The Arizona Wildcats had a huge midweek visitor on campus this past week. That visitor was Cole Thomas, a 6-foot-7, 285lb left tackle out of Bellevue High School (Bellevue, WA), the same high school as redshirt sophomore Marcus Griffin.
Thomas is currently a freshman at Bellevue, which means he won't be graduating until 2019, which will be the first year Arizona plays Texas Tech in their non-conference schedule. That also means that Thomas would be a senior by the time Arizona starts their series with Mississippi State in 2022. Even crazier was when his recruiting process began.
"My recruiting process really began my 8th-grade year when I went to the University of Washington spring game and got to see the facilities, meet with the coaches and watch the game. And ever since then it's just started to take off for me," Thomas said about his recruitment.
As a freshman, he's been exposed to the recruiting pitches and has been taking visits recently as well. This week, he was able to head to Arizona State and quickly followed that up with a trip to Tucson.
"I've expressed my interest in both Arizona and Arizona State so we decided to come down here for my break and emailed both the coaches," when asked about setting up his unofficial visits this week. "Since I'm still so young they can't email me back. So I called them and I got something set up so I was fortunate that they decided to bring me along."
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, Thomas has kept up with the Pac-12, and that's where the interest was perked.
"Since I grew up in Seattle, I've been a Washington Husky fan all my life," he continued. "My dad played for the University of Washington so I grew up watching the Pac-12 schools. I've watched some great games when the Huskies play Arizona and Arizona State. They're two schools in the Pac-12 where there's really no reason to not like them. They just have something that I like in them."
There aren't too many high school freshmen with the opportunity to be taking unofficial visits, but Thomas and his family have been extremely proactive, taking advantage of the attention he's receiving from schools across the country.
"Boise State has," he said when asked about if any other schools had been showing interest. "I tried setting something up with them and they were very welcoming in bringing me on a visit. They send the emails expressing their interest. TCU, they sent me a letter showing their interest. Since I'm so young I'll just have to wait it out and see who else comes after me."
But after his visit, he had nothing but great things to say about Arizona and the program.
Cole Thomas (@_colethomas) February 18, 2016
"When I checked them out my interest went way up. I like the coaching staff on both teams, I just think they're two really great programs on the rise and I'd love to be a part of either of them," he said about his midweek visits to Arizona and ASU. "The hospitality I experienced at both schools, especially at Arizona, was really great. I felt really welcomed there. I mean I'm just a freshman. I can't even imagine the seniors and how well they treat me."
Rich Rodriguez' recruiting classes are starting to take shape and he's starting to send his own guys to the NFL, including multiple draft hopefuls this spring. At Arizona Stadium, they have a room specifically for scouts, and Thomas took particular interest to that.
"They have the NFL room, which all of the scouts go to. And since it's on campus they can meet with the players, see if they like them, go back to whatever organization they're from and talk about you. So I like how Rich Rodriguez gives you that exposure," Thomas said, hopeful for his opportunity to play in the NFL.
He met with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and they covered topics ranging from the program, techniques and positions.
"When I showed up there, I sat down with the offensive line coach for about 30 minutes and he told me what it takes to be an Arizona Wildcat from an offensive lineman perspective."
"Coach M, the first thing he said when we sat down was that he was a straight-forward coach and put it all out there. Which I really appreciate. He's the type of guy who will tell it like it is and I like that because I want to know what I can do to get better. He told me this is what I'm going to have to do to be an Arizona Wildcat, to succeed and be a part of this program. So he just told me where I need to improve and what they look for in a guy. I appreciate their honesty," he said. "Arizona wants you to play at the best of your ability and do what you need to do in order to succeed."
Rich Rodriguez has been stockpiling young offensive linemen that Coach Michalczik is very excited about. And former offensive linemen believe that the spread offense helped them physically, as former Arizona guard Mickey Baucus once said himself once he signed with Miami for rookie camp.
"I like the spread offense. My high school runs a wing-T offense and you never see that anywhere in college," Thomas said about his high school's offense. "I think I can fit into a spread offense because I can shift all along the line. Like at my high school, you're never really a left tackle. You can shift over to right tackle. On power plays you can shift over to a tight end. I consider myself pretty versatile and can play at a few positions in a spread offense."
Bellevue High School has been a powerhouse in the Seattle area, winning state championship after state championship. Redshirt freshman Marcus Griffin won four consecutive state championships during his time there. The school sends their athletes to Division I programs all across the country, making it a recruiting hotbed for college football. Although Thomas is still young, he's familiar with the recruiting process, watching the upperclassmen as they go through their recruiting process, making it easier for him to take in.
"I'm a freshman, but at my high school especially you see all these guys," Thomas said. "We're a football powerhouse and you see all these seniors on national signing day, putting on a hat and they're on TV. A couple of guys from my high school are Myles Jack, going to UCLA, Budda Baker who went Washington. You see them having all that success and getting stacks and stacks of letters,"
"Me, as a freshman it's cool because I'm not at that level yet, but my coaches tell me and I see that I have the tools to get to that level. I just need to live up to my potential, just need to work really hard but I see no reason why I can't be like them. It's cool when you're watching TV and you're able to say 'hey, I've gone to that school, I've gotten a letter from that school' and it's nice that it started early for me but I'm looking forward to what else is in store for me."
He still has three years before he can even sign his letter of intent, but he has an idea as to what he wants to study and what he's looking for in his future home.
"Honestly, education is first for me. I'm looking to major in broadcast and communications. So I want a school that's great in that department where I can I have life after football with a degree from that program," he said when asked about the biggest decision factors. "Football is not going to last forever so I want a good education, one that can get me through the rest of life."
"For football, just a good coaching staff. Every Pac-12 school I've been to has great head coaches, they all expect a lot out of their players. Those two things are my top two things to look out for," he added.
Cole Thomas seems like an extremely smart kid. As a freshman, he's well aware of the recruiting process and what it takes to get to the next level. I was very impressed with our conversation and can tell this is a guy with high character. Maybe it's the offensive line similarity, but Thomas reminds me a lot of Michael Eletise, Arizona's highest-ranked recruit in this 2016 recruiting class. Just extremely smart, humble and well-mannered.
There's still a lot of time in his recruiting process, but this is a name to keep in mind for the future of Arizona's 2019 recruiting class.