By Rob Moseley
Few were as statistically productive, and there’s been no more electrifying player in recent Oregon football history than De’Anthony Thomas.
From his two touchdowns on two rushes in the 2012 Rose Bowl to the tone-setting kickoff return in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, Thomas had a knack for big moments on the biggest stages. His next big stage will be an NFL stadium, as Thomas has decided to make himself available for this year’s professional draft as a junior.
"I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL," Thomas said in a prepared statement Sunday. "I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans. I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible."
Thomas leaves Oregon in the conversation as the best all-purpose player in school history. His 5,345 career yards trail only all-time greats LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, with whom Thomas teamed in the Ducks' most recent Pac-12 championship season of 2011. Thomas holds Oregon records for kickoff return yards (1,885) and punt return average (17.1), and he's fourth in career scoring (278 points).
Also a standout member of the UO track and field team, Thomas anchored the 4x100-meter relay that advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships and ran the sixth-fastest time in school history, 39.89 seconds.
From the time he surprised hometown fans in his native Los Angeles by spurning USC for Oregon, Thomas has been one of the Ducks’ most beloved players. With his bright smile and fast feet, the kid known as “DAT” was a quick fan favorite.
"De'Anthony has been a spectacular talent in college football and has been a part of some of the most memorable plays in the history of the University of Oregon," UO coach Mark Helfrich said. "We wish him success going forward with his career."
Thomas will be the second underclassman from Oregon to enter this year’s draft, joining cornerback Terrance Mitchell. The Ducks still await a decision from cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, with the deadline to declare Jan. 15.
The program figures to have multiple early entries drafted for just the second time in school history; tight end George Wrighster and running back Onterrio Smith entered the 2003 draft as juniors.
"I will certainly hate to see De'Anthony leave, but I understand and agree with his decision to enter the 2014 NFL draft," UO running backs coach Gary Campbell said. "He's had an exciting career at Oregon, and now it's time to move on to the next level. I wish him mega success in his new endeavors."
The Ducks return their three leading rushers from 2013 next fall, led by Byron Marshall, who ran for 1,038 yards as a sophomore. Quarterback Marcus Mariota's 715 rushing yards were second on the team last season and true freshman Thomas Tyner was third with 711, as Thomas finished with 594 rushing yards and 22 receptions in an injury marred junior year.
As a freshman in 2011, Thomas scored in collegiate debut, Oregon’s showcase against LSU, and went on to set a school record by averaging 10.82 yards every time he touched the ball. His 2,235 all-purpose yards — second-most in UO history for a single season — helped Thomas earn Pac-12 co-offensive freshman of the year and team MVP honors.
Thomas capped his freshman year on a national stage, piling up 314 all-purpose yards in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, ninth-most in UO history. His 91-yard touchdown run remains the second-longest at Oregon.
The 2012 season developed on a similar path. Thomas had 1,757 all-purpose yards, 10th all-time for the Ducks, and ended the season by opening the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State with a 94-yard kickoff return to open the game, 10th-longest in UO history.
Thomas’ versatility was on display throughout his career. He had the second-best season in school history as a kick returner in 2011, and the third-best as a punt returner in 2012. Technically a running back, Thomas ran for a career-high 701 yards as a sophomore but also led the Ducks with 45 receptions.
Thomas’ junior campaign this past fall was derailed by an ankle injury in the opening moments of conference play, a kickoff return against California, costing Thomas three games. What resulted was the lowest statistical output of his career, in a year Thomas had hoped to inherit the responsibility of being Oregon’s primary back from his predecessors James and Barner.
Thomas' bid for three BCS appearances in his three collegiate seasons ended with a defeat at Arizona in November. But no Duck played harder that day than Thomas, who overcame an early drop to lead the team in both rushing and receiving, with a spectacular one-handed catch to add to his highlight reel.
Thomas’ final appearance was in the Ducks’ Alamo Bowl win over Texas, in which he had six touches for 62 all-purpose yards.