NEW CANAAN -- Since the Huskies breakthrough season in 2010 which included an appearance in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the UConn football team has fallen on hard times, compiling a combined record of 10-14 over the past two losing seasons.
The now-graduated Noel Thomas Jr. of New Canaan's St. Luke's School will be among the many Huskies looking to help buck that trend this fall.
"I definitely think I can play early as a freshman and I'm hoping I can be a game-changer," Thomas said. "I just want to kind of bring a spark to the offense."
On Friday, Thomas signed his National Letter of Intent in the school's gymnasium while flanked by his father (and St. Luke's coach) as well as some classmates.
"It's pretty exciting," Thomas said. "It's bittersweet, though, because this is going to be the last time I'm here for a while."
After spending his first two years of high school at Norwalk High, Thomas transferred to St. Luke's where he enjoyed the special experience of playing under his father, Noel Thomas Sr., the head football coach of the Storm. Doing so also required Thomas Jr. to repeat his sophomore year of high school.
"I'm very excited and very proud. I'm looking forward to seeing him do some great things at UConn. It's a humbling experience," Thomas Sr. said. "I think he can play several positions. In my opinion, I would say safety or wide receiver."
Although he played several other positions for St. Luke's, including safety, running back and even quarterback, Thomas, who checks in at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, will be listed as a wide receiver on UConn's fall roster. Thomas himself seems to believe that he can contribute the most by lining up at receiver.
Of course, Thomas is also aware that his ability to play more than one position could certainly help his chances of seeing significant playtime, particularly as a freshman.
"I got recruited as an athlete, but I kind of made it clear to them that I wanted to play receiver," Thomas said. "I can end up playing safety in the future; that's the only other position I could play. I think it'll help me see the field earlier."
Thomas' gridiron versatility was on full display during a home clash against long-time rival Rye Country Day last season. Starting quarterback Charlie Nelson was lost with an injury in the first half, and the reigns were turned over to Thomas.
Thomas responded by leading the Storm to a wild 26-20 victory over their long-time rivals, highlighted by Thomas' seemingly sky-high hurdle over a Rye defender on a scramble.
"(The best moment in high school football) was beating Rye because we hadn't beaten them in I don't know how many years," Thomas said. "I've got to say during that game when I hurdled a kid, that was probably my favorite moment of the season."
During his senior season at St. Luke's, the do-it-all Thomas racked up 1,226 yards on 106 carries for an eye-popping 11.57 yards per carry and 19 rushing touchdowns. He added 21 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns. During limited time at quarterback, Thomas completed 31-of-53 passes for 559 yards and four touchdowns. As a defensive back, Thomas recorded 43 tackles and four interceptions.
For his career, Thomas finished with 4,888 total yards and 53 touchdowns.
"I might be a little biased, but if he stays healthy and works very hard, I think he can make an impact early. Special teams, maybe see some reps at receiver depending on who's coming in and how hard the other guys are working," Thomas Sr. said. "But I think he can impact in a major way sooner than later. (UConn is) going in the right direction and I think he can definitely help turn it around."
Thomas graduated from high school in the winter, and his first semester officially begins on Tuesday, when he'll start his college classes.
While he indicated that he gave some consideration to other schools, including Rutgers and Temple, Thomas' said he felt immediately comfortable visiting UConn's Storrs' campus.
"I looked at Rutgers and Temple, but when I visited UConn, I felt at home as soon as I saw the campus," Thomas said. "I met the coaches and they showed they cared about me as a person first and a player second. That relationship is kind of big to me."
Thomas also played on the St. Luke's basketball team as a small forward as a junior, but isn't play this year due to his early graduation.
Thomas does not yet have a major in mind just, but says he may be leaning towards computers.
"I'm definitely thinking about computer engineering, but still undecided right now," Thomas said.
Although he was no stranger to a few "wow" plays on the high school football field, Thomas knows the Big East is guaranteed to bring bigger and faster competition, but the former St. Luke's student appears to be taking it all in stride.
"Definitely the conditioning and the lifting, but game-wise the speed of the game is going to be so much faster," Thomas said. "Everyone's going to be fast."
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