Central Gwinnett High School’s Adonis Thomas is ranked as one of the nation’s top college football prospects for 2105 at outside linebacker. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has more than 30 scholarship offers, including UGA and Georgia Tech.
Thomas took an unofficial visit to Alabama this past week with his family – his parents, Marilyn Freeman and Alonzo Thomas, and his 10-year old brother, Josiah Williams. Thomas and his mother shared their experiences at Alabama with the AJC:
5 p.m. Friday: Most unofficial visits for recruits are one-day trips but Thomas did an overnight trip to Alabama because his mother, who works in bank operations, didn’t get off work until 5 p.m. The family had plenty of quality time to talk while driving three hours and 30 minutes. “We were talking about the visit, and basically excited about meeting Nick Saban,” Freeman said. “It was my first time hearing about him because I’m not a football person who knows all the athletes and the coaches. They were telling me that Coach Saban is ‘like the god of football.’ They were trying to give me the rundown, where he has been and what he has done – so I wouldn’t be fumbling over everything when we met him.” Added Thomas, “That’s what my dad calls Coach Saban — the ‘god of college football.’ I think it’s a good description because wherever he goes, he wins.”
9 p.m. Friday: They arrive in Tuscaloosa, and are greeted by Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart in the hotel lobby. “When we got there, Kirby was there and he was really nice,” Freeman said. “He let me know that he was really excited about having us down. Kirby wanted Adonis to stay at the dormitory so he could see what it was like, so he had one of the football players (Shaun Hamilton) come pick him up to stay at the dormitory. We didn’t see Adonis until the next morning. We stayed at the Hotel Capstone, and it was nice. Normally, the football players stay there the night before games. It was right across the street from the stadium and the athletic complex, so it was very convenient.” Adonis hung out for the evening with Hamilton, an Alabama 2014 linebacker signee who started classes in January. “It was really cool,” Thomas said. “You know, (Hamilton) enrolled early in college, so I got to talk to him about that. We looked at film and some of the playbook. That was about it. We just chilled that night.”
9 a.m. Saturday: “We began a tour of Alabama’s facilities,” Freeman said. “They showed us pictures of the guys in the NFL that are from Alabama, and it was interesting to see how many players they have in the NFL. I didn’t realize it was that many. We also went to the championship room and saw all the crystal balls and championship rings. I’m not a football mom like some others, but I was impressed by it all.”
11 a.m. Saturday: “We went down to where their workout facilities are,” Freeman said. “They showed us the rooms where they take the boys who get hurt get medical attention. That was very impressive. They really care about the players and want them healthy. They had some of Alabama football players in there getting treated before the scrimmage (for later that day).”
11:30 a.m. Saturday: Thomas and his family met with one of the directors for Alabama’s College of Engineering. “Adonis is thinking about engineering, accounting or law, but he’s not really sure,” Freeman said. “I had questions about their program because I know a lot of times when a player goes off to a college, people try to steer them into programs that are very easy because it can be tough to balance academics and athletics. My main concern was that if Adonis did choose to do engineering at Alabama, what kind of help would he get if he struggled with that balance? The academic director informed me that they had Alabama football players who excelled in their engineering program. He said Coach Saban is so serious about it that if you don’t participate like you should in academics, you will not play football. He puts them on a points system. If you’re not going to class, not participating in the class, not passing tests, and things like that — then you lose points to where you’re not allowed to participate in a practice or play in a game. He said academics come first with Coach Saban. I was very impressed with that, along with the fact that the engineering program already had football players in there. A lot of times you hear about guys trying to get a simple degree and they don’t have anything to fall back on after football. I felt reassured that Adonis would be OK, that there would be so much help for him there.”
12 p.m. Saturday: Thomas and his family do tours of the academic center and dormitory.
