Add Ole Miss to the increasing number of American universities interested in Canadian Isaiah Thomas.
The University of Mississippi made a scholarship offer Tuesday to the six-foot-three, 197-pound Thomas, who played safety last season at Clearwater Academy International, a private school serving pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 12.
The Rebels became the 15th school to make an offer to Thomas, joining the likes of Miami, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Cincinnati, Boston College and Penn State.
Heady stuff considering Thomas, 17, of Markham, Ont., is a junior and still has one more year of high school. Additional offers are expected for Thomas, who has the enviable mix of size, length and speed (4.63-second 40-yard dash time) to not only play in the secondary but also at linebacker.
"It's a little bit overwhelming right now but I still have time to process everything," Thomas said during a telephone interview. "As time passes, I'm going to start narrowing down schools."
Thomas has visited Florida and Florida State and plans to visit Miami sometime this spring. Thomas doesn't have to sign an letter of intent until December but would like to make his decision in August or September.
"I'm looking for a school whose scheme I can fit into as a defender," Thomas said. "For me, it's about fit and the scheme and also the locker room, how close the guys are and if they play for each other."
Whatever school Thomas chooses, it will be with the goal of ultimately reaching the NFL.
Thomas moved to Florida last year following two seasons at Clarkson Football North in Mississauga, Ont. He was enjoying a solid '22 campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury after five games.
Thomas posted 27 tackles and had a 72-yard interception TD return.
"I was having a really good junior year before it was cut short," Thomas said. "Now it's just about getting healthy . . . about focusing on where I can develop more and getting better.
"Schools have already seen what I can do, now it's just to show them more."
But the early transition to life in Florida and being away from his family wasn't easy for Thomas, who lives with a host family in Clearwater along with four teammates.
"I got homesick as soon as I got down here," Thomas said. "I wanted to go back home and see my family, I missed everyone back home.
"It wasn't until after a month or two when I got into my season that I started really being comfortable with where I am and knowing I'm here for a purpose."
One reason for the move was to play football at the highest possible level and hopefully catch the eye of American universities.
Larry Jusdanis, the former CFL quarterback who's the head coach at Football North, isn't surprised with Thomas's success south of the border.
"We knew when he was younger that he was going to be really good," Jusdanis said. "He just did some special things.
"He's just a good athlete with real good football sense, which is really important because you can't teach that and yet he just has that knack. He makes plays, he's physical, he just wants to be better."
Jusdanis added Thomas's mental approach to the game mirrors his impressive physical ability.
"He's very level-headed actually," Jusdanis said. "He doesn't get high at all, which is interesting.
"He's almost got a good quarterback mentality, to be honest. He wants to work on his craft, which is huge also."
Thomas said his time at Football North, which has sent 37 players to the NCAA ranks, really helped his development.
"I was able to learn the basics of a safety," he said. "I remember being in practice and coach Jusdanis teaching me the reads of a safety, telling me the insights of what a quarterback is looking at and what to read.
"At the same time I was able to play varsity as a sophomore, which is really important because at the next level you could be 18 playing against 23-year-olds. The best thing was him bringing me up and allowing me to play varsity."
At Clearwater, Thomas's defensive co-ordinator is Rich Stubler, the veteran CFL coach who's won five Grey Cups over three decades north of the border. Stubler also has an extensive NCAA coaching resume.
"Coach Stubler runs a very advanced defence that we all had to learn," Thomas said. "I'm with him every day, he's showing me different formations, different schemes.
"He's seen so much as a football coach and all I can definitely do is try and grasp all of that."
And while Thomas is excelling in Florida, he has not forgotten his roots.
"I feel I do represent Canadian football players," Thomas said. "I feel I can show that if a Canadian kid can really lock in and focus, knows what he wants and what he needs to do and really pushes himself towards that goal that he can achieve it.
"For me, I've always had a goal and a plan and have done the things necessary to get there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press