters before the Hurricanes announced Thomas was dismissed from the program. The quarterback said he had “been in touch” with Thomas and “can’t wait till he’s here.”
“He’s a huge part of the team,” said the redshirt freshman, who was also part of Miami’s 2017 recruiting class with Thomas and Harley.
Later in the day, Perry shared an Instagram story with Thomas clearly in the background.
On Tuesday, the Herald reported, citing a source, Thomas has clashed with wide receivers coach Ron Dugans and and angrily left the team earlier in the week.
The team announced Thomas’ dismissal Tuesday and Mark Richt delivered a written statement on the matter.
“We have high standards for excellence, for conduct and for the commitment to team for all of the young men who wear our uniform, and we will not waver from those standards,” the coach said in the statement. “We wish Jeff the very best as he moves forward in his journey.”
Thomas has spoken about potentially transferring to the Illinois FIghting Illini, according to the source. He would have to sit out a season if he transfers to another FBS program and will be eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Thomas is originally from East St. Louis, Ill., and had similar incidents in high school, as documented in 89 Blocks, a 2017 documentary about Thomas’ high school team at East St. Louis, produced by Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Maverick Carter, James’ agent.
“Absent from a string of practices, Thomas is held out of a game and must eventually win over his teammates, who voted whether he should keep his roster spot,” Dan Greene wrote for SI in 2017 ahead of the documentary’s premiere on Fox. “His coaches confide that their star is hard to reach, often hidden behind walls he’s built to protect himself from a harsh environment.”
DeeJay Dallas’ message to fans on Twitter was a bit different than some of his teammates’. The running back, another member of the Class of 2017, has been one of the most vocal leaders of Miami’s offense since arriving in Coral Gables.
“We all we got,” Dallas wrote.
He punctuated his post with an emoji, too — a man shrugging.