12:30 p.m. Saturday: Thomas, along with other prospects, joins the Alabama football players for a team meeting. The rest of the family goes to football activity center, where there’s lounges and game rooms. Freeman strikes up a conversation with the mother of Terry Godwin, the 5-star wide receiver from Callaway High School who is committed to UGA. “She told me what she did to get her son exposure, such as putting video on YouTube,” Freeman said. “I could tell she was really into football. She expressed to me that the recruiting process can get really difficult and can become overwhelming. It’s exciting for the kids, but it can get overwhelming. From my understanding, her son is committed to Georgia but is basically taking tours to see what other schools have to offer. They like Alabama, and wanted to see what Alabama had to offer him if he decided to do anything different than Georgia.”
1:15 p.m. Saturday: They go to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the football scrimmage. “The stadium was huge,” Freeman said. “The guys went to the field, and we went up into the boxes so we could see the field from high and far away. It was beautiful. We watched the scrimmage from up there, all the moms and ladies.” Thomas, his father and his brother hung out on the sidelines. “I talked to the position coaches. They told me to watch how they use certain players. They compared me to (former Buford High School linebacker) Dillon Lee. They said I could play his position after he leaves. I saw (former Troup High School linebacker) Reuben Foster; he actually got hurt in the scrimmage. I talked to (former Hillgrove High School running back) Kenyan Drake. He said he enjoyed Bama, and that there’s great competition there. And I talked to Coach Saban a little bit before the scrimmage. He told me to make sure to stick around because he wanted to talk to me.”
2:30 p.m. Saturday: While observing the scrimmage, Freeman quietly reflects to herself on her son’s opportunities for play big-time college football. “I thought it was surreal because growing up, Adonis always wanted to play football. I was always pushing him academically, and I never really wanted to him to play football. But he held onto football because it’s truly what he wanted to do in life. It’s his passion. And he’s accomplished a lot of his goals. Here I was sitting up in this gigantic stadium, and those coaches wanted my baby.”
4:30 p.m. Saturday: After the scrimmage, Thomas and his family return to the athletic facility. They mingle with some of Alabama’s coaches and players, while Saban walks by. “He said ‘Don’t leave, I want to meet you all,’” Freeman said. “And about 10 minutes later, we got to meet Coach Saban.”
4:45 p.m. Saturday: Nick Saban makes a big impression on the Thomas family. “He was a very serious guy,” Freeman said. “He is more serious than any coach that I’ve met so far. It looks like he is really about business, and he gives it to you straight on. Normally I have to ask a lot of questions to a coach about their football program, but Coach Saban got right into the meat of the situation. He began to tell me what they offer the boys, how serious he is about character, how serious he is about school, and how serious he is about being productive in life. And if you can’t follow certain rules, he just won’t tolerate it. The most fundamental information that he gave me is that school is important because at the end of day, after football, you have to have your education. Even some guys that might get hurt and not to get to complete their football career in college, Coach Saban allows them to finish their degree. I thought that was very impressive. He explained to me that Adonis was a really good football player, and they wanted him at Alabama. He’s a stand-up linebacker and that’s what they’re looking for. He does well in space. He was really excited about having Adonis down. Coach Saban wants him at his school, and he wants him to play.” What did Thomas think? “It was honor to be sitting on the couch in his office and having a conversation like that. I know he’s a very busy man. Like my mom said, he was very real. He doesn’t joke around; he’s very serious. He told me why he liked me as an outside linebacker. I can play in a lot of pass coverage, and stay on the field. He just said he watched a lot of my RisingSeniors film, and that’s why he was impressed and was recruiting me so hard. He wasn’t intimidating or scary. He’s like that grandparent who knows everything because he has been through and seen a lot. He knows how to do things, and he knows how to win games.”
5:45 p.m. Saturday: After meeting with Saban for an hour, Thomas and his family are dazzled by the long interaction with the coaching legend. Said Freeman, “I was talking to the same guy who everybody sees on TV. It was awesome. He’s not the type a person to shoot the breeze with you. He was serious and dead on about how he likes things done a certain way, and that’s why his boys do so well. That’s why NFL teams want his players. He gets them molded and conditioned for life. That’s something I would appreciate for my son. At the end of the day, I want my son to know how it is to be a man. And I think Coach Saban showed that … I think with his experience in coaching football, he knows his stuff. It’s like having a teacher who has been teaching for years. You know what to expect from that teacher. I think with his coaching staff, he is going to give Adonis the best coaching if he goes to that school – not only on the field but off the field.” How does Saban compare to Florida coach Will Muschamp? The Gators have been the frontrunner for Thomas. “It’s different,” Freeman said. “All coaches have a different style. I like Will Muschamp. He’s a super, super guy. He is funny. Will is more family-oriented and makes me feel like if I dropped off Adonis there, he will take care of him. Not that Coach Saban wouldn’t, but Coach Saban is more business-oriented. But I think that Adonis would kind of be afraid to talk to him. I think he would probably be willing to talk about anything to Coach Muschamp much faster just because he is a family-oriented person.” And what about compared to UGA coach Mark Richt? “Coach Richt was on his way out of town when I went there, so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him. I’ve heard that he is well-rounded man. I think he is very religious. I really didn’t talk to him much but I did talk to (defensive coordinator) Jeremy Pruitt. He was real. He was a very family-oriented guy. It seems like he would not only be a coach, but somebody that Adonis could talk to. Sometimes I think Adonis has a tough time with getting things across in talking. I would want him to be somewhere where he wouldn’t be afraid to say something, if he needed to.”
6 p.m. Saturday: Before leaving campus, Thomas and his family have a brief meeting with Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator. “Kirby was like ‘Oh my God, Coach Saban kept you all in there for an hour?’” Freeman said. “I told (Smart) that it was almost like we were in a lecture. I didn’t have to ask any questions because he went through everything like a fine-toothed comb … Kirby pulled me up film of the Rising Seniors (junior all-star) game, and showed me why he was so interested in Adonis from that game footage. He explained to me that Will (Muschamp) and Jeremy (Pruitt) kind of ran in the same circles, so it was difficult to recruit Adonis because they were all friends. But (Smart) had nothing but good things to say about all the other schools. He was telling me how he wanted more time to talk to us, but it was so late that he would try to get us down for another visit to talk more.”
6:30 p.m. Saturday: Thomas and the family begin the trip back to Atlanta. “We talked about Coach Saban, and how it felt to meet the greatest coach of all-time. Adonis talked about how it would be to play for Coach Saban, because from my understanding, people are saying he might not be coaching much longer. And it would be rewarding to play for him, knowing he was a legendary coach. Adonis likes the school, and he loved the facilities. But he’s still kind of torn with some other schools he wants to see. He wasn’t ready to say Alabama was his school, but he really liked it.” The mother’s final impression of Alabama? “I think Alabama is a phenomenal place. If it was my choice, I would say that they’re in the top two. Florida would be in there, too, yes. I like Alabama’s facilities and how it appears the football players are family. With my baby being away from home, I would want him to be around people who are could help adapt to school away from home. Alabama is a nice place.” Thomas says that Florida and Alabama are his top two. How does Alabama compare to Florida? “Florida just felt like family,” Freeman said. “It just felt like a warm embrace. They were just very open-armed at Florida. I felt like if I had to choose right now, I would say that Florida would be the school for me. I would more assured to send my son there because I feel like they would take care of him — not only on the field, but away from it. If I had some situations, I feel like I could contact the coach and let them know ‘Hey this is going on with Adonis, and I need to know what kind of problem this.’ I feel like they would get with me and let me know everything. I don’t feel that same way about Alabama. However, I do feel like they would let me know about certain things, but not like Florida would.” How does Adonis Thomas feel about Alabama? “I like them a lot. They gave me some things to consider and think about it. I would name Alabama and Florida as my leaders right now. They both recruit me hard, and they are both going to use me how I want to used on the next level.” Thomas will go to Florida this weekend and return to Alabama the following week. He also may visit UGA this week if he can work it out with the coaches.
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