AP NEWS

football Danbury’s Malik to play at Central Connecticut State

February 7, 2019

This time one year ago Malik Thomas didn’t have a varsity football coach, had only played the sport for one season and didn’t know what position he would play his senior season at Danbury High.

The last 12 months have been a wild journey for Thomas, who announced his commitment to play running back at Central Connecticut State University. The 6-foot, 200-pound running back has undergone a spectacular transformation in emerging as a late bloomer.

“It’s been a journey,” Thomas said. “I wouldn’t be here without my coaches. In one year I’ve accomplished so much and I’m so proud. It’s crazy, I’m going to play at a FCS school. I just have to stay focused on my school work and perform at the top level.”

Thomas was coming off a season that was mostly spent at JV. He played along the front seven and occasionally tight end. New coach Augustine Tieri saw something different in his diamond in the rough, and after watching him nearly hit his head off the basketball rim during offseason workouts, he realized the explosive athlete needed the ball in his hands as much as possible.

Thomas played soccer for most of his life prior to this, but a serious leg injury and a recommendation from classmate RJ Hopkins led him down a different path. It turned out his approach would translate very well to the gridiron.

“He’s just a real dedicated, hard-working, humble kid,” Tieri said. “He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever coached; he’s relentless. He came in never playing running back before in his life and he was such a sponge for everything we were teaching him. He learned so quickly and put in the extra time, that’s just who he is. He’s a genuinely nice, forthright kid.”

Thomas and Hatters teammates attended CCSU’s camp last summer, where Thomas immediately stood out. Interest was piqued from then, and after Thomas played a stellar season on the field in his first season in the backfield, the Blue Devils found their man.

Thomas ran for 713 yards on over 10 yards per carry for the Hatters, finding the end zone 10 times as his team went 4-6. Adjusting to contact was the biggest learning curve of the position, Thomas said.

“At first I was nervous because there’s a lot of contact,” Thomas said. “When you play this game, it’s a man’s sport and you can’t be afraid of contact. That’s one part I improved in, running through tackles and not being scared.”

Thomas enjoyed an almost identical meteoric rise for the school’s track team. He had never run prior to last spring, but thrived under coach Rob Murray and qualified for FCIACs and states in the 100 that outdoor season. Now he owns one of the top 55-dash times in the state and placed second at FCIACs last week.

“Those workouts were hard times over the summer,” Thomas said. “But that got me to where I am today. I do my best to get the football guys to do track; as you can see, track is a big part of it with speed. Coach Murray is willing to sacrifice his time to ensure these kids develop.”

Linking the track and football programs was one of Tieri’s key components in building the Hatters’ program. Tieri and Murray work together in unison to develop athletes and improve performance in both arenas.

Thomas will likely serve as a shining example for future Hatters for his unique path to the FCS level.

“He’s a special case because we didn’t even know where he’d play,” Tieri said. “He didn’t get on the field last year, and in one year, following the regimen and the things we put forth to a T — mixed obviously with the God-given talent — and look at what that was able to produce.”

rlacey@bcnnew.com, twitter.com/ryanlacey